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A perfect storm (Neglected Oklahoma)

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).

“My life sucks.” She says it in such a matter-of-fact way you might think she’s talking about breaking a nail, but Tanya Cochran really means it. A perfect storm of homophobia, poverty, substance abuse, a failing mental health system, a deeply flawed child protective services system and the privatization of public services placed Tanya directly into the path of poverty, with no way out.

The problems started when Tanya was 15 and landed in foster care due to her mother’s drug use. Tanya was placed in the Cleveland County children’s shelter, then moved to a foster home three months later.

“The shelter was pretty awful and I figured a real home would be better.” But it quickly became clear that there would be problems. “I told the social worker I’m a lesbian and I guess she told the foster lady.” LGBT youth are overrepresented in foster care and in juvenile detention, but the foster mother was not okay with it. She left notes with prayers and Bible verses where Tanya could see them, talked about sinfulness, and pressured Tanya to go to church. One day Tanya came home from school and found her case worker waiting to take her away. She moved to a group home, where two older girls immediately started bullying her. Tanya told a staff member and she was moved to a different bedroom, but the threats and slurs continued.

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In The Know: Spending cuts left Oklahoma with $100M cash surplus at end of fiscal year

by | June 20th, 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

Spending cuts left Oklahoma with $100M cash surplus at end of fiscal yearOklahoma finance officials, concerned over sagging tax revenues, cut spending so much in recent months that the state will end its fiscal year in two weeks with a cash surplus likely to top $100 million. That amounts to a rare bit of good news on the state financial front, but it also means painful funding cutbacks were larger than they needed to be, including for agencies serving the mentally ill and the elderly. Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said through 11 months of the fiscal year, the general revenue fund surplus is $166.6 million. Allowing for the possibility of further declines this month, the state will likely end the fiscal year with more than $100 million [NewsOK].

Oklahoma oil production stays stable, but tax revenues for state dwindle: The oil keeps flowing in Oklahoma even as prices remain low, but new tax rates for oil are also putting a dent in the state’s budget. The latest state revenue figures show the amount of taxes from oil sent to the state’s general revenue fund are expected to end the fiscal year at their lowest level in decades. For the first 11 months of the fiscal year, gross production taxes from oil sent to the general revenue fund totaled $3.5 million, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services said this week. That compared to $126 million in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2015 [NewsOK].

Made In Oklahoma Coalition faces 25-percent budget cut: Made In Oklahoma Coalition marketers will have a tougher time of introducing local products to buyers this summer. The program faces a budget cut of up to 25 percent. “We’re sort of treading water right now,” marketing coordinator Barbara Charlet said. “Our fingers are crossed that we will receive an appropriation of some sort from the Legislature. (Otherwise), it would put a real dent in the kinds of marketing activities we can do.” The nonprofit program under the state Department of Agriculture is supported by an annual appropriation. Last year it received $285,000, down from $330,000 the year before [Journal Record].

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The Weekly Wonk: Don’t undo right-on-crime efforts, don’t call cuts inevitable, and more

by | June 19th, 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, Policy Analyst Ryan Gentlzer wrote that lawmakers need to continue right-on-crime efforts in an op-ed for The Oklahoman. On the OK Policy Blog, Gentzler summarized where legislators did – and didn’t – make progress with criminal justice reform during the 2016 legislative session. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column argued that cuts to state services are the results of lawmakers’ choices, not inevitable circumstances. 

Spring intern Ethan Rex explained that food deserts play a big role in Oklahomans’ poor health, and spring intern Amanda Rightler analyzed Oklahoma’s enrollment data from the Affordable Care Act’s most recent Open Enrollment Period. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis detailed why some lawmakers want to reconfigure the state’s judicial districts. Finally, we’ve created a page linking to information about 2016 state questions and elections, and we’ll update it as more information becomes available. 

OK Policy in the News

Policy Analyst and Oklahoma Assets Network coordinator DeVon Douglass spoke to the Journal Record about proposed payday lending regulations. Blatt spoke to NewsOK about the state’s unexpected $100 million surplus ending the fiscal year. Blatt was quoted in a NewsOK article on the proposed salary for the state tobacco trust’s CEO, and in Barry Friedman’s Tulsa Voice piece on the choices Oklahoma makes, and the stories we construct around those choices. OK Policy was included in a round-up of groups asking Governor Fallin to issue an executive order to stop the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s use of card-readers in civil asset seizures.

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Why some lawmakers want to rethink Oklahoma’s judicial districts (Capitol Updates)

by | June 17th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | 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.

Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC) has requested an interim study on District Attorney District and Judicial District consolidation. Many of the district attorney districts and judicial districts in the state are composed of the same counties, but not all. For example, both DA District 23 and Judicial District 23 are composed of Pottawatomie and Lincoln Counties. However, DA District 10 is composed of Osage and Pawnee Counties, but Pawnee County is in Judicial District 14 with Tulsa County.

The interim study is likely an outgrowth of the effort last session by District 10 DA Rex Duncan to get the legislature to remove Pawnee County from Judicial District 14 and add it to Judicial District 10. That way both counties in his DA district would have been in the same judicial district, which might make life a little easier for him.

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin says she doesn’t approve of agency’s $250K salary offer

by | June 17th, 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

Oklahoma governor says she doesn’t approve of agency’s $250K salary offer: An Oklahoma agency violated the spirit of a state hiring freeze when it placed a former state official in a newly created job paying $250,000 per year, Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday. The salary offer from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust amounts to $100,000 more than Fallin herself earns. “This agency needs to play by the same rules it has been playing under until it decided to create a new top-level position with such a high salary,” said Fallin [NewsOK].

