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In The Know: More women head to state prisons

by | September 12th, 2016 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (2)

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

More Women Head to State Prisons: Despite years of concern over Oklahoma’s high rate of female incarceration, the number of women sent to prison jumped again in the latest fiscal year. In fiscal 2016, which ended June 30, the number of women sent to Oklahoma prisons rose by 9.5 percent, from 1,593 to 1,744, data from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows. The total men imprisoned that year fell by about 1 percent, to 8,282. Statewide, the number of new prisoners increased by less than 1 percent [Oklahoma Watch].

Robert Henry: Vote to reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: The overarching goal of public policy should be to protect citizens, strengthen communities and yield a wise return on investment. To this end, one of the most important issues facing Oklahoma is the need to reform our criminal justice system. Politically motivated policies and ineffective sentencing guidelines cause a great deal of harm to the safety and health of communities across our state. Yet families, communities and future generations can benefit greatly from policies based on sound logic, evidence and research [Robert Henry / NewsOK].

In reducing staff to cut budget, DHS paid millions to departing employees: The Department of Human Services spent $14 million on employees who resigned or accepted voluntary buyouts from the state agency in fiscal 2016, a 70 percent increase over the prior year. The increase in so-called “terminal leave” payments comes as the agency continues to deal with decreasing staff in some areas while simultaneously increasing staff in another department. A spokeswoman said the increase in terminal pay was to be expected. DHS has reduced staff by more than 1,200 employees over the past two years, agency spokeswoman Sheree Powell said in an email [Tulsa World].

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Oklahoma House races to watch this November (Capitol Updates)

by | September 9th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Elections | Comments (1)

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. You can find past Capitol Updates archived  on his website.

housechambersne_hiresWith 101 House seats, each up for re-election every 2 years, it’s a little difficult to know which races are left after the August runoff that remain truly competitive. I’ve counted 21 House races across the state that I think could develop into competitive races. Of those, 9 are currently held by Democrats and 12 by Republicans. Only 4 incumbents have races that look like they could end up being close. Three are Republican and one is a Democrat. There may be other close races, too.

In HD 2 incumbent John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) is in a race with Tom Stites (D-Sallisaw). Bennett has made anti-Muslim statements that have been controversial, but presumably he’ll pick up some support for the same reason. Stites, a Sallisaw businessman who holds an engineering degree from OSU and is an Air Force veteran, is a strong opponent. He is the son of former State Rep. J.T. States (D-Sallisaw).

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In The Know: Oklahoma gets more time to reform foster care program

by | September 9th, 2016 | 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

DHS Gets More Time To Reform Foster Care Program: DHS announced it will get more time to reform the state’s troubled foster care system. The initial deadline stemmed from a 2012 lawsuit settlement, where DHS agreed to improve several key areas deemed inadequate. DHS called the deadline to implement the so-called Pinnacle Plan ambitious, and it’s one they may not have met by December. But now, both parties agreed to extend the timeline to implement the plan after seeing enough improvements [News9].

State Medicaid director named to lead agency following CEO’s resignation: After almost two hours in executive session, the state Medicaid agency board voted Thursday to offer its chief executive officer position to a current agency leader. Becky Pasternik-Ikard, the state Medicaid director, was offered the Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO position at Thursday’s meeting. Board Chairman Ed McFall said the board selected a current Medicaid leader not only for continuity purposes but also for the long list of credentials Pasternik-Ikard brought to the table [The Oklahoman].

Company checks Cushing tanks for seismic stability: After a magnitude 4.5 earthquake rumbled underneath the Cushing oil terminal in October, Ken Erdmann, the engineering vice president at Matrix Engineering PDM, said he wanted to make doubly sure those crude storage tanks wouldn’t get damaged if the ground moved. So he and his colleagues took a closer look at the tanks his parent company manufactures. Examining a worst-case scenario, it was unlikely some of the largest tanks would be damaged. However, they were between the safety code and the failure point. Smaller tanks might need to be anchored [Journal Record].

