Did term limits really change how long Oklahoma legislators serve?

by | July 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (1)
Gene Stipe, who served 53 years in the Oklahoma Legislature (1948-54, 1956-2003)

Gene Stipe, who served 53 years in the Oklahoma Legislature (1948-54, 1956-2003)

*This post has been updated to correct errors in the original version, noted by *

In September 1990, Oklahoma voters, by an overwhelming margin, approved State Question 632 which limited service in the Oklahoma legislature to no more than twelve years in the House of Representatives and Senate combined. The new term limits took effect in *1992 and did not apply to time already served. The first group of legislators subject to SQ 632 hit their term limits in 2004 (for House members and Senators elected in 1992) and in 2006 (for Senators elected in 1994).

Oklahoma political observers are in near unanimous agreement that term limits have had profound and far-ranging effects on the Oklahoma legislature. In the view of many journalists, legislative and agency staffers, and lobbyists, today’s legislators are significantly less experienced than were their predecessors. Short legislative careers are taken to mean that legislators are less familiar with policy issues, agency operations, public finances, and the legislative process itself.  With less time to rise through the ranks to leadership, term-limited legislators are often seen as more overtly ambitious and more beholden to lobbyists than in pre-term limit days. 

Yet is it really the case that term limits have brought about the sweeping changes that are often attributed to them?

continue reading Did term limits really change how long Oklahoma legislators serve?

In The Know: State Supreme Court upholds Common Core repeal

by and | July 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 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 only a few hours after hearing oral arguments, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a bill repealing Common Core standards and giving legislators more influence over any new standards. Superintendent Janet Barresi asked parents and educators to apply to join committees that will develop new academic standards. Information about the committees and how to apply is available here. CareerTech Director Robert Sommers, who also serves as Governor Fallin’s secretary of education and workforce development, announced he will resign both positions August 15.

Oklahoma’s General Revenue Fund collections for the full Fiscal Year 2014 came in barely above prior year collections and 4.8 percent below the official estimate. With a critical shortage of judges for deportation hearings, all of Oklahoma’s hearings have been moved to Dallas. President Obama has put forward a plan to appoint additional judges, but it still needs Congressional approval. In a continuing series on federal and state disaster aid in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Watch examined how thousands of disaster aid requests end in rejection.

The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma just wrapped up the largest distribution year in its history. The food bank provided 17.3 million meals this year, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed a new school meals program that provides a more efficient way to feed kids in poverty. The Oklahoma City Jesus House’s Adopt-A-Block initiative is sending a group of people enrolled in the homeless shelter’s sobriety program into low-income communities to mow lawns, provide emergency food aid, and deliver box fans for people without air conditioning. The Oklahoma City Council voted to allow northeast Oklahoma City hospital to continue housing adult psychiatric patients, despite protests from residents who said they were afraid of people with mental illness.

Fifteen teachers from Spain will be joining Oklahoma City Public Schools this year under a memorandum of understanding with the country to bring guest teachers to Oklahoma. The volume of payday lending in the state and number of lenders has declined over the past two years after spiking in 2011. The OK Policy Blog previously shared stories of how payday loans impose very high costs on some of the poorest Oklahomans. RH Reality Check examined how the issue of health care access and Governor Fallin’s refusal to accept federal funds for Medicaid are affecting Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race.

The Cherokee Nation is constructing a new 28,000 square-foot health center in Washington County. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is reaching out to people who have completed a firearm safety training course but have not yet applied for a handgun license because time is running out on their certifications’ validity. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded three more earthquakes yesterday in Oklahoma, including one that shattered windows and put cracks in the wall of the Harrah police station.

The Number of the Day is how many journalists report full-time from the Oklahoma statehouse. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post reports on how 18 cities in Texas have passed rules to reign in some of the worst practices of payday lenders.

continue reading In The Know: State Supreme Court upholds Common Core repeal

In The Know: Oklahoma may reverse course on oil train shipment disclosures

by and | July 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 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:

Oklahoma officials are taking a second look at confidentiality agreements signed with railroads that prevent disclosure of information to the public about shipments of oil coming through the state. A new poll finds that Governor Fallin’s favorability with Oklahoma voters has fallen to 52 percent in early June, a 19-point drop from her high of 73 percent in September. The OK Policy Blog explained how despite Governor Fallin’s attempt to shift the blame to President Obama, the real reason behind state Medicaid cuts is Oklahoma leaders’ mismanagement of the state budget.

Authorities preparing for the renovation of Oklahoma’s state Capitol plan to authorize preliminary design work before millions of dollars in bond money becomes available. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett are beginning a campaign for changes in state law to reduce cities’ reliance on sales taxes, a sometimes volatile revenue source that can pit city against suburb in battles over big-box retailers.  The Tulsa Regional Chamber released findings of a workforce analysis project with recommendations on improving job opportunities and skilled workers in Tulsa. You can find the full report here.

