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In The Know: Tax amnesty proposed to help offset budget shortfall

by | May 12th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

A two-month amnesty period for overdue state taxes was proposed in an Oklahoma House committee meeting as a way to help close a $611 million budget hole. New plans have been unveiled in the Legislature to finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build an OKPOP museum in Tulsa. A lawsuit by former state Rep. Mike Reynolds claims that Oklahoma’s last three state budget bills are unconstitutional because they also contain transfers.

The Oklahoman editorial board argued against a proposal that’s emerged in the Legislature to fund teacher pay raises by raiding teacher retirement funds. KOSU examined what’s behind the large teacher shortage in Oklahoma public schools. Oklahoma’s prekindergarten enrollment continues to be among the highest in the nation, according to a study released Monday. You can see the full study here and the Oklahoma fact sheet here.

OK Policy launched a complete redesign of our website that will be more accessible on mobile devices. Gov. Mary Fallin has vetoed legislation that would prohibit private entities from banning firearms in parks, recreational areas or fairgrounds. An Oklahoma man faces a possible life sentence for selling less than an ounce of marijuana. An op-ed by former Congressman J.C. Watts argues that the tide is turning toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. 

Sen. Kyle Loveless has filed a bill aimed at restricting civil asset forfeitures, which allow law enforcement to seize cash, vehicles and other property without any charges being filed. The OK Policy has examined this controversial practice of policing for profit in Oklahoma. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s spokesman has been placed on paid leave pending a performance evaluation.  The spokesman Maj. Shannon Clark had denied the existence of a 2009 memo detailing concerns about the training of a volunteer deputy who killed a restrained suspect, but the memo was later released. The Frontier examined how the story from the sheriff’s office has changed numerous times.

Attorneys contesting Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.’s request to hike electricity rates said the company is asking ratepayers to take on too much of the risk for a $1 billion environmental compliance and replacement generation plan. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said an initial effort to reduce the risks from man-made earthquake activity has led to more than half of the wastewater disposal wells being shut down or volumes reduced in the Arbuckle formation. The Tulsa County Health Department is ramping up mosquito control efforts and testing for diseases like West Nile following heavy rains in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is $3,671 – the 2014 state spending per child enrolled in pre-K in Oklahoma, down nearly 25 percent from 2010. In today’s Policy Note, Governing finds that for all the pushback against the Common Core educational standards, more than 40 states are still on board.

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Introducing the new okpolicy.org

by | May 11th, 2015 | Posted in OK Policy | Comments (0)

Photo by Gene Perry

Photo by Gene Perry

Welcome to the new okpolicy.org! We’ve redesigned the website from the bottom up to make it more beautiful and accessible.

A growing percentage of visitors to okpolicy.org are arriving on mobile phones or tablets, so a big priority for our redesign is to provide a much better experience across devices. The new site has a responsive layout for easy reading and navigation, whether you’re holding a phone, tablet, or a mouse. Check us out on your different devices or shrink your browser window to see the change in action.

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In The Know: Online court records system threatened by budget cuts

by | May 11th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Oklahoma is finally making some progress in bring all counties into an online court records system, but state budget cuts threaten to eliminate the popular website entirely. The Tulsa World and The Oklahoman both editorialized against the cuts to OSCN.net. An op-ed by Nikki Hager, a former OK Policy intern and the Midwest regional director of millennial advocacy group Common Sense Action, argued that short-sighted state budget decisions are hurting Oklahoma’s young people.

The Tulsa World reported that Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel shot a man in 2005 while acting as a volunteer reserve sheriff’s deputy, and officials were pointing out problems with the program a decade ago. The Tulsa World called for embattled Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz to resign immediately. Glanz has said he will not run for reelection in 2016.

On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed how this year the Legislature began the difficult work of changing the Oklahoma criminal justice system to make it fairer, less expensive to the taxpayer and more likely to give offenders a chance to reclaim their lives. A murder convict recently denied parole has filed a lawsuit alleging bias, citing a claim that a member of the state Pardon and Parole Board said she will never vote to parole an inmate convicted of murder.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law Friday a bill that will set up a framework to regulate ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft. Scaffolding will be erected this week and will stay up for three to four years as crews perform major repairs to the state Capitol. The city of Shawnee and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation are engaging in a power struggle as the Potawatomi chairman talks about de-annexing some of the tribe’s land that lies within Shawnee to form a tribal city called FireLake. The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Monday released their final rules to revise development of Osage Nation mineral rights, nearly three years after the government paid a $380 million settlement over its mismanagement of the tribe’s minerals.

The Number of the Day is 12.57 inches – the amount of rain recorded in the last 7 days at the Minco, OK Mesonet station, the highest in the state. In today’s Policy Note, the Pew Charitable Trusts examined how automatically created children’s savings accounts with a deposit seeded by states is helping to create a college-going culture in low-income communities.

