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In The Know: Emails show state struggling to respond to scrutiny over execution

by | October 13th, 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

Emails from Gov. Fallin’s office show state agencies’ struggle to respond to scrutiny over execution: An examination of more than 40,000 pages of records released Thursday by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s office in response to an open-records request provides a picture of multiple state agencies scrambling under pressure to send coordinated, consistent responses to reporters and each other after an April 2014 execution went awry [Tulsa World].

Company fighting Oklahoma’s authority to limit wastewater volumes: A Tulsa-based oil and gas operator disagrees that a state regulatory agency can limit how much wastewater the company can inject underground. Marjo Operating Co. Inc. filed a request challenging an Oklahoma Corporation Commission division’s authority directing operators to cut back on salty wastewater disposed of in certain earthquake-burdened areas [Journal Record].

Transportation officials find additional $20M to help with pavement repairs: The Oklahoma Transportation Commission approved spending the $20 million to fix road pavement degraded by heavy truck traffic and extreme weather conditions. The money is part of a $100 million cash balance in a highway program that receives federal funding. Concerns that the flow of money from the Federal Highway Trust Fund could be disrupted by tax shortfalls led transportation officials to increase the balance over the last seven years [NewsOK].

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Ten Commandments fight could be a back door to private school vouchers

by | October 12th, 2015 | Posted in Education | Comments (2)

In the latest development in the contentious saga of Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments monument, multiple court orders have forced the state to remove the monument from Capitol grounds. Its new home is the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a think tank that has been one of the biggest advocates in the state for expanding vouchers to allow tax dollars to go to private schools and homeschooling parents. The new location of the monument is fitting, because attempts by Governor Fallin and the Legislature to bring the monument back to the Capitol could have a major side effect of opening the door to vouchers.

So what does a debate over a monument have to do with school vouchers? Court decisions ordering the removal of the monument were based on Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which reads:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

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In The Know: Sales tax revenue falls in OKC and statewide

by | October 12th, 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 City takes hit in sales tax along with rest of Oklahoma: Sales tax revenue fell this month in Oklahoma City, reflecting persistent weakness in the oil and gas industry. The city received $18.3 million for the general fund Friday. That is down 2.6 percent from October 2014 and well short of the 0.6 percent year-over-year growth that was anticipated. Still, statewide results are worse. Sales tax revenue statewide is down 6.4 percent, state Treasurer Ken Miller said this week [NewsOK].

Shortage of skilled workers in Oklahoma is unsettling: The state is expected to produce about 6,700 STEM-related job openings in each of the next 10 years. In that same period, more than half of the current STEM workforce is expected to retire or leave the state. But just 5,300 STEM students graduated from state colleges in 2011. “We simply aren’t producing enough workers who have those skills to do those jobs,” Bob Funk said of information technology positions. The comments of Funk, a 50-year veteran of the staffing industry, are echoed by Oklahoma employers seeking workers with a variety of skills [NewsOK].

Where the skills gap and budget gap collide: As Oklahoma tries to shore up its educational standards and prepare more students for the workforce, it’s also trying to do it with less money. State appropriations for Oklahoma students have declined by 5.07 percent over the past five years, while average enrollment has grown by 5.5 percent, according to The Oklahoman’s analysis of Oklahoma State Department of Education data. Oklahoma students fall further behind in reading and math proficiency as state funding for education shrinks, said Gene Perry, policy director for the think tank Oklahoma Policy Institute [NewsOK].

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The Weekly Wonk: Overcoming drought, Medicaid managed care, the 1980s, and more…

by | October 11th, 2015 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkWhat’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

On the OK Policy Blog, a guest post from Martin Koch discussed strategies for overcoming drought. Policy Analyst Carly Putnam shared information about a care coordination model development for Medicaid recipients who are aged, blind, or have a disability. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis compared today’s budget crisis with one that occurred in the 1980s. 

On Wednesday, October 14, Executive Director David Blatt will present  “Oklahoma’s Budget Outlook: Is There Any Way Out of This Mess?” at a breakfast briefing with the Duncan Chamber of Commerce. Blatt’s Journal Record column described the importance of reforming civil asset forfeiture. A coalition of unlikely allies have recently come together to press for change on the issue. 

OK Policy in the News

Policy Director Gene Perry spoke to OETA about how Oklahoma is trailing other states in bringing down its uninsured rate because state leadership have refused to expand health coverage to low-income Oklahomans. The track record for health coverage expansion in other states shows that it’s a good deal for Oklahoma. 

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Back in time: The 1980s budget crisis and today’s (Capitol Updates)

by | October 9th, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (5)

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.

