New Census data shows Oklahoma’s economy is leaving too many behind

by | September 18th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty | Comments (2)

New data shows that poverty remained high in Oklahoma last year, highlighting that many people have not yet recovered from the recession and underscoring the need for Oklahoma to do more to help people struggling to afford basics like decent housing, affordable health care, nutritious food, reliable child care and transportation.

poverty rate 2Just over 625,000 Oklahomans lived in poverty in 2013, or about one in six residents, according to Census Bureau data released today. That’s less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. Oklahoma’s poverty level declined slightly to 16.8 percent in 2013 from 17.2 percent in 2012, but has increased 0.9 percentage points since 2007. The child poverty rate in 2013 was 23.5, a decrease of 0.3 percentage points since 2012. The rate of families in poverty grew 0.6 percentage points from 2012, to 12.5 percent in 2013.

Despite sound bites about low unemployment from politicians, these numbers make it clear that too many families are working hard but not getting ahead. Continuing to block minimum wage increases, underfunding education, and refusing billions of dollars to expand health coverage won’t make it any easier for Oklahomans to get ahead.

continue reading New Census data shows Oklahoma’s economy is leaving too many behind

In The Know: New A-F school grades released; ‘F’ grades skyrocket following testing changes

by | September 18th, 2014 | 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.

The number of schools deemed failing by the Oklahoma State Department of Education soared from 163 to 200 after the state Board of Education voted to certify the 2014 A-F school grade cards. The Peckham School District in northern Oklahoma has gone from an A district to an F in two years, which the superintendents attributes to the district enrolling many special needs transfers. A heavily-Hispanic Oklahoma City Elementary School has begun a new dual-language program, teaching simultaneously in English and Spanish. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed why Oklahoma needs bilingual education in schools to close gaps for English Language Learners.

The full Oklahoma Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on October 14 in attorney Jerry Fent’s constitutional challenge to cutting income tax rates. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how Fent’s legal challenge could dramatically change the politics of tax cuts in Oklahoma. KJRH reported that Oklahoma is paying 75 percent of ad revenue from blue highway signs to a private contractor, a far higher percentage than other states contracting with the company. The economy in Oklahoma’s two largest metropolitan areas outpaced national growth in 2013. David Blatt’s Journal Record column shared the story of a conservative businessman who has become a champion of increasing the minimum wage.

The Tahlequah Daily Press wrote that comments by state Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) are advancing unfounded hatred and suspicion against Muslims. State prison officials are seeking to dismiss a federal lawsuit that argues journalists should have an unobstructed view of Oklahoma’s executions. Oklahoma Watch reported that the witness brought in by state Rep. Mike Christian to make a case for executing prisoners using nitrogen gas is not a doctor, but he was involved with Rep. Christian’s 2010 campaign for state House. Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel suggested in a public meeting Monday that the county might consider hanging people in the city square as a means of reducing crime.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma pregnant women who receive first trimester prenatal care. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress shows that the share of national income going to corporate after-tax profits has reached an all-time high.

continue reading In The Know: New A-F school grades released; ‘F’ grades skyrocket following testing changes

In The Know: Percentage of Oklahomans without health insurance falls for 3rd year

by and | September 17th, 2014 | 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.

New data from the U.S. Census shows the number and percentage of Oklahomans without health insurance has declined for the third year in a row. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained how to understand the new health insurance coverage estimates. The second annual open enrollment period begins Nov. 15 for the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance marketplace. Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak participated in a Q&A about the marketplace. A respiratory illness that has been causing some children in the region to go to intensive care has been confirmed in Oklahoma.

On the OK Policy Blog, we examined signs of weakening political participation and representation in Oklahoma. State election officials are encouraging Oklahomans to vote by mail to avoid lines at polling places in November. The Together Oklahoma coalition is launching a statewide “Together Tuesdays” tour with public discussion forums on how to get more engaged in Oklahoma’s political process. The first Together Tuesday forum will be September 23 in Enid. Tahlequah High School math teacher Jason Scott Proctor has been named Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.

