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In The Know: Senate panel passes six teacher pay raise bills

by | February 16th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions. 

Click here to check out our resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide

Today In The News

Senate panel passes six teacher pay raise bills: A Senate panel on Wednesday passed six measures that would increase teacher pay. The bills move to the full Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. State officials expect to have $868 million less to spend in crafting the fiscal year 2018 budget, but legislative leaders have said increasing teacher pay is a priority. Senate Bill 97, by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, would provide a $1,000 raise the first year, a $2,000 raise the second year and a $3,000 raise the third year [Tulsa World].

Plans to change voter-approved drug laws face backlash: Some Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature are pushing back against voter-approved changes in November to soften drug possession penalties, arguing that voters didn’t know exactly what they were doing when they approved the initiatives with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Several proposals have been introduced this year by tough-on-crime Republicans who want to undo some of the changes approved by voters just a few months ago, including one bill to reinstate felony penalties for some drug possession crimes that easily cleared a House committee on Wednesday. Those plans are riling up voters who approved the changes and said they are fed up with Oklahoma’s overcrowded and underfunded prisons [Associated Press].

Immigration agents arrest more than a dozen in central Oklahoma: An immigration attorney said the threshold of who is picked up by immigration officials has been lowered by the new administration. “It’s wide open who they go after,” Michael Brooks Jimenez said. He represents five of the eight men picked up by immigration agents with the fugitive task force this week in Purcell. Authorities told KOCO 5 that more than a dozen undocumented immigrants were arrested in central Oklahoma. “When (agents) go to arrest someone, if they encounter anyone else they think might not be documented, they pick them up as collateral damage,” Brooks Jimenez said [KOCO].

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Lawmakers must confront racial disparities head-on as they reform the justice system

by | February 15th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

The need for criminal justice reform is well illustrated by outrageous top-level statistics showing Oklahoma’s imprisonment rate among the highest in the nation (about 700 in prison per 100,000 residents), and a need to bring down spending on corrections (nearly half a billion dollars in FY 2016 and yet vastly insufficient to safely operate our prisons). While those numbers are staggering, they hide deep racial disparities. Mass incarceration is bad for the state as a whole, but the damage it is doing to minority communities is even worse.

As lawmakers take another run at criminal justice reform this year, they should heed the examples of other states and include reducing racial disparities as a core goal. If they don’t, they risk making the problem worse.

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In The Know: House committee changes mind, passes two bills limiting abortion

by | February 15th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

House committee changes mind, passes two bills limiting abortion: A revised version of an abortion bill that stalled in a House committee last week advanced Tuesday along with another controversial measure that would give men the final say in many if not most abortions. House Bill 1549, by Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, seeks to ban abortions sought solely because of indications of fetal defects such as Down syndrome. This week’s rewrite was sufficient to sway two Republicans who originally voted against the measure when it failed on a 4-4 tie last week in the House Public Health Committee [Tulsa World].

General revenue continues to fall short of expectations: Deposits to the state’s primary operating account, the General Revenue Fund, continued to lag expectations in January, officials said Tuesday. Pulled down by weak sales- and use-tax collections, deposits to the fund totaled $505.1 million, or 3.4 percent less than the estimate. The total was only $2.5 million below the same month a year ago. Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said long-term trends support Gov. Mary Fallin’s call for new recurring revenue sources, including an increase in the state cigarette tax and extending the state sales tax to services [Tulsa World].

Shortey vows to hold back changes to SQ 780, 781: State Sen. Ralph Shortey told a raucous town hall he won’t advance legislation that would seem to repeal two criminal justice reform measures adopted by Oklahoma voters last year. Shortey said he doesn’t want to completely repeal State Questions 780 and 781. There are some parts of the law he wants to revisit. For example, State Question 780 changed virtually all drug possession crimes into misdemeanors. Shortey said he would be in favor of placing distance modifiers back into the law that increase penalties if drugs are found on a person within 1,000 feet of a public area like a park or school [NewsOK].

