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Please don’t feed the stereotypes

by | July 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This is an expanded and revised version of an op-ed that ran in The Oklahoman.

The Oklahoma Republican Party recently ignited a local and national firestorm with a Facebook post pointing out a so-called irony of signs in national parks warning that feeding animals can create dependence on handouts at a time when a growing number of Americans are receiving federal food stamp benefits.

The post, which was later deleted, displayed a callous and mistaken understanding of the food stamp program and the people it serves. The program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is among the most effective ways that the United States helps hard-pressed families to stay afloat and ensure they can afford enough to eat.

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In The Know: Grand jury sworn in for investigation of Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office

by | July 22nd, 2015 | 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

Grand jury sworn in for investigation of Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office: The inquiry is a culmination of a nearly 45-day petition effort by Marq Lewis and We the People Oklahoma. The 12 jurors and 3 alternates will conduct an extensive investigation that could result in Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s ouster from office [Tulsa World].

Committee recommends sales tax hike to build new Oklahoma County jail: A committee that spent seven months studying options for the problem-plagued Oklahoma County jail voted Tuesday to recommend building a new facility. It would be paid for with a county one cent sales tax increase for up to five years [NewsOK].

Governor Fallin executive order gives attorney general new power: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has issued an executive order granting the state attorney general’s office expanded authority over proposed actions of numerous state regulatory boards. Board members who reject the attorney general’s advice will be subject to removal for misconduct [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Legislators to study privatization of Commerce Department

by | July 21st, 2015 | 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

Legislators to study privatization of Commerce Department: A joint House-Senate interim study led by Sen. Ron Justice and State Rep. Leslie Osborn will look at privatizing all or part of the state Department of Commerce. Several other states have handed over business recruitment to privately run boards. Greg LeRoy, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Good Jobs First, said they’ve found that allowing businesses to run an economic development agency is inherently corrupting [Journal Record].

Oklahoma environmental violators fund projects in lieu of fines: Fines for dumping or polluting don’t always have to be paid in cash. Since 1995, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Policy has allowed polluters to fund what it calls supplemental environmental projects as part of their fine. DEQ recently added water loss audits as a qualifying initiative, to help municipalities find how and where aging pipeline infrastructure leaks [Journal Record].

‘Illegal activity’ fine print compounds an Oklahoma tragedy: Monroe Bird III, a 21-year-old Tulsan, was shot by a security guard while sitting in a car with a friend and left paralyzed from the neck down. Mr. Bird’s insurance company declined to cover his medical bills, claiming that his injuries resulted from “illegal activity.” Yet Mr. Bird was not convicted of any crime in connection with the incident. He was not even charged. Without insurance, he was discharged from the hospital and died at home last month from a preventable complication often seen in paralyzed patients [New York Times].

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Oklahoma’s income inequality is at an all-time high

by | July 20th, 2015 | Posted in Economy | Comments (6)

Chan Aaron is an OK Policy summer intern. He is pursuing an environmental policy degree at The University of Tulsa. He is also a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in philosophy and a veteran of the United States Navy.

Photo Credit: Kia Cheng Boon / 123rf

Photo Credit: Kia Cheng Boon / 123rf

Rising income inequality has become one of the biggest concerns for U.S. and world leaders in recent years, and for good reason. As recent data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows, income inequality in the United States is near a historic high not reached since just before the Great Depression. While incomes for Oklahoma households are slightly more equal than the nation as a whole, they are still the highest they have been in the state’s 107-year history.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s study, the average income of the top 1 percent of Oklahomans in 2012 (the most recent data) was $1,105,521, which is 26 times greater than the average income for the other 99 percent of the state ($41,995). Oklahoma’s 2012 economic disparity numbers ranked 12th highest in the nation.