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The Weekly Wonk May 10, 2015

by | May 10th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week, we delivered a letter signed by nearly one hundred nonprofits, businesses, churches, and other organizations to the Capitol asking legislators to halt the income tax cut. The letter and full list of signers can be found here. If you wish to add your organization, you can do so here. Click here to contact your legislators as an individual. The Tulsa World and Public Radio Tulsa discussed the letter, and one of the letter’s signatories explained on NewsOn6 why the Oklahoma PTA wants lawmakers to halt the tax cut. Executive Director David Blatt explained how halting the tax cut would help the state budget on News9. On the OK Policy Blog, we shared why lawmakers don’t need a supermajority to halt the tax cut.

We argued that while the Governor’s signature on a prescription monitoring program bill is a good step forward in the state’s struggle with prescription drug abuse, more people need access to treatment. A guest post made the connection between a higher minimum wage and economic well-being. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis celebrated bills whose passage signifies a shift to a more rational criminal justice system in Oklahoma. Writing in the Journal Record, Blatt called on lawmakers to approve legislation supporting a pop culture museum in Tulsa.

We are accepting applications for the 2015 Summer Policy Institute (SPI) through May 26th. SPI is an intensive, four-day program for undergraduate and graduate students interested in public policy on August 2-5, 2015 in Tulsa. Find out more about SPI with our video preview!

Weekly What’s That:

Committee bill

A committee bill is a new legislative procedure initiated by the Senate in 2015 that allows Senate bills to be introduced after the regular legislative deadlines. Read more.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

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Positive steps for criminal justice reform (Capitol Updates)

OklahomaStatePenSteve 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. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

The legislature this year began the difficult work of changing the Oklahoma criminal justice system to make it fairer, less expensive to the taxpayer and more likely to give offenders a chance to reclaim their lives.  Three bills that demonstrate a change in direction from piling on longer sentences and burdensome collateral consequences of being a convicted felon to a more rational approach have passed.  Two are awaiting the governor’s signature and one has been signed into law.

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In The Know: Family, advocates say insurers disproportionately deny mental illness treatment

by | May 8th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Oklahoma Watch shared the story of an Oklahoma family and their struggles to get their insurance company to cover their daughter’s mental illness. Advocates say that insurers disproportionately deny claims for mental illness treatment, despite state and federal laws requiring otherwise. Oklahoma Watch also released a timeline of the family’s fight to get insurers to cover her treatment. NewsOn6 discussed why Oklahomans say it’s a bad time for a proposed income tax cut to go into effect. Dozens of churches, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations are urging lawmakers to halt the tax cut. On the OK Policy blog, we explained that halting the tax cut doesn’t require a supermajority. Your organization can sign a letter telling lawmakers to stop the tax cut here.

Lawmakers say that a plan to give teachers a $1,000 pay raise with money that would otherwise go in a teacher pension fund is under consideration. The Oklahoman’s editorial board urged lawmakers not to raid funds from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to fill the budget hole. Low revenues from oil and gas production, combined with low first-quarter earnings in the energy sector, make crafting a budget an uncertain process. Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton suggested Oklahoma lawmakers are unwilling or unable to offer big-picture leadership. Following a story earlier this week about Oklahomans serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes, NewsOK profiled two women spending life in prison for nonviolent offenses. Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman says that he plans to offer legislation to fund a pop culture museum in Tulsa.

Embattled Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz says that he appointed friends and supporters as appraisers as a reward for supporting him. Those “political patronage” appointments earned up to $51,000 per person per year appraising foreclosures, but Glanz says the practice is common across the state. The Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force has agreed to reduce the cost of of a low-water dam package by 25 percent. Health officials say the state has seen its 113th flu death this season, but that the flu season seems to be winding down. Nearly a dozen students at a Tulsa high school have been suspended for a social media post portraying vandalism and a homophobic slur.

Oklahoma wheat growers are anticipating a harvest nearly twice the size of last year’s meager yield. The Number of the Day is 12th – the ranking of Tulsa-Muskogee-Bartlesville in the American Lung Association’s list of the most ozone-polluted cities. Oklahoma City-Shawnee ranked 15th. In today’s Policy Note, The Washington Post examines data showing that an alarming number of teenagers are dropping out of high school to find work.

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No, halting the tax cut doesn’t need a supermajority

by | May 7th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

OK_Supreme_Court

Oklahoma Supreme Court

Unless the Legislature acts to halt it, the state’s top income tax rate will fall from 5.25 to 5 percent next January based on legislation passed last session, SB 1246,  that tied the top rate cut to a revenue trigger. Even though the trigger was supposed to ensure that the tax cut would not take effect unless revenues were growing, the trigger was drafted in such a way as to kick in despite falling oil prices and projected revenue drops.

The tax cut contributes $57 million to the state’s $611 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and $147 million in 2017, while providing just $31 in savings for the average household. A majority of Oklahomans oppose moving ahead with the tax cut given the state’s budget situation, and close to 100 businesses, foundations, and organizations have joined a call for the tax cut to be halted.