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Run for the Border: Education Outlaws in Oklahoma (Neglected Oklahoma)

by | September 8th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Neglected Oklahoma | Comments (1)

Camille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

When people think of crossing the border to find a better life, they usually imagine people from foreign countries who are not legally entitled to be in the United States. But there’s another kind of border violation that is very common: parents enrolling their children in higher-performing schools outside their district because their local schools are failing.

Brandon Brown is one such child. “I’ll be 11 in October,” he tells me. In answer to the standard grownup-talking-to-kids question, Brandon reveals, “I’m gonna be in third grade.”

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In The Know: As some states curb high fines, Oklahoma’s go even higher

by | September 8th, 2016 | 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

As some states curb high fines, Oklahoma’s go even higher: When riots erupted two years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, some of the tension in the black community was blamed on the city’s use of court fines and fees that burdened many low-income people with debts they could not pay. Since then, Missouri has reduced the maximum fines for traffic tickets and other violations and limited the share of city budgets supported by fees. California and other states also adopted reforms, offering amnesty to some indigent offenders with large debts. Oklahoma made changes too, but its lawmakers went the other direction [Associated Press]. Oklahoma went the wrong way on fines and fees during the 2016 legislative session [OK Policy].

Section 8 housing voucher freeze hits Oklahoma City’s poorest residents hardest: Last March, about the time she and her husband were splitting up, Stacy Pece says she walked into the Oklahoma City Housing Authority and filled out an application for housing assistance. Six months later, Pece, 33, is living at the City Rescue Mission, an Oklahoma City homeless shelter, waiting to hear back from the housing authority. She guesses she’s called the agency about 200 times, looking for an update on the status of her application. She hasn’t heard back, she said [NewsOK]. Even though Oklahoma is considered an affordable place to live, housing costs are still unaffordable for many lower wage earners [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Transportation Department to share in returned funds: Flummoxed state transportation officials got the relief they were looking for Tuesday. State finance officials reversed course and said the Transportation Department is entitled to get back $11.35 million, after all. The money will be used to improve roads and bridges. “We’re delighted that everything worked out,” Mike Patterson, the Transportation Department’s executive director, said Tuesday [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Oklahoma Unemployment Exceeds National Rate First Time In 26 Years

by | September 7th, 2016 | 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.

Today In The News

Oklahoma Unemployment Exceeds National Rate First Time In 26 Years: Gross Receipts to the Treasury continued their downward trajectory for an 18th consecutive month in August as unemployment figures released late in the month show Oklahoma’s jobless numbers exceed the national rate for the first time in 26 years, according to State Treasurer Ken Miller. Reports released on Tuesday by Miller show gross receipts, which provide a broad view of state economic activity, were down by 4 percent in August compared to the same month of last year [NewsOn6].

Oklahoma child welfare improvement plan gets extension to implement changes: With the five-year deadline on the state’s child welfare improvement plan coming up in December, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the attorneys representing foster children have agreed to extend the timeline to fully implement the reforms. The extension stems from the acknowledgement that the requirement of having at least two years of sustained progress isn’t going to be met [Tulsa World]. The plan has consistently struggled to meet benchmarks since 2012 [OK Policy].

Geologist Sees Clues, and Further Dangers, in Puzzle of Oklahoma’s Earthquakes: Scientists and regulators agree that earthquakes like the 5.6-magnitude tremor that struck Oklahoma on Saturday, and thousands of smaller ones in recent years, have been spurred by the disposal of millions of tons of wastewater that is pumped to the surface, and then injected back into the ground, during oil and gas production. The shock last week tied a record set in 2011 in Prague, Okla., for the strongest such tremor in the state’s history [New York Times].

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At the intersection of hunger and health (Guest Post: Effie Craven)

by | September 6th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Effie Craven serves as the State Advocacy and Public Policy Director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, where she advocates for programs and policies that promote access to nutritious foods and economic security for all Oklahomans.