Attorney Jerry Fent has filed a formal objection to a law to repair the state Capitol, likely triggering an Oklahoma Supreme Court review of the measure. Fent claims that since the law is specific to only one building, it is a “special law” that must be published in a newspaper for four consecutive weeks before the measure is considered. Officials from a group representing Oklahoma Muslims said they will “seek protection” following state Rep. John Bennett’s comments at a town meeting that the Islamic faith “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” A mystery substance found in an Okmulgee County river has prompted an investigation by multiple agencies. NewsOK examined efforts being made by oil and gas drillers in Oklahoma to reduce their water usage

Specific allegations of sexual assault by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper were detailed for the first time in documents released by the Creek County District Attorney’s Office. A Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy is in custody for sexual assault after he admitted to exposing himself and inappropriately touching a woman during a 911 call investigation, as well as engaging in sexual-type activity with about six women during traffic stops. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has cleared the way for an Owasso police officer who was fired in 2011 for excessive use-of-force to return to work. A private autopsy on a man who died following a confrontation with police in front of the Moore Warren Theatre found that he died from asphyxia, contradicting findings by the state medical examiner that he died of a heart condition.

The Number of the Day is the number of the Oklahoma children whose parents lacked secure employment in 2012, 30 percent of all kids in the state. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times reports on how a new approach to teaching history being promoted by Bill Gates is entering hundreds of high schools across the country.

continue reading In The Know: Percentage of Oklahomans without health insurance falls for 3rd year

Oklahoma’s democracy is broken

by | September 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)

low turnout2Last month,  Oklahoma voters went to the polls for primary runoff elections. Well, a few voters went to the polls. Average turnout was a paltry 18.1 percent. In 11 of the 16 runoff contests, fewer than one in five registered voters cast a ballot to select their party’s nominee. In the two statewide Democratic primaries for Superintendent of Instruction and U.S. Senator, turnout was less than 11 percent.

Pitiful turnout in primaries is an extreme example of a broader breakdown of democratic participation in Oklahoma. Earlier this year, Oklahoma was ranked 47th among the states for electoral performance in a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. On a majority of indicators in the study, including voter registration, turnout, voting wait time, and registration or absentee ballot problems, Oklahoma ranked among the bottom third of states.

In this post, we examine the signs of weakening political participation and representation in Oklahoma. In a follow-up post, we will consider some of the contributing factors behind our poor electoral performance and look at what we can do about it.

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In The Know: Attorney withdraws lawsuit against oil and gas tax changes

by and | September 16th, 2014 | 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.

Attorney Jerry Fent asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to dismiss his lawsuit challenging oil and gas production tax changes. Fent said he would have no comment on why he filed for dismissal. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how Fent’s lawsuits could dramatically change tax politics in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog discussed a new report from Governor Fallin’s office that lays out a path forward for criminal justice reform. State Sen. David Holt called for lawmakers to do something to address Oklahoma’s low voter turnout. OK Policy previously made the case for finding alternatives to very low turnout runoff elections.

The Tulsa World looked at what’s behind numbers ranking Oklahoma the third-highest in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men. Leaders of the Family Safety Center wrote a Tulsa World op-ed on what’s needed to stop the cycle of violence in domestic abuse. The arrest of NFL star Adrian Peterson has ignited debate in Oklahoma over when discipline becomes child abuse.

Recently released crime statistics show a large spike in the number of reported rapes in Oklahoma over the last two years. Law enforcement officials attributed the increase to a broadened definition of rape and efforts to reduce the stigma attached to reporting sexual assaults. An Oklahoma Highway Patrolman arrested on allegations of sexually assaulting women while on duty turned his dashboard camera and microphone off six times this year during traffic stops.

The Oklahoma City Council voted unanimously to deregulate fare-setting and require toughened background checks for drivers of both taxis and and new rideshare services Uber and Lyft. They are also considering whether a physical exam should be required before drivers get behind the wheel. The Tulsa school board worked on refining the superintendent’s job description Monday in preparation for opening the position to applicants in early October.