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In The Know: Earthquake restrictions announced for some Oklahoma injection wells

by | July 20th, 2015 | 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

Earthquake restrictions announced for some Oklahoma injection wells: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has ruled the oil and gas wastewater injection wells in 21 Oklahoma counties fall under a seismicity watch. The well operators have until August 14 to prove they are not injecting below the Arbuckle geological formation, which scientists say is increasing earthquake risk [OK Energy Today]. St. Gregory’s University, a Catholic university and monastery in Shawnee, is still dealing with hundreds of thousands in costs from a damaging earthquake in 2011 [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Judge tosses out Oklahoma Attorney General’s lawsuit against EPA Clean Power Plan: More than two weeks after filing another lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its Clean Power Plan, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s suit has been tossed by a Tulsa U.S. District court judge. In the ruling issued Friday by Judge Claire Eagan, she said the lawsuit was premature and lacked jurisdiction. She said his claim that the EPA’s plan to cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 would harm Oklahoma’s electricity system was “exaggerated” [OK Energy Today].

Funding drops again for Oklahoma schools: Even though the Oklahoma legislature was able to keep the budget for the State Department of Education from seeing a decrease for this fiscal year, initial allocations for some area school districts are not faring as well. SDE had to hold out more money for charter schools and virtual schools, as well as about $3.5 million for changes to the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship that provides vouchers for students with disabilities to attend private schools [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise]. Since 2008 Oklahoma has made the largest cuts to per-pupil education funding in the nation [OK Policy].

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The Weekly Wonk: Barriers to housing for ex-felons, gendered political offices, and more

by | July 19th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent events, 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:

A new issue brief examines the barriers that prevent ex-felons from accessing affordable housing in Oklahoma. In some cases, a pattern of arrests, regardless of conviction, may be enough to bar people from housing. On the OK Policy Blog, we discuss why a proposed overtime update is long overdue. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis shares details about upcoming interim studies at the Legislature. We found that political offices across Oklahoma are highly gendered, with the vast majority of some offices (sheriff, legislator) held by men and the vast majority of others (county clerks, election board secretaries) held by women.

Executive Director David Blatt celebrates the 50th year of Medicare and Medicaid in his Journal Record column. Following remarks from the Oklahoma Republican Party comparing food stamp recipients to animals that national park visitors are asked not to feed, Blatt wrote an op-ed in The Oklahoman calling for an end to misconceptions about the SNAP program.

OK Policy in the News:

The Journal Record and the Tulsa World covered a Tulsa Regional Chamber forum on health care reform in Oklahoma on Wednesday, where Blatt and other panelists called on the state to accept federal funds to expand health coverage to more than 100,000 Oklahomans. Blatt was also quoted in a Tulsa World piece on a report showing that Oklahoma’s state and local sales tax rates are among the highest in the US.

Weekly What’s That:

Federal poverty level

The federal poverty level (FPL) is a measure of income issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services that is used to determine eligibility for various public programs and benefits, including Medicaid, health insurance premium tax credits, the free- and reduced- school lunch program, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and many others. Read more.

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

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‘Full House’ interim studies look at hot-button issues (Capitol Updates)

by | July 17th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | 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 sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman

House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved 94 interim studies for the legislative interim.  All you have to do is look at the breadth of interim study proposals to realize the reach of public issues that are dealt with by the legislature.  The study requests stretch from “Courthouse Security around the State” requested by Rep. Scott Biggs to “Expanding Access to Primary Care for Oklahomans and the Role of the Nurse Practitioner” by Rep. Jon Echols and most every topic in between.

I think the breadth of issues is a surprise to new legislators.  Most of them ran for office because of their interest in one or two issues-or a particular point of view about government-and they are shocked to find themselves voting on all kinds of things they’ve never thought much about.  The positive side of this is that legislative service is a great learning experience, if you’re willing to learn.  Most of legislators rise to the occasion and do good things for the people of the state.

In times past when an interim study was approved, the author of the request, along with House leadership would recruit legislators interested in the topic to serve on a special interim committee to study the issue.  Some time ago the practice was changed, for the most part, to assigning the study to one of the standing committees with jurisdiction over the topic.  This seems to have worked out pretty well.

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In The Know: President Obama tours El Reno prison

by | July 17th, 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.

