In The Know: State fails to autopsy most executed inmates

by and | June 24th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that a Tulsa World investigation found that the state has conducted autopsies on less than half of the inmates executed in Oklahoma since 1990 and in many cases does not perform tests that could show whether inmates were awake and paralyzed as painful drugs flowed into their veins. The Tulsa World reported that a 2011 law that cloaks Oklahoma’s execution procedures in secrecy and nearly sparked a constitutional crisis sailed through the state Legislature with no debate and little opposition.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority will consider $252 million in Medicaid cutbacks at its board meeting on Thursday, including new limits on patient services, higher copays and smaller reimbursements to doctors and other medical providers. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed what could be the impact of these cuts. The Tulsa Initiative Blog discussed how Oklahoma has put itself in the control group in a test of expanding health coverage through Medicaid, which may prove to be expensive for the citizens who cannot afford health care and the hospitals who face unpaid bills without federal funding to mitigate the loss. The Tulsa World called for the Legislature to eliminate a loophole in Oklahoma’s Open Records Act that a judge ruled allows Governor Fallin to shield records relating to her decisions to reject federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

With voters headed to the polls today, KGOU shared four Oklahoma primary races to watchRepublican domination of the Legislature is expected to continue after this election cycle. The badvoter.org website, which allows anyone to look up whether individual Oklahomans are voting, is stirring mixed feelings among Oklahomans. Fivethirtyeight and NPR provided rundowns of the U.S. Senate primary race between James Lankford and TW Shannon, who are trying to distinguish themselves in style if not substance. Republican congressional candidates Shane Jett and Daryl Robertson have not filed financial disclosure reports even though they have met the campaign spending threshold. Candidates running for state offices in Oklahoma have raised more than $900,000 in last-minute contributions over the past two weeks.

Ten city attorneys have written a letter to Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz stating that he has no authority to decide which inmates are housed in the Tulsa Jail and at what cost. Amid a lengthy losing streak in his fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt reached a small, symbolic victory in a Supreme Court ruling on regulation of greenhouse gases. The decision will not affect major new greenhouse gas regulations for power plants that the agency proposed earlier this month. The University of Oklahoma is planning a $12 million project to build tornado shelters on its Norman campus.

The Oklahoma Conference of Churches is recruiting pro-bono legal services, clinicians, and counselors to aid immigrant children being housed at Fort Sill. Northeastern State University has received a five-year grant of $735,000 aimed at improving child welfare services in the Cherokee Nation. The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahoma youth that participated in 4-H programs in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the New Republic discusses how the absence of guaranteed paid family leave in the United States is preventing us from seeing working men as fathers.

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In The Know: Pair of DEQ staffers conspired with legislator to torpedo agency funding

by and | June 23rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (6)

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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that a Journal Record investigation uncovered that a state representative who oversaw the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s budget conspired with two DEQ staff members to gut its funding as retribution against the agency’s new director. Researchers from OU and OSU who have criticized the state’s A-F school grading system say State Superintendent Janet Barresi made false claims about their work in recent campaign appearances. 

David Blatt wrote in the Tulsa World that proposed Medicaid copay hikes could seriously harm Oklahoma’s poorest and sickest citizens, without saving the state money over the long run. An OK Policy fact sheet explains why Oklahoma should not hike Medicaid copays and what you can do to take action. The Tulsa World praised Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s finding that lawmakers’ attempt to take money out of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship trust fund is unconstitutional. OK Policy first broke the new about this illegal budget maneuver.

An Oklahoma County election official said early-voting turnout has been similar to past primary turnouts. Tulsa World columnist Mike Jones argued that Oklahoma’s low voter turnout is empowering extremists. A new website at badvoter.org allows Oklahomans to look up their voting records as well as the records of friends, family, employers, elected officials and even famous Oklahomans. Key individuals involved in a so-called “dark-money” group supporting T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate this year have had close ties with the campaign or its main consulting firm, and the Oklahoma County District Attorney is investigating whether there has been illegal collusion.

On the OK Policy Blog, we shared video of a panel discussion featuring OK Policy’s Kate Richey on expanding economic opportunity in Oklahoma. An OK Policy report lays out recommendations for closing the opportunity gap for people of color in Oklahoma. Oil and gas companies have applied for more than 6,000 drilling permits in Oklahoma for the second consecutive year. Governor Fallin toured the Fort Sill Army barracks that is housing about 600 immigrant children and said they appeared to be healthy and in good spirits.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board praised a new law that establishes best practices for police officers to assess domestic violence situationsOklahoma’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent in May, as the nation as a whole posted a fourth straight month of solid hiring. After three years of choosing between the rival Tulsa Christmas Parade and the Downtown Parade of Light, Tulsans will once again have just one holiday parade — called the American Waste Control Tulsa Christmas Parade. OK Policy analyst Carly Putnam wrote in the Oklahoma Gazette why a novel that one legislator used as an example of the evils of Common Core should be read by all Oklahomans.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans with disabilities. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses what the budgetary disaster emerging from Kansas’ radical tax-cutting experiment should mean for other states.