Volunteers working out of Goldsby are helping veterans to navigate the VA health care system. Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences is hoping to recruit more Native American high school and college students into the medicine and science fields. Oklahoma authorities say rainy weather and a cooler summer have been good for wildlife population growth, especially for skunks.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma women killed by men in 2012 whose killer was someone they knew. In today’s Policy Note, Vox explains why immigrants aren’t stealing American jobs.

continue reading In The Know: Attorney withdraws lawsuit against oil and gas tax changes

Has Governor Fallin turned a corner on criminal justice reform?

by | September 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (1)
House Speaker Steele shakes Gov. Fallin's hand upon signing of HB 3052. Photo by CapitolBeatOK.

House Speaker Steele shakes Gov. Fallin’s hand upon signing of HB 3052. Photo by CapitolBeatOK.

Two years ago, hopes were high that Oklahoma was finally taking a different approach to criminal justice, away from policies that had given us some of the highest levels of incarceration in the world without doing much to reduce crime and recidivism. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, spearheaded by former Speaker of the House Kris Steele, made recommendations to enhance public safety, strengthen post-release supervisions and treatment for addiction and mental health problems, and contain prison costs.

The effort culminated in HB 3052, a bill that left much undone but could have been an important first step towards a smart on crime state. Unfortunately, implementation of those reforms fell apart after Speaker Steele was term-limited out of the Legislature, and Governor Fallin’s office refused to cooperate with the oversight group he had set up.

Without a champion in the Legislature or Governor’s office, hopes have dimmed that we will see meaningful changes to reduce incarceration. However, a recent development may signal that Governor Fallin is becoming more supportive of reform. A new report made at the request of the Governor’s office lays strong recommendations for a path forward on this issue.

continue reading Has Governor Fallin turned a corner on criminal justice reform?

In The Know: State lawmakers to consider execution by gas

by and | September 15th, 2014 | 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 would become the first state to execute condemned inmates using nitrogen gas under a proposal that will be presented next week to a legislative committee. The Tulsa World reported that room where Oklahoma has conducted executions since 1992 is so dimly lit that executioners are provided a flashlight to see, and if something goes wrong, the executioners stick colored pencils through holes in the drug room wall to communicate with the doctor. Travelers holding an Oklahoma driver’s license may need a second form of identification to board a commercial airliner by 2016, because the state is refusing to comply with an act of Congress to make these licenses more secure.

On the latest OK PolicyCast, we discuss a new event series aimed at growing citizen involvement across Oklahoma. Though the minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour for most Oklahomans, several tribal nations in the state are taking the lead to boost their minimum wage. A national report has given Oklahoma’s nursing homes a failing grade, ranking them third worst in the nation. You can read the full report here. A state constitutional amendment has protected tobacco settlement funds in Oklahoma, while other states signed away the funds to private investors for up front cash.

The president of the Oklahoma NAACP wants the U.S. attorney general to open a hate crimes and civil rights investigation into alleged sexual assaults on black women by an Oklahoma City police officer. Buzzfeed reported on how investigators finally caught the police officer, who is alleged to have targeted women who were unlikely to report the crime. Time Magazine shared an essay by an advocate working for marriage equality for same-sex couples in Oklahoma. New Journal Record columnist Arnold Hamilton wrote that Oklahoma’s Republican leaders need to better crack down on hate speech coming from elected officials in their party.

The parents of a woman killed in 2011 are proposing a new law to protect Oklahoma workers from termination or demotion if they attend court hearings in support of their loved ones. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is giving $3.5 million in Affordable Care Act funding to 16 Oklahoma health centers to expand primary care services. An NSU undergraduate and former foster student is advocating for a new foster recruitment model that ensures kids can stay in the same school. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission held a meeting to discuss how they will implement a new utility tariff for users of rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed what the new small solar and wind energy tariff could mean. 