The Tulsa World reported that all of the immigrant children have been given vaccinations, and kids who test positive for communicable diseases have been quarantined in non-military facilities. A growing backlog of immigration cases has caused the average wait time for a hearing in an immigration court to exceed 1.5 years.

Oklahoma Watch continued a special report on how federal and state aid funds are helping to rebuild from damaging storms in Oklahoma. The latest stories look at who is receiving public disaster assistance and the recovery effort for Moore Schools. The Tulsa World editorial board discussed how Oklahoma’s decision to repeal Common Core standards is costing the state money and leaving teachers without clear guidance for the coming school year. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how Common Core repeal could lead to more federal control of Oklahoma schools. The okeducationtruths blog discussed concerns about the non-profit Oklahoma Public School Resource Center’s (OPSRC) connections with groups pushing for controversial education reforms. The OK Policy Blog previously featured a guest post on services that the OPSRC is offering schools.

A student at Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City said she was expelled from the private college because she married her same-sex partner. Oklahoma City Public Schools is teaming with Oklahoma Caring Foundation and Oklahoma City County Health Department to offer mobile immunizations at selected schools through July 24. The Tulsa Port of Catoosa brought in its 75 millionth ton of cargo since opening 43 years ago. The Number of the Day is the total tonnage processed by the Port of Catoosa in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Quartz looks at how companies like QuikTrip, the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s, and Costco Wholesale are proving that the decision to offer low wages is a choice, not an economic necessity.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma may reverse course on oil train shipment disclosures

Gov. Fallin blames Obama for Oklahoma’s Medicaid cuts. The real reason is closer to home.

by | July 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (16)
President Barack Obama greets Governor Mary Fallin at Tinker Air Force Base.

President Barack Obama greets Governor Mary Fallin at Tinker Air Force Base.

Earlier this year, we warned that Oklahoma risked deep cuts to our state’s health care safety net if we didn’t increase state funding for Medicaid and mental health services. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid, needed $90 million and the Department of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needed $20.9 million in new funding just to maintain existing services.

Instead, lawmakers budgeted flat funding for the Health Care Authority and just $2.2 million in new funding for mental health. As a result, Oklahoma has slashed Medicaid doctor reimbursements, hiked copayments for Medicaid patients, and reduced eligibility for services. Families who stand to lose behavioral health rehabilitation services have spoken out about the cuts. In response, Governor Fallin responded with a statement blaming President Obama. Governor Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz said:

continue reading Gov. Fallin blames Obama for Oklahoma’s Medicaid cuts. The real reason is closer to home.

In The Know: Department of Corrections proposes reducing number of officers on security posts

by and | July 14th, 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.

The Department of Corrections is proposing to eliminate 12-hour shifts in state prisons by reducing the number of officers on security posts. Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, a group representing corrections officers in Oklahoma, wrote a letter stating that they have grave concerns about how this move would affect the safety of staff and inmates. House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved more than 80 interim studies to go forward in the Legislature, including studies of lethal injection alternatives and monitoring of prescription drugs. You can see the full list of House interim studies here and Senate interim studies here. The Ethics Commission will consider a series of proposed amendments to its new rules during upcoming meetings.

School districts in Oklahoma have been hit hard in recent years with retirement notices from teachers who are leaving for better-paying industries. The state Department of Education has released an Oklahoma Indian Education Resource guide with lesson plans and tools for studying the state’s sovereign tribes. You can view the guide here.

A Tulsa Veterans Affairs clinic is struggling to meet the rapidly rising demand for care from veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. An advisory board member for a hospital in Creek County wrote that Oklahoma’s refusal to accept Medicaid funds could force rural hospitals to close their doors. KGOU reported on the benefits for Oklahoma Native Americans of signing up for SoonerCareEmergency medical service fees are set to rise in Tulsa, about a year after city officials extended allowed response times to keep down fees.

Oklahoma Watch released the first part of a special report on how federal and state disaster aid is being spent in the wake of the violent tornadoes and storms of spring 2013. A study of the Gerber-Wellington aquifer, which covers 3,000 square miles of the most densely populated areas in Oklahoma, found that under current policies the water could be depleted in 35 to 41 yearsThe Oklahoma Corporation Commission plans to seek the public’s input in the placement of wind farms and the regulation of rooftop solar panels. Infectious diseases once unknown in Oklahoma are showing up because of changes in climate, the urbanization of previously forested areas and people traveling to once-remote regions.

Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham discussed her experience trying to commute on the Tulsa bus system. The Number of the Day is the average time patients with broken bones had to wait before receiving pain medication in Oklahoma emergency rooms. In today’s Policy Note, Huffington Post discusses new legislation by Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Republican Senator Rand Paul that aims to break the cycle of incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

continue reading In The Know: Department of Corrections proposes reducing number of officers on security posts

The Weekly Wonk July 13, 2014

by | July 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | 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, we explained how Oklahoma agencies have $6.7 million less in funding than originally budgeted, after lawmakers’ attempt to divert money from Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships was revealed to be unconstitutional. We introduced the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPRSC), which provides schools with a variety of resources they would otherwise be unable to afford.

We shared information about the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC), including details of its upcoming conference on July 15. ONAC provides free training and technical assistance to tribes in Oklahoma that wish to design and implement various asset-building programs. Kate Richey’s work on behalf of OK Policy with the Oklahoma Assets Network can be found here.

Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column and a blog post by policy analyst Carly Putnam discussed the extension of Insure Oklahoma, which provides health insurance to low-income Oklahoman workers and families. We’ve written before about how Insure Oklahoma could be used to cover the state’s low-income uninsured long-term if we would accept federal funds to extend it. In our Editorial of the Week, the Tulsa World noted that the extension of Insure Oklahoma is only the first step in making sure thousands of Oklahomans don’t go without health coverage.

An editorial in The Oklahoman used OK Policy data to argue in favor of greater state support for Oklahoma’s public universities. A letter to the editor in the Norman Transcript cited OK Policy while calling for the state government to accept federal funds to expand health coverage.

Quote of the Week

“The sad truth is that the state budget has become dependent on using one-time funds in good times and bad. Oklahoma’s economy has been expanding for more than three years, yet legislators tapped nearly $1 billion in nonrecurring revenues over that period — some appropriately so, but most not — to spend more than the amount certified.”

- Oklahoma state treasurer Ken Miller, speaking out against the overuse of one-time funds and cuts to recurring revenues in the state budget (Source: http://bit.ly/1jXUlT1)

See previous Quotes of the Day here.

Numbers of the Day

  • 25 minutes – Average wait for emergency room patients in Oklahoma before they are seen by a doctor.
  • 97,617 – Number of Oklahoma K-12 students that qualified for special education programs during the 2011-12 school year.
  • 31.4% – Percentage of Oklahomans living in areas with concentrated poverty in 2010.
  • 1,712 – Number of utility-scale wind turbines in Oklahoma as of 2013.
  • 260 – Number of organ and tissue transplants in Oklahoma in 2013. As of March 7, there are 897 Oklahomans on a waiting list for a transplant.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

What We’re Reading

In The Know: Another 5,000 unaccompanied immigrant children may be placed at U.S. military bases

by | July 11th, 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:

Yesterday, Fort Sill allowed a limited number of members of state and national media to tour its barracks, where over one thousand refugee children from Central America are being housed until they can be placed with family and sponsors. The average child stays at Fort Sill for 15 days before being placed. The White House has asked the Department of Defense for the authority to house another 5,000 children along side the 3,000 already housed on three bases. It is not yet clear if more children would be brought to Fort Sill.

Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman unveiled a proposal to better fund schools without costing taxpayers more money by diverting funds generated by the franchise tax. Dorman estimates his proposal would add an additional $50 per pupil. Franchise tax revenues currently go to the General Fund that supports most state agencies, including education. A guest post on the OK Policy blog introduced the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC), which helps supply schools with a variety of resources they would otherwise be unable to afford. A new report finds that four in five Oklahoma adults who receive publicly-funded mental health services are unemployed. State advocacy groups are calling for greater assistance from public officials in aiding those with mental illness to find jobs.

Over a year after tornadoes hit the town of Moore in late May, residents are still struggling with insurance companies, who some residents say are not settling fairly. A Tulsa mother who says her daughter’s severe epilepsy has been successfully treated with medical marijuana in Colorado is campaigning to make medical marijuana legal and accessible in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission expressed dismay that the legislature approved a $3 million withdrawal from the Commission’s revolving fund to balance this year’s state budget. The Commission receives no appropriations and was not consulted about the withdrawal. The City of Tulsa is considering partially automating its 911 service in an attempt to reduce wait times for callers. The automated system would direct callers to dispatchers from the specific emergency department needed. The Tulsa County Commissioner is calling to have a new city-county jail agreement in place by September. The city and county have previously disagreed on how much the city should be charged to hold an inmate in the county jail and how a ‘municipal inmate’ should be defined.

The state Department of Health has announced that the state’s first case of the West Nile virus this summer has been found. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and the highest-risk months are July through October. Thursday was Tulsa’s rainiest day of 2014 so far, with nearly two inches of rain recorded at Tulsa International Airport. Researchers from Oklahoma State University have received a $750,000 grant from NASA to develop a material that will protect astronauts from radiation while in space.