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The Weekly Wonk June 22, 2014

by | June 22nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog | Comments (1)

the_weekly_wonk

The 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 called on you to help stop harmful changes to Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. As we’ve previously written, proposed copayment hikes would damage Medicaid recipients’ health without saving money for the state. We wrote that lawmakers haven’t done enough to end the crisis in Oklahoma’s prisons. You can read our suggested reforms for the state criminal justice system here.

The state legislature made unsustainable, irresponsible choices when building the FY 2015 budget. Our evaluation of the budget can be found here. OK Policy staffer Kate Richey participated in a panel entitled “Expanding Opportunity in Oklahoma: Earned Success and the Paths to Prosperity” in Oklahoma City last week. You can watch the panel discussion here, and read more about building equity in Oklahoma here.

The Tulsa World quoted Policy Director in a discussion of the debate surrounding wind energy in Oklahoma. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt wrote that the legislature acted inappropriately when they raided the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship trust fund to balance the state budget.

In our Editorial of the Week, The Oklahoman agreed with Blatt, arguing that lawmakers were risking one of the best things they’d ever made for young Oklahomans. The maneuver was deemed illegal by the state Attorney General’s office on Thursday.

Quote of the Week

“I’ve had parents, and even some of the children tell me, ‘There is no childhood here.’ There’s not any calculated attempt to game the system. There’s just one last attempt to survive, and try to have some quality of life.”

- Elizabeth Kennedy, a Fulbright scholar who is researching the causes of child migration in Central America. Currently nearly 600 children who were detained crossing the border are being held at Fort Sill (Source: http://nbcnews.to/1vzY2Ft)

Numbers of the Week

  • $957 million - Amount spent on food purchases from Oklahoma grocers by the 889,137 Oklahomans receiving SNAP benefits in FY 2013.
  • 102.4 million – Total number of volunteer service hours performed by Oklahomans in 2012.
  • $14.77 – Median hourly wage for Oklahoma workers in 2013.
  • $202 – Average monthly tax credit for Oklahomans who purchased insurance on Healthcare.gov. The tax credits reduced average monthly premiums to $75.
  • 45th – Oklahoma’s rank in the AARP’s state scorecard on long-term services and supports for older adults, people with physical disabilities, and family caregivers.

What We’re Reading

Watch This: Expanding Opportunity in Oklahoma

by | June 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Watch This | Comments (0)

OK Policy staffer Kate Richey recently participated in a panel discussion in Oklahoma City titled “Expanding Opportunity in Oklahoma: Earned Success and the Paths to Prosperity.”  Kate coordinates Oklahoma Assets Network (OAN), which represents individuals and organizations working to promote proven tools for all Oklahomans to build stronger financial foundations.

Watch the clip below for a discussion on opportunity in Oklahoma which also included Ryan Kiesel (Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma), Jonathan Small (Vice President for Policy, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs), and Dr. Jason Sorens (Lecturer, Department of Government, Dartmouth College).

In The Know: AG finds diversion of Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship funds is illegal

by | June 20th, 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.

Today you should know that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has found that legislators acted unlawfully when they tried to divert nearly $8 million from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship trust fund to general revenue. The blog post where OK Policy broke the story is available here, and you can read the Attorney General’s opinion here. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt argued that raiding the trust fund was an unacceptable tactic in balancing the budget.

A post on the OK Policy blog examined more of the underhanded funding grabs the legislature made in lieu of building a responsible and sustainable state budget this year. Early voting has begun ahead of Tuesday’s primary election. State superintendent candidate Joy Hofmeister has called for a federal investigation of reported violations of student privacy by incumbent Janet Barresi’s campaign. A panel hosted by the Tulsa Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists held a panel to discuss statewide educational issues on Thursday.

Gov. Fallin is planning to tour the Fort Sill army barracks where 600 immigrant children are being housed by the federal government. A Cherokee group that commemorated their ancestors by biking the 1,000-mile Trail of Tears over three weeks arrived home on Thursday. Petitioners collecting signatures for an initiative to put medical marijuana to a state vote in November say that they continue to be harassed by law enforcement while gathering signatures. An Oklahoma man who says that he was tortured while held in a Bryan County jail has settled a lawsuit over his mistreatment.