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs bill reducing mandatory minimums for some drug offenders

by | May 7th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Governor Fallin has signed a bill reducing minimum sentences for some drug offenders convicted of trafficking. The bill reduces the minimum sentence for drug trafficking after two felony convictions from life without parole to 20 years in prison. The reform was one of many advocated for by Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, which represents employees in the Department of Corrections. The Tulsa World praised the measure and other criminal justice reforms passed this year. The Governor also signed bills tripling the state’s abortion waiting period, and banning tobacco at schools and school-sponsored events. Awaiting her signature is a bill that would allow dedicated personnel in schools to carry a gun, and a bill that would prevent businesses from banning guns at events held at parks, recreational area, and fairgrounds. Critics worry that the bill would cause national shows, athletic competitions, concerts, and other revenue-generating events that typically require gun bans to cancel contracts in the state.

State treasurer Ken Miller warned that the days of tax cuts without corresponding spending cuts are over. Oklahoma has a number of options for solving the budget gap. Miller and Executive Director David Blatt spoke to News9 about some of those options. A letter with signed by dozens of businesses, non-profits, churches and other organizations calling on state leadership to halt the scheduled income tax cut is available here. Organizations wishing to add their signature can do so here. Lack of funding is putting 911 call centers across the state in jeopardy. A guest post on the OK Policy blog showed that higher minimum wages improve economic well-being.

A Tulsa advocacy group has filed a petition requesting a grand jury investigation into the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. If approved, the group will have 45 days to gather 5,000 signatures from registered Tulsa County voters. Tulsa County has been ordered by a judge to pay nearly $300,000 in attorney fees incurred in its unsuccessful attempt to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In the Journal Record, Blatt argued in favor of the proposed OKPOP museum in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District. StateImpact asked Oklahoma farmers about a proposed right-to-farm measure and found that farmers with larger operations were more likely to favor the measure.

The Number of the Day is 468 – the number of reported violent crime offenses per 100,000 of the Oklahoma population 2010 – 2012. The US median was 199. In today’s Policy Note, The Marshall Project reports on the toll that chronic understaffing takes on one corrections professional and her family.

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Higher minimum wages improve economic well-being (Guest Post: Michael Krassa and Benjamin Radcliff)

by | May 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (0)

Michael A. Krassa is Professor Emeritus of Social Dimensions of Environmental Policy and Political Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Benjamin Radcliff, is a Professor of Political Science at University of Notre Dame and the author of The Political Economy of Human Happiness. This post originally ran as a brief for the Scholars Strategy Network.

Debates about the wisdom of hiking minimum wage levels are stuck in a rut. Opponents say higher minimum wages kill jobs, while supporters maintain that higher minimums reduce poverty and spur consumer spending, benefiting everyone. Many if not most economists believe both arguments to be true: higher minimum wages do indeed cost some jobs, but they also raise the standard of living for large portions of the population.

So how can we can decide whether or not higher minimum wages are, on balance, a good idea or not? Simply put, do average individuals living in nations that have higher minimum wages have higher levels of financial well-being? We decided to put this question to the test.

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In The Know: Tulsa Sheriff paid outside attorneys $700k from jail fund to defend civil rights suits

by | May 6th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office has made more than $700,000 in possibly illegal payments from the jail tax fund during the past four years to outside law firms to defend an avalanche of civil rights lawsuits against the sheriff and his employees. Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law Tuesday a statewide ban of texting while driving. The House Appropriations chairman said Oklahoma lawmakers plan to use ‘rainy day’ funds, cash reserves, the state’s unclaimed property program and county apportionment funds to bridge half of a $611.3 million budget hole, with cuts to state services covering the rest.

Leaders from over ninety businesses, organizations, religious institutions, and philanthropic foundations from across Oklahoma released a letter urging Governor Fallin and legislative leaders to halt the income tax cut scheduled to take effect next January. You can see the letter and list of signers here and go here to contact your legislators about halting the tax cut. 

The Journal Record (subscription only) examined how state cuts to the Oklahoma Arts Council budget has a ripple effect on groups throughout the state. Oklahoma judges are warning that proposed budget cuts threaten the existence of a popular website of court information viewed by the public more than 500,000 times a day. 

Devon Energy Corp. posted a first quarter loss of $3.6 billion, because the oil in the ground Devon has yet to produce is worth a little more than half of what it was one year ago. Revenue to the state treasury was up just 0.5 percent over the previous April as gross production taxes plunged by more than half. Oklahoma City’s budget proposal for next year seeks to balance the likelihood of a slowing economy against population increases and residents’ rising expectations of government.

The Tulsa school board voted unanimously to move the district’s six year-round schools back to the traditional calendar used by the rest of the district. The Oklahoma governor’s office and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma soon will be in compact negotiations concerning the state’s hunting and fishing regulations. The Cherokee Nation has previously argued that its citizens do not need state hunting or fishing licenses on lands that historically belonged to the Cherokees. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced that more than $1.6 million in Affordable Care Act funding will go to three new health center sites in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma families earning below 200% of the federal poverty level. In today’s Policy Note, New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall discusses similarities between the social problems in Baltimore, Maryland and in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

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