Today In The News

President Obama tours El Reno prison: Wrapping up his trip to Oklahoma, President Obama visited a medium-security federal prison in El Reno and met privately with a group of inmates. Following the meeting, the President said that the inmates had made the same mistakes the President and others had made, but without “the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.” He also discussed the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform, particularly for nonviolent drug offenses. President Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison [Vice News]. The US is home to 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners [NewsOK].

State Supreme Court declines to halt grand jury investigation into TSCO: Following arguments before a referee yesterday, the state Supreme Court today declined Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s request to block a grand jury investigation into his office. A jury pool of 100 Tulsa County residents has been summoned to appear at the county courthouse on  Monday morning [Tulsa World]. However, it’s possible that Sheriff Glanz could still request a stay or file a motion to reconsider at the district court level [Tulsa Frontier]. According to sources in the sheriff’s office, a disciplinary hearing will be held on Friday regarding the two Tulsa County deputies who held down Eric Harris after he had been shot and said “F–k your breath” after he said he couldn’t breathe [NewsOn6].

Oklahomans with criminal records face barriers to housing: A new in-depth report examines how Oklahoma’s major public housing assistance programs exclude people with felony records from accessing affordable housing. Excluding people with records from housing breaks up families, prevents ex-offenders from finding and holding work, and contributes to homelessness [OK Policy].

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No place to go: Oklahomans with felony convictions face barriers to affordable housing

This report was funded by a grant from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.

[See the full issue brief]

homeless manOklahoma’s tough-on-crime criminal justice ethos results in one of the highest per-capita incarceration rates in the US. Thousands of these incarcerated Oklahomans are released to the streets every year, but when they are released, many ex-offenders have nowhere to live.

A new issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute discusses barriers to affordable housing for Oklahomans with felony convictions; details what those barriers mean for ex-felons and their families; and shares models used by other states and localities to effectively use housing to decrease homelessness and recidivism and strengthen families.

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In The Know: Property seized by law enforcement misspent, missing

by | July 16th, 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.

Today In The News

Audit records show state law enforcement misusing seized property: Under a practice called ‘civil asset forfeiture,’ law enforcement are authorized to seize money and property they have reason to suspect is involved in the commission of a crime. Authorities can keep the assets regardless of whether the suspect is charged or convicted, although the proceeds are supposed to be used to enforce drug laws or drug-abuse prevention. However, state audit data shows that, on occasion, Oklahoma law enforcement have used seized property for personal use: an assistant defense attorney lived rent-free in a seized house for years, and seized money was used to pay for a prosecutor’s student loans [Oklahoma Watch]. A further listing of the audit’s findings is available here.

President Obama comes to Oklahoma: Speaking in Durant on Wednesday, President Obama announced Connect Home, which works to close the digital divide between students with easy access to internet and those without. The program plans to offer free or reduced-cost high-speed internet service in 27 communities around the US and the Choctaw Nation. President Obama spoke publicly at Durant High School for about 30 minutes and met privately with a group of Native American teenagers for about an hour [Tulsa World]. The full text of his speech is available here. A group convened a rally around the Confederate battle flag in Durant prior to the President’s arrival, although due the property owners’ requests, the group was forced to relocate several times [Tulsa World]. The President will tour the Federal Correction Institution El Reno on Thursday – the first sitting president to visit a federal prison [NewsOK].

Health care wonks, execs encourage state to accept Affordable Care Act: At a forum convened by the Tulsa Regional Chamber on Wednesday, representatives from a range of organizations involved in health care policy in Oklahoma urged the Governor and the Legislature to take advantage of the opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act, including job creation and the expansion of health coverage to uninsured Oklahomans. Although the panel was agreed on the health law’s benefits, many expressed concern that the political will isn’t present to expand coverage to over 100,000 Oklahomans who are currently unable to access health coverage [Journal Record]. The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board called on the state to broaden coverage by expand its its popular Insure Oklahoma [Tulsa World]. Insure Oklahoma currently covers nearly 18,000 Oklahomans with a combination of state and federal funds [OK Policy].

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