The Tulsa City Council has approved the city’s 2015 budget, which is about 2.4 percent smaller than last year’s budget. A number of Tulsans dialing 911 report being put on hold, a problem that Tulsa’s 911 director attributes to budget cuts. Oklahoma homeless assistance programs will receive $785,047 in additional funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Scientists report that drought conditions have led to a relatively calm tornado season in Oklahoma: only seven tornadoes have been confirmed in the state so far this year, compared to a more typical 40 to 45.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank on an AARP score card comparing long-term services and supports for older adults, people with physical disabilities, and family caregivers. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times investigates who earns the minimum wage and  would be affected by proposed increases.

continue reading In The Know: AG finds diversion of Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship funds is illegal

They did what?? Funding grabs create shortfalls for many agencies

by | June 19th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

pickpocketFaced with a nearly $200 million shortfall in building the FY 2015 budget, legislative leaders and Governor Fallin had three basic choices.

They could have simply cut spending, slashing deeply across all areas of government. This would have left unaddressed critical needs for schools, state employees, the child welfare system, and others, and forced massive cuts on our health care system.

They could have filled the budget hole by curbing tax breaks and closing tax loopholes. This would have strengthened our faltering tax system over the long term but would have antagonized powerful beneficiaries of tax preferences and anti-tax hardliners.

Instead of either of these tough options, they went for the seemingly easier one of balancing the budget by scrounging together whatever money they could find in state funds, even if they were only one-time revenues and even if the money was collected for other purposes than supporting general state operations.

continue reading They did what?? Funding grabs create shortfalls for many agencies

In The Know: Oklahomans paid $75 a month for ACA health insurance after tax credits

by | June 19th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Oklahomans who paid an average premium of $75 per month for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, with federal tax credits reducing premiums by 73 percent on average. Tulsa health officials said they were concerned about low vaccination rates, which are threatening a comeback of preventable diseases like pertussis and measles. This Land Press shared the story of Standpipe Hill north of downtown Tulsa, an abandoned neighborhood that played a role in the 1921 Tulsa race riot.

The race for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has turned negative, with candidates debating who is most liked by the Sierra Club. With no Democratic or Independent candidates running for the seat, the race will be decided in the Republican primary. Governor Fallin is facing two challengers in the Republican primary, both of whom support legalizing marijuana. The campaign manager for Superintendent Janet Barresi accused rival Joy Hofmeister of breaking the law by sending campaign-related emails to school district administrators on their work accounts. The Barresi campaign also alleged that Hofmeister had illegal collusion with dark money groups supporting her campaign. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is looking into this allegation and similar complaints against US Senate candidate TW Shannon. The Oklahoma Gazette reported on how education issues are factoring into this year’s elections.

The Oklahoma City Council tabled proposed home day care regulations that some home day cares said would put them out of business. While the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 17 hate groups in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Gazette discussed groups in the state that are fighting bigotry and discrimination. Tulsa Union Public Schools Superintendent said the school has no intention of changing its Redskins mascot, despite the U.S. Patent Office denying the Washington Redskins a patent for the name because it is disparaging to Native Americans. Three environmental groups Tuesday sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the government did not go far enough when it designated the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened” rather than “endangered.” 

Rep. Mark McCullough suggested that a multi-million dollar project to build a unified computer system for Oklahoma courts may need to be scrapped after court officials terminated a contract with the company that was tasked with doing it. Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Colbert cited the state transferring money away from the project to cover general operations as the reason for ending the contract. The Number of the Day is the average monthly tax credit for Oklahomans who purchased insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. In today’s Policy Note, the Prison Policy Initiative reviews world incarceration rates if every U.S. state were a country.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahomans paid $75 a month for ACA health insurance after tax credits

In The Know: Judge rules Fallin can withhold documents

by and | June 18th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (1)

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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that an Oklahoma County judge upheld Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to withhold documents requested under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, but the judge said she must release a log identifying which documents she is withholding. Fallin has withheld 31 documents consisting of 100 pages related to her decisions to reject a state health insurance exchange and to not expand Medicaid coverage to low-income Oklahomans. The ACLU of Oklahoma, which provided legal support for plaintiffs in the lawsuit, released a statement on the ruling.

Behind in some polls, state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi has loaned her re-election campaign more that $900,000 in the last month, bringing the total loans to her campaign to $1.2 million. Education writer John Thompson discussed the growing education advocacy efforts of VOICE, a coalition of congregations and nonprofits that recently held a forum for superintendent candidates. The OK Policy Blog provided a rundown of major bills affecting Oklahoma’s criminal justice system this year and discussed how lawmakers have done almost nothing to stop an emerging crisis in state prisons.