Photo by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Photo by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

In the food banking world, we frequently measure need in terms of “food insecurity.” Food insecurity is an economic condition describing a lack of adequate access to affordable, nutritious food. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, there are more than 650,000 food insecure people in Oklahoma — about 1 in 6 Oklahomans. At the same time, rates of chronic disease like hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease remain high, and Oklahoma continues to have one of the highest obesity rates in the nation.

Chronic disease and food insecurity are intricately linked and often lead to a vicious cycle. As limited income is stretched further by an illness and families are forced to make difficult choices, food is often the only part of a budget with any flexibility. Because healthy food is typically more expensive and has a shorter shelf-life than processed foods, families may opt for cheaper, longer-lasting but nutrition-deficient foods.

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In The Know: Record-tying Oklahoma earthquake felt as far away as Arizona

by | September 6th, 2016 | 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

Record-tying Oklahoma earthquake felt as far away as Arizona: A record-tying earthquake in the edge of Oklahoma’s key energy-producing areas rattled the Midwest from Illinois to the southwest part of Texas on Saturday, bringing fresh attention to the practice of disposing oil and gas field wastewater deep underground. The United States Geological Survey said a 5.6 magnitude earthquake happened at 7:02 a.m. Saturday in north-central Oklahoma, on the fringe of an area where regulators had stepped in to limit wastewater disposal [Associated Press]. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission moved to shut down 37 disposal wells in the area [Fox 25] and indicated that more actions may follow [OK Energy Today]. Governor Fallin declared a state of emergency for Pawnee County [KFOR].

Oklahoma lawmakers passed numerous bills raising fines, fees: The Oklahoma Legislature passed a number of measures this year that may raise fines or fees. A one-time, $5 fee to pay for new license plates will generate an estimated $18.5 million, plus an additional $4 million through increased compliance with registration laws. Another measure increased court fees for divorce and related matters, which will raise $11.2 million for the state [NewsOK]. The revenue from the new license plate fee will be split by the state and a 3M company [NewsOK]. The 2016 legislative session began with hope of progress on fines and fees, but last-minute legislation hiked them even further [OK Policy].

Expectations Remain High As Funding Decreases For OK Schools: It’s not just elementary and secondary schools in Oklahoma that are suffering from big budget cuts. State funding per student at the state’s colleges and universities are down 22 percent since 2008, and that’s having a big impact on both the schools and young people counting on a college degree to advance in life. All across the country, it’s a struggle to fund education from kindergarten through higher education, but add in tuition hikes and cuts in campus staff, and the quality of higher education here in Oklahoma has some concerned [NewsOn6]. Oklahoma leads the nation in cuts to general state aid to schools since 2008 [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

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The Weekly Wonk: Funding high-poverty schools; no good, very bad runoffs; & more

by | September 4th, 2016 | 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 on the OK Policy Blog, summer intern Kylie Thomas examined how a new federal education law could change how we fund high-poverty schools. Executive Director David Blatt argued against Oklahoma’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad runoffs. Policy Analyst Carly Putnam pointed out that Oklahoma is missing a big opportunity to improve mental illness and addiction treatment by refusing to expand Medicaid coverage.

In his Journal Record column, Blatt warned that four-day school weeks will leave more kids hungry. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update flagged nine Senate races to watch this November. In a guest post, Georgetown professors Deborah Phillips and William Gormley reported on their new research that found that the Tulsa Head Start program produces lasting gains

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Nine Oklahoma Senate races to watch this November (Capitol Updates)

by | September 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Elections | Comments (3)

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. You can find past Capitol Updates archived  on his website.

Last week’s runoff elections helped clear the picture for this November’s legislative races. With half the Senate’s 48 members up for election, it looks like there will be at least nine competitive Senate general election races — three seats currently held by Democrats and six by Republicans.

In Senate District 1, Michael Bergstrom, a high school English teacher in Bluejacket Public Schools, is the Republican candidate against John Myers, a long time veterinarian from Vinita. Bergstrom says he’s an educator, a Christian and a constitutional conservative. Myers says he wants to “promote and protect the assets” of Senate District 1 which means getting the state’s budget in order. SD 1 is currently held by Sen. Charles Wyrick, a Democrat.

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