Oklahoma tax triggers well-intended, but lack economic sense: A percentage point here, a percentage point there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. Since 2004, Oklahoma’s top income tax rate, which essentially affects anyone with a job, has dropped by 1.65 percentage points, translating to big savings for taxpayers and (at least right now) a big pain for state revenues. But the tax cutting isn’t necessarily finished, despite the massive revenue shortfalls of recent years [Editorial Board / NewsOK]. While the tax cut does not bear sole or primary responsibility for the state’s current budgetary woes, it is making the problem worse [OK Policy].

Oklahoma City School Board considers banning comment at meetings: A spate of recent outbursts and contentious exchanges has prompted the leader of the Oklahoma City School Board to consider eliminating public participation at meetings, The Oklahoman has learned. Board Chairwoman Lynne Hardin said Thursday she also is considering whether to eliminate board member comment and plans to meet with the panel next month to discuss both options. “To be squabbling over things that don’t add to the meeting, it’s not an effective use of our time,” she said [NewsOK].

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Despite improvements, Oklahoma’s health insurance marketplace enrollment lags

by | June 16th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

ASISTENCIA_MEDICAAmanda Rightler was an OK Policy intern. She recently graduated from the University of Tulsa with majors in chemistry and economics.

New national data shows that 90 percent of Americans had health insurance in 2015, due in large part to the Affordable Care Act. Between subsidized coverage and Medicaid expansion, the US uninsured rate is at its lowest recorded level ever. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is missing out: the decline in uninsured rate between 2014 and 2015 in our state was statistically insignificant.

This means Oklahomans aren’t realizing the benefits of broad access to health coverage the way other states’s residents are. Here’s why and what can be done to fix it.

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In The Know: Arbitrator tells OKC police to shelve body camera use

by | June 16th, 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

Arbitrator tells OKC police to shelve body camera use: Not even six months after the pilot program began, the Oklahoma City Police Department must immediately suspend its use of body cameras, an arbitrator ruled Tuesday. Arbitrator M. Zane Lumbley sided with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123, which represents the vast majority of the city’s officers, finding a portion of the department’s body camera policy violated the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the union [NewsOK].

Groups asks Gov. Mary Fallin for executive order to stop OHP card-reader program: Two lawmakers and five organizations asked Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday to stop the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s use of devices that can read financial information on cards with magnetic strips. The letter came after Oklahoma Watch reported the agency’s purchase of the devices in the midst of criticism of the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Law enforcement agencies can seize property and money suspected to have been used in a crime, even if there is no conviction [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma County jail inmate dies after not getting dialysis, family says: The latest inmate to die at the Oklahoma County jail did not get the dialysis he needed to survive and was told to quit faking, his relatives are complaining. Bruno Elias Bermea, 53, died June 7 on the jail’s medical floor, three days after police stopped him blocks from his home in south Oklahoma City for running a stop sign, records show [NewsOK].

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Waivers allow Oklahoma to experiment with Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act

by | June 15th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

We’ve heard a lot about waivers recently: Lawmakers recently passed a bill authorizing the state to apply for an Affordable Care Act waiver. Lawmakers debated but ultimately did not approve a waiver plan to accept federal funds for covering the low-income uninsured. Concern sporadically surfaces over whether Oklahoma will lose our waiver to operate Insure Oklahoma. What does all this talk of waivers mean?

As a rule, for states to receive federal funding, they have to play by federal rules on how that funding is used. But in some cases, states can apply for waivers that, if approved, authorize them to bend the rules and use federal funds for purposes not explicitly permitted by federal regulations. Two kinds of waivers recently in the news are especially important for Oklahoma’s health care system: 1115 waivers and 1332 waivers.

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In The Know: Records Show DPS Sought Access To Bank Account, Routing Numbers For Card Reader Program

by | June 15th, 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

Records Show DPS Sought Access To Bank Account, Routing Numbers For Card Reader Program: Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety sought access to peoples’ bank account and bank routing numbers as they negotiated a contract for a controversial debit card reader program, records obtained by the ACLU of Oklahoma show. In addition, other documents show that ERAD touted its relationship with the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office and listed a controversial Illinois law enforcement official who was heavily involved in the Desert Snow/Black Asphalt firms as a reference for the program [ACLU Oklahoma]. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol on Tuesday resumed use of devices that read information on cards with magnetic strips [Tulsa World]. Advocates for civil asset forfeiture reform will ask Gov. Fallin to suspend use of the card readers until lawmakers can review them [NewsOK].

Corporate tax is big loser for Oklahoma in May: Oklahoma income tax refunds to wind power and other corporations exceeded what those businesses paid in income taxes last month, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported Tuesday. “The month of May saw multiple tax streams sucked dry by low oil prices and another blown away by wind incentives,” state Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said. “The state paid more to wind companies in May than the general fund netted from all other corporate income taxpayers combined. How messed up is that?” [NewsOK] The state gives income tax breaks to companies that pay no tax [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma public schools being shorted $16.3 million more in final month of fiscal year: The Oklahoma State Department of Education on Tuesday announced one last revenue shortfall in a devastating year for common education funding. The Common Education Technology Revolving Fund, one of six revenue sources used to fund the state aid funding formula in Oklahoma, came up $16.3 million short. That means local schools will see their June payments from the state — their final of the fiscal year — shorted once more [Tulsa World].

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Steps forward and back in criminal justice legislation this year

by | June 14th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (2)

The Oklahoma Legislature took some important steps on criminal justice reform in the 2016 session. This progress is the result of a collaborative effort by dozens of stakeholders to reduce penalties on low-level crimes and make alternative sentencing more accessible. Unfortunately, lawmakers’ longer track record of ratcheting up sentencing and expanding the criminal code was also on display this session.

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