Representative Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, said Oklahoma does not have enough inspectors to ensure oil and gas wastewater disposal wells are not contaminating drinking water supplies. The Number of the Day is Canadian County’s ranking out of 3,135 U.S. counties in a New York Times analysis of the least and most difficult places to live in the country, the best ranking of any Oklahoma county. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab discusses a new push to improve road safety by turning four lanes into three.

continue reading In The Know: State lawmakers to consider execution by gas

The Weekly Wonk September 14, 2014

by | September 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | 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 on the OK Policy Blog, a post in our Neglected Oklahoma series described hunger in Oklahoma. We followed up on the situation of the unaccompanied children from Central America who had been housed at Fort Sill and the labyrinthine removal proceedings they are encountering. We’ve written about the children before. 

We explained that Oklahoma legislators selected which public employees will receive raises this year with little input from the agencies involved, creating a disjointed system wherein some workers receiving raises and some who won’t occupy very similar positions.

At the community forum “Resegregation of Tulsa Schools” hosted by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, Executive Director David Blatt spoke about how schools are still segregated by race and income. The Tulsa World wrote about the forum here. On this week’s PolicyCast, we discussed important headlines and announced an upcoming event series aimed at boosting citizen enrollment in Oklahoma. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS.

In his Journal Record column, Blatt explained how, contrary to popular prediction, the Affordable Care Act is working. Blatt was quoted in an MSNBC article on the increasing practice of levying court fines and fees to fund municipal budgets, and of imposing jail time if offenders are unable to pay.

The Okemah News Leader cited OK Policy in a discussion on raising the tipped wage. In our Editorial of the Week, the Tulsa World argues that Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma deserves a second look.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk September 14, 2014

OK PolicyCast: Episode 7

by | September 12th, 2014 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

radio micIn this week’s OK PolicyCast, we talk about a new event series aimed at growing citizen involvement across Oklahoma. We also discuss controversy over militarized police in Oklahoma, and a private firm that has been training police officers to seize cash from drivers at highway stops, even though they have not been charged with a crime.

We also talk about a push to increase the tipped minimum wage for Oklahoma service workers, a new study on wage theft, and how rising court fees are feeding Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis, as well as what the City of Tulsa is doing to prepare for climate change and attract millenials.

You can download the podcast here or play it in your browser:

In The Know: Oklahoma schools receive “F” grade from US Chamber

by | September 12th, 2014 | 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.

The US Chamber of Commerce assigned gave Oklahoma schools an overall “F” grade in a report measuring educational effectiveness. Oklahoma schools received failing grades in the areas of academic achievement; academic achievement of low-income and minority students; and return on investment. The report is available here. Speaking at a community forum on “Resegregation of Tulsa Schools” hosted by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, Executive Director David Blatt discussed race, poverty, and segregation in Tulsa schools.

A new report commissioned by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board found that 1 in 5 Oklahoma jobs are supported by the oil and natural gas industry. Last year, Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate reached a record low, although it remains above the national average and infant mortality remains much higher for racial and ethnic minorities than for white babies. The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board called for the state to reconsider its rejection of Medicaid expansion and the infusion of federal funds that would come with it. We’ve noted before that rejecting the funds means a massive tax transfer to Washington.

The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board applauded the state’s move toward “performance-based budgeting,” which takes past performance into account when determining a budget item’s funding. Oklahoma State University and Stillwater have implemented employee wellness programs in an effort to reduce health care spending on preventable conditions, and say that the efforts are paying off. A planned “Cherokee Outlets” development is estimated to bring 1,000 permanent jobs to Catoosa.

The ACLU of Oklahoma is suing for access records from a intelligence networking website hosted by the Logan County sheriff’s office. The ACLU contends that the website, which allows law enforcement to share information about American motorists, is used to “track the activities of thousands of American citizens without their knowledge or consent.” You can read the ACLU’s statement here. Drought in southeast Oklahoma has the city of Duncan scrambling to locate new sources of water. Estimates say that the city’s primary water source, Lake Waurika, could be too depleted to use by 2016.

ABC News reported that a number of cities, including Tulsa, are quietly preparing for climate change in the name of “disaster preparedness” by limiting development in future flood zones and looking into infrastructure that can handle increased storm runoff. The Number of the Day is the median home price in Oklahoma in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute assesses the impact of wage theft.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma schools receive “F” grade from US Chamber

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