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OK PolicyCast Episode 24: All about the revenues

by | February 14th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Podcast, Taxes | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

The OK PolicyCast is back!

Governor Fallin surprised many observer of Oklahoma politics by calling for dramatic revenue increases and major tax reforms in her State of the State address. In this podcast, we discuss the Governor’s ideas, what’s most likely to make it through the Legislature, and what other ideas Oklahoma Policy Institute has put forward to fix our state’s budget hole.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

Oklahoma’s wind subsidies are dwarfed by subsidies to the oil and gas industry

by | February 14th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (4)

One certainty about the 2017 legislative session is that tax breaks for the wind industry are going to be a prime target for lawmakers looking for ways to address the state’s short-term budget gap and long-term structural budget deficit. Close to 20 bills have been filed that would limit or eliminate subsidies for wind producers, and Governor Fallin in her FY 2018 Executive Budget called for wind production to be taxed.

While it is true that subsidies for the wind industry have been rising, the reality is that they pale in comparison to those the state provides to oil and gas producers. Oklahoma’s standard tax rate of 7 percent on oil and gas production has been in effect since the 1970s, but over the years, various exemptions were put in place to subsidize different kinds of production. Now, under legislation passed in 2014, almost all new wells are taxed at just 2 percent for the first 36 months of production before reverting to the standard 7 percent rate. In addition, horizontal wells and deep wells drilled prior to July 1, 2015 are taxed at 1 percent and 4 percent respectively for 48 months. As more production is taxed at lower rates, the effective tax rate on all gross production in the state has plummeted from over 6 percent in FY 2012 to under 3.5 percent in FY 2015, according to data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission. 

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In The Know: Cigarette tax increase advanced by House committee, but passage into law not assured

by | February 14th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions. Click here to check out our resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide

Today In The News

Cigarette tax increase advanced by House committee, but passage into law not assured: A proposed $1.50 per pack increase in the state cigarette tax backed by Republican leaders and the Oklahoma State Chamber lumbered from the House Appropriations and Budget Committee late Monday afternoon on a less-than-overwhelming vote. As now written, House Bill 1841 by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, would ultimately direct revenue from the proposed tax increase into a Health Care Enhancement revolving fund for “activities eligible to be matched with federal Medicaid dollars or mental health safety net services.” The increase, which would become effective Sept. 1, has a hard pull to become law [Tulsa World].

Town hall meeting heated about SQ 780, 781: More than 200 people packed into a town hall meeting with a clear message: don’t mess with their vote on State Questions 780 and 781. “We, the people of Oklahoma, believe that the issues of addiction and mental illness are better addressed through treatment rather than punishment,” said one attendee. SQ 780 allows certain non-violent drug and theft crimes to become misdemeanors, easing growing problems in prisons [KFOR]. Reporters with The Oklahoman live-tweeted the event [NewsOK]. Oklahoma Policy Institute formally endorsed State Questions 780 and 781 in January [OK Policy].

Senate committee kills bill requiring five-day school weeks: A Senate panel on Monday killed a bill that would have required schools to have five-day weeks, with some exceptions. The Senate Education Committee rejected Senate Bill 37 by Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City. The measure gathered four votes of support and 11 against it. Loveless said the bill would have allowed districts to seek a waiver from the five-day class requirement through the State Board of Education, if the districts believed they could save money [Tulsa World].

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Tax cut triggers are anything but fiscally responsible

by | February 13th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (0)

Ten states, including Oklahoma, have enacted tax cuts in recent years that are deferred to a future date based on state revenues reaching a certain level or rate of growth. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a national think tank, makes a convincing case that while tying tax cuts to “triggers” may seem fiscally responsible at first glance, triggers are likely to harm states’ ability to provide critical service for their residents.

