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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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In The Know: Oklahoma House leader approves 122 interim studies

by | July 15th, 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

Oklahoma House leaders approve 122 interim studies: At least five of the 122 interim committee studies announced by Oklahoma House leaders will delve into earthquakes and the oil and gas industry, water, electricity and the Corporation Commission [OK Energy Today]. You can see the full list of approved House interim studies here.

Oklahoma Republican Party compares SNAP recipients to animals: After a cascade of criticism, the Oklahoma Republican Party deleted its Facebook post equating food stamp recipients to animals in national parks that receive food handouts. “Last night, there was a post on our OKGOP Facebook page, and it was misinterpreted by many,” state Republican Party Chairman Randy Brogdon said. “I offer my apologies for those who were offended — that was not my intention” [NewsOK].

OK private colleges must allow their employees to access contraception: The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned a U.S. District Court ruling that temporarily stopped enforcement of a mandate imposed on Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Mid-America Christian University. The universities can opt out of providing the drugs they deem offensive, but they cannot block third party insurance companies from providing them [NewsOK].

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Where women are winning political office in Oklahoma

by | July 14th, 2015 | Posted in Elections | Comments (0)

Blaine County Sheriff Margarett Parman, one of just two female county sheriffs currently in office in Oklahoma.

Blaine County Sheriff Margarett Parman, Oklahoma’s only female county sheriff as of last year. A second female sheriff, Marcia Maxwell, was elected last November in Hughes County.

In a new report from the Center for American Progress on the Health of State Democracies, Oklahoma was awarded a D+ across the board for ballot accessibility, a representative state government, and average citizens’ influence on the political system. These ratings should come as no surprise if you’ve seen our previous work on Oklahoma’s broken democracy.

However, one line about Oklahoma in the report made me do a double take. In a section on how well elected leaders reflect state demographics as a whole, the authors write, “doing well in one measure is no guarantee of doing well in the other: Oklahoma, which ranks first in female elected representation, ranks last in communities of color elected representation.”

It unfortunately was no surprise that we do so poorly in electing people of color, but how could we possibly rank first in female elected representation? Even though we have a female governor and two other female statewide elected officials, women comprise just 12.8 percent of the state Legislature. After the most recent elections, our percentage of legislators who are women went from third lowest to the second lowest in the nation, ahead of only Louisiana. Yet the report claims that 42 percent of Oklahoma’s elected officials are women, more than in any other state.

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In The Know: President Obama visiting Oklahoma this week

by | July 14th, 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

President Obama visiting Oklahoma this week: President Barack Obama will speak Wednesday afternoon at Durant High School during a two-day visit to Oklahoma, the White House announced Monday. The event is closed to the public but will be live-streamed at whitehouse.gov/live. Obama will travel to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, and on Thursday he will visit the El Reno Federal Correctional Facility [Tulsa World]. In El Reno, he will meet with law enforcement officials and inmates and discuss the need to reform mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes [NewsOK].

Results of Governor Fallin’s sentencing policy change: A governor’s order recommending changes in sentencing policy could result in the immediate release of 190 serious offenders from Oklahoma prisons. They have served 85 percent of their sentence and have accumulated good behavior credits [NewsOK]. The Oklahoman editorial board argued the sentencing change is a good step for Oklahoma [NewsOK]. The change had been recommended in two major Oklahoma criminal justice reform studies but never made it through the Legislature [OK Policy]. Tulsa World columnist Julie Delcour wrote that if Oklahoma does not find a rational way to reduce the prison population, we might be forced to release inmates en masse [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma sets execution dates for three inmates who lost at Supreme Court: Oklahoma’s highest criminal court on Wednesday set execution dates for three death row inmates who challenged the use of a drug that will be used in their lethal injections. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set execution dates of Sept. 16 for 52-year-old Richard Eugene Glossip, Oct. 7 for 50-year-old Benjamin Robert Cole, and Oct. 28 for 54-year-old John Marion Grant [Associated Press]. Supporters of one of those scheduled to be executed said the case against him lacks physical evidence and is based on questionable testimony [NewsOK].

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