Lawton police have turned down a request by federal officials to provide security for immigrant children living at Fort Sill. Oklahoma City attorney David Slane wrote an op-ed arguing for comprehensive immigration reform to give easier pathways to immigrants seeking a better life in the United States. NewsOK reported on an effort by Oklahoma’s Red Dirt music community to build support for accepting federal funds to expand health coverage. The OK Policy Blog previously shared a music video made for this effort. An Edmond Sun op-ed discussed how doctors can meet the legitimate pain medication needs of patients while staying in compliance with the law.

A multi-county grand jury will investigate the Scientology-based rehab center Narconon, where three people died in 2011 and 2012. A state audit of Rogers County has discovered millions in misused funds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected property taxes. The Tulsa World argued that a proposed increase in Broken Arrow’s hotel tax is unlikely to affect travelers’ decisions of where they get a hotel. Oklahoma’s average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is up to $3.48 per gallon, the highest price since September 2013.

KOCO reported on how summer meal programs in Oklahoma schools are meeting a dire need for children without enough to eat at home. KFOR shared a Q&A on earthquake insurance for homeowners. A new report on the best and worst states for knowledge jobs and technological innovation ranked Oklahoma 48th in the nation. The Number of the Day is the median hourly wage for Oklahoma workers in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, the Arkansas Times shared stories of how accepting federal funds to expand health care coverage in the state is already changing lives.

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What lawmakers didn’t do to end the crisis in our prisons

by | June 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (2)
Photo by Randy Heinitz used under a Creative Commons License.

Photo by Randy Heinitz used under a Creative Commons License.

For years, observers have warned of an emerging crisis in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system. With state prisons and county jails packed full and staffing levels falling to the worst in the whole nation, Oklahoma has put the safety of both prisoners and correctional officers at risk.

Our options to prevent a tragedy were to reduce incarceration and ease pressure on the system or to spend what is necessary to ensure safety. For years, lawmakers did neither, and the tragedies we’ve been warned about are now piling up.

In a Tulsa World editorial, Oklahoma Corrections Professionals director Sean Wallace listed a few of those tragedies: “a female case manager was brutally assaulted in her office, another was taken hostage with a knife to her throat, an inmate was murdered for the first time in the history of the James Crabtree Correctional Center, a national report was released showing the State’s all-female prison in McLoud has the highest rate of reported sexual assaults in the nation, two officers were critically injured in a traffic accident after their state vehicle broke down.” Meanwhile, the Oklahoman reports there have been multiple incidents of corrections officers being injured or killed because they fell asleep behind the wheel while working brutally long hours.

It’s clear that crisis we have been warned about is here. So what are lawmakers doing about it? A rundown of major bills affecting criminal justice this year shows that the answer, unfortunately, is almost nothing:

continue reading What lawmakers didn’t do to end the crisis in our prisons

In The Know: House lawmakers propose 93 interim studies

by and | June 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that House lawmakers proposed 93 interim studies to explore before the 2015 legislative session begins in February, including a study of alternatives to Oklahoma’s lethal injection execution method. See the full list of proposed studies here. Due to the severity of some of Monday’s earthquakes in central Oklahoma, Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials inspected bridges within a 5-mile radius looking for potential structural damage. Federal officials say 255 children who were detained while trying to enter the U.S. illegally are currently being housed at Fort Sill.

On the OK Policy Blog, we called on Oklahomans to speak out against proposed copay increases on some of the poorest and sickest Oklahomans to cover a Medicaid funding shortfall. A limited amount of summer cooling assistance funds will be available to Oklahomans through a federal program designed to help low-income households that are extremely vulnerable to summer-heat stresses. KGOU discussed the role of state philanthropic leaders in promoting high quality early-childhood education in Oklahoma. Circulators of an initiative petition seeking to legalize medical marijuana said they have been repeatedly harassed by the Tulsa Police Department.

After a drought and late freeze that harmed this year’s wheat crops, late rains are making it harder to harvest the wheat that did grow. Oklahoma has lost about 8 percent of its swine inventory due to a virus sweeping across the country. Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler has filed a petition challenging the candidacy of his rivals in the Tulsa County DA election. The suit argues that state Rep. Fred Jordan and state Sen. Brian Crain are both constitutionally prohibited from being elected as DA because they approved a pay raise for the job in the Legislature this year. Sen. Crain has already suspended his campaign over this concern.

Tulsa Public schools started summer classes Monday that will be especially focused on helping third graders who didn’t pass a reading test. The Tulsa school board approved a preliminary budget that will fund an additional 25 classroom teachers, six assistant principals and 14 other positions to support teachers and principals. Tulsa World Photographer Mike Simons is walking all 16 miles of Peoria Avenue and sharing the stories of the people and places he discovers.

The Number of the Day is the total number of volunteer service hours performed by Oklahomans in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, NBC News shared stories in their own words from some of the thousands of children who have fled Central American countries to come to the United States.

continue reading In The Know: House lawmakers propose 93 interim studies