Twice in the past decade, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed tax cuts triggered by future revenue growth. The first, approved in 2006, lowered the top income tax rate from from 5.5 to 5.25 percent and took effect in 2012. The second was passed in 2014 and lowered the top rate to 5.0 percent in 2016, with a second cut to 4.85 percent that could take effect in 2018. The Center on Budget’s report identifies several flaws with triggers, all of which apply to Oklahoma’s experience.

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In The Know: Report shows high degree of abuse by foster parents

by | February 13th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Report shows high degree of abuse by foster parents: More children were abused or neglected by foster parents in Oklahoma in 2015 than any other state in the nation, according to a new child maltreatment report released by the federal government. There were 150 confirmed cases of children abused or neglected by Oklahoma foster parents in 2015, according to the report issued by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s 121 more than Texas, which has more than seven times as many people [The Oklahoman].

With reading proficiency exemption facing expiration, effort to make it permanent underway: Laura Martin spends her day working with groups of students who require additional help with reading, an area the state requires proficiency in by third grade in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. “It definitely is more than teaching the ABC’s,” Martin said. “They have to know their alphabet, they have to know their sounds. They have to have that good foundation and then we build on that with sight words and vocabulary.” But while students who do not score proficient on the state reading test are required to repeat the third grade, in 2014 the Legislature approved an exception if a committee of teachers and parents of the student approve promotion [NewsOK].

Oklahoma teacher recruitment plan seeks to catch up with other states: With more schools relying on emergency certified teachers and fewer traditionally trained educators entering the profession, Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been referred to as a crisis. It comes at a time when most of the nation is also struggling to fill classrooms with certified teachers, a point some have argued makes Oklahoma’s problems not unique. But it’s an argument some educators don’t believe absolves the state of needing to address it’s own teacher shortage [NewsOK].

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The Weekly Wonk: Our Legislative priorities, the cost trap, block grants, an ebook, and more

by | February 12th, 2017 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week, we released our top priorities for the 2017 Legislative session and compiled the resources you need to be ready for the 2017 session. Our online budget guide is now available as an ebook. Our statement on the Governor’s proposals at the State of the State is available here

Policy Analyst Carly Putnam explained why turning safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP into block grants would functionally dismantle them. In a statement, Executive Director David Blatt urged Sen. Lankford to reject a measure to block fee and fraud protections on prepaid cards.

In his Journal Record column, Blatt noted that excessive fees and fines unnecessarily burden criminal defendants and are an inefficient way to fund government. Previously, a report by Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler described how excessive fees lock Oklahomans into the criminal justice system and don’t boost revenue. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update argued that we should be ashamed if the Legislature doesn’t address over-incarceration this year.

A rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 14, will urge Legislators to reform civil asset forfeiture. We’ve previously written that New Mexico ended civil asset forfeiture abuse, and Oklahoma can, too. 

OK Policy in the News

Outreach and Legislative Liaison Bailey Perkins appeared on The Oklahoman’s Political State podcast previewing the 2017 Legislative session. Policy Director Gene Perry appeared on KTUL discussing the Governor’s proposed tax increases and spoke to the Journal Record on her proposal to eliminate the corporate income tax. KJRH discussed Gentzler’s analysis of fees, fines, and speeding tickets. The Stillwater News Press included our statement in a round-up of reactions to the State of the State, as did The Oklahoman. The Tulsa World shared information about local advocacy groups’ budgets and Boards, including ours. You can learn more about our Board here.

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‘Shame on us’ if we don’t address over-incarceration this year (Capitol Update)

by | February 10th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (3)

OK Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary last week and presented his request for an additional $1.165 billion appropriation for next fiscal year. The request is, of course, totally unrealistic, and Allbaugh knows it. But he’s trying to make the point that we are incarcerating too many people in Oklahoma, and we’re not treating those who are incarcerated right. In addition, we are wasting taxpayer money.

Also, last week Governor Fallin’s Criminal Justice Task Force released its final report. It was a real eye-opener! The report says that the Task Force “analyzed the state’s sentencing, corrections, and community supervision data and reviewed the latest research on reducing recidivism and improving public safety. The Task Force found that:

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