The Number of the Day is is the number of organ and tissue transplants in Oklahoma in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, FiveThirtyEight argues that as economics and demographics of migration in America shift, immigration has changed much faster than the immigration debate.

continue reading In The Know: Another 5,000 unaccompanied immigrant children may be placed at U.S. military bases

Providing essential resources to schools without the financial burden (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

by | July 10th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

Sarah Julian is the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC). On July 16, the OPSRC is hosting an open house for anyone who is interested in learning more about the organization. You can register at http://nwea.us/OkieEdOPSRC.

opsrcIt’s news to no one that our public schools face enormous challenges in virtually every area of operations, including finances.  Oklahoma education funding is among the lowest in the nation and yet mandates remain, leaving schools without the proper resources to support them. 

Smaller schools and districts feel this more intensely, as they don’t often have the funding to support full-time staff in key areas of administration and support services for teachers and students. Because of this, we often see school staff juggling multiple roles to the point where it affects instruction, burnout becomes widespread, and ultimately, students suffer. 

 This is where the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) comes in.  OPSRC was created as a non-profit center with the goal of supporting small schools—both rural and public charters—across the state in several key areas: finance, legal, technology, communications, teaching & learning, and educational policy.

continue reading Providing essential resources to schools without the financial burden (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

In The Know: Oklahoma City sees surge in low-wage jobs

by and | July 10th, 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:

Average earnings in the Oklahoma City metro area dropped as a surge in low-wage jobs are replacing a shrinking number of jobs at the top end of wages. Governor Fallin’s top budget official Preston Doerflinger said he agrees with State Treasurer Ken Miller’s analysis of shortcomings in Oklahoma’s budget planning. Miller said the state has balanced the budget with one-time fixes, sometimes ignored the long-term consequences of a deal, misapplied a temporary windfall, shortchanged pension obligations and ignored financial checks and balances. The jobs of 16 state workers’ compensation system employees have been eliminated as Oklahoma continues the transition from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative system.

Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has asked for an interim study on the possibility of increasing the speed limit on the Turner Turnpike, but the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority director said the road would not be safe at a higher speed limit. The Tulsa World praised Tulsa Public Schools’ efforts to catch up the hundreds of third graders who did not pass a reading test. The principal of a school for homeless students in Oklahoma City wrote that third grade retention won’t solve the reading problem in Oklahoma without broader support for basic needs. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham argued that Oklahoma does not provide adequate job protections for pregnant women and new parents.

Members of Tulsa’s faith community have scheduled a second meeting designed to help the children being housed at Fort Sill. A bipartisan group of business and policy leaders in Oklahoma said the migrant children crisis is further proof that the United States needs comprehensive immigration reformDavid Blatt’s Journal Record column and Carly Putnam on the OK Policy Blog discussed how a one-year extension of Insure Oklahoma still leaves hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans without coverage. OK Policy previously discussed how Insure Oklahoma can become a long-term solution for the uninsured if we accept federal funds to extend it.

The president of AARP Oklahoma praised a new state law that allows patients admitted to the hospital to designate a caregiver who will be informed of how to care for them when they go home. Senator Inhofe said a deal has been reached between the EPA and the Department of Defense that will allow local firefighters to continue receiving surplus military equipment. Oklahoma’s tourism and recreation department is considering selling or leasing three state parks in northeast Oklahoma to make up for budget cuts. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has begun a study of wind farms at the request of Senate leader Brian Bingman, who previously sought to put a moratorium on all new wind farms in east Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the number of utility-scale wind turbines in Oklahoma as of 2013. In today’s Policy Note, a report by Good Jobs First examines what metro regions are doing to end job piracy, where companies play nearby communities off each other for escalating subsidies.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma City sees surge in low-wage jobs

Insure Oklahoma extended – but we could do so much more

by | July 9th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

InsureOklahoma_logoA rare bright spot in health care-related news came early last week with the announcement that Insure Oklahoma, a public-private partnership providing health insurance for some 18,500 low-income Oklahomans and their families, has been given permission by the federal government to continue operating for another year. 

The program had been expected to be discontinued at the end of 2013, with the understanding that the state would accept federal funds to extend health insurance coverage to all eligible low-income Oklahomans, thus negating the need for Insure Oklahoma.  But Oklahoma refused to accept the funds, and for the past two years, the state has negotiated extensions with the federal government. While heartening for those who would lose their insurance were Insure Oklahoma to expire, the current system of negotiated extensions isn’t sustainable. Here’s what’s going on:

continue reading Insure Oklahoma extended – but we could do so much more