The budget picture in Oklahoma is finally beginning to look like the 1980s. In 1983 there was a historic downturn in Oklahoma’s economy that produced dramatic revenue failures and budget cuts threatening to leave Oklahoma’s state government in a shambles. For more than 7 years we suffered from the oil bust that caused banks to fail, which in turn resulted in overleveraged farmers and business owners losing what had often taken generations to build. Finally we began to slowly recover in the early 1990s. Things felt especially bleak in Oklahoma because during the 1970s we had enjoyed an oil boom at the expense of the rest of the nation. When our bust arrived in 1983 the rest of the nation was pulling out of its “malaise” and moving forward, but Oklahoma’s troubles were just beginning.

During the 1970s our political leaders had made substantial investments in education and other necessities and at the same time passed tax cuts. But when the bottom fell out in 1983 the economy declined so rapidly and unpredictably that even tax increases and budget cuts barely kept the ship of state afloat. Today history may be poised to repeat itself. When oil prices began to boom in the early 2000s Governor Henry tried to blunt tax cut fever with tax rebates instead of cuts, but as the economy kept growing, politically appealing tax cuts took hold. Now even tax cuts to occur in the future have been passed that further cripple state revenues.

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In The Know: State used wrong drug for January execution, records show

by | October 9th, 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

Wrong drug used for January execution, state records show: The wrong deadly drug was used to execute baby killer Charles Frederick Warner in January, records show. Oklahoma Corrections Department officials used bottles labeled potassium acetate for the final drug during the lethal injection Jan. 15 — in violation of protocol, the records show. Officials were supposed to use potassium chloride to stop Warner’s heart [The Oklahoman]. Gov. Mary Fallin’s office on Thursday released more than 40,000 pages of documents related to executions in response to an open records request filed a year and a half ago [Tulsa World]. Death-penalty states are finding it harder to carry out executions as they struggle to obtain and properly use limited supplies of ever-changing combinations of suitable drugs [New York Times].

 Oklahoma City Council to defer consideration of panhandling ordinance: A time out is being called in the drive to curb panhandling in Oklahoma City. Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer says consideration of a measure to restrict access to the medians of streets will be deferred until at least Dec. 8 [NewsOK]. One reason that groups who work closely with the poorest citizens may be concerned is that criminalization of poverty is one of the root causes of people being trapped in poverty [OK Policy].
For Obamacare Shoppers, Only 2 Insurers to Pick From and a Blue Cross Shift: The Affordable Care Act health insurance market in Oklahoma faces big changes next year, with the dominant company moving 40,000 people into different plans and three other companies dropping out entirely. On Jan. 1, Oklahoma will be left with only two companies offering individual health plans in the “Obamacare” market: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, the existing market leader, and UnitedHealthcare, a new entry [Oklahoma Watch].

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In The Know: Oklahoma treasurer says revenue collections still tumbling

by | October 8th, 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

Oklahoma treasurer says revenue collections still tumbling: The ripple effects of depressed oil and natural gas prices are still dragging down Oklahoma’s economy, and the state’s condition is expected to worsen before it starts improving, Treasurer Ken Miller said Wednesday. Miller released revenue figures that show for the first time in five years, 12-month gross receipts to the treasury were below the level of the previous annual period [Journal Record]. State agencies are being encouraged to draft their budget requests realistically in view of the likelihood of large budget cuts [OK Policy].

Most Police Seizures of Cash Come from Blacks, Hispanics: Nearly two thirds of seizures of cash by Oklahoma law enforcement agencies come from blacks, Hispanics and other racial or ethnic minorities, an Oklahoma Watch analysis of high-dollar forfeiture cases in 10 counties shows. The findings suggest to some critics of the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws that officers are using racial profiling, even subconsciously, in deciding whose vehicles to search or money to seize [Oklahoma Watch]. A range of unlikely allies have come together to push for civil asset forfeiture reform [OK Policy].

Defending our rights: Recently I participated in a joint press conference at the state Capitol that involved a very unlikely group of allies. My organization, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, joined state Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City; the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma; and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to release a new poll. It shows a large, bipartisan majority of Oklahomans favor reforms of a problematic policing practice known as civil asset forfeiture [Journal Record].

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Back on the road to Medicaid managed care

by | October 7th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (3)

seniors (2)During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers passed HB 1566, which requires the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to solicit requests for proposals for care coordination models for Oklahomans on Medicaid who are aged, blind, or have a disability. OHCA has initiated a nearly 18-month process of gathering facts, community input, demonstration proposals, model selection, and requests for proposals. Here’s how it will work:

What is HB 1566?

 Simply put, HB 1566 requires OHCA, which administers Medicaid in Oklahoma, to initiate requests for proposals for care coordination models for the state’s aged, blind, and disabled SoonerCare population. Although a managed care system may not be the outcome, the bill’s authors say it’s what they had in mind. ​In this model of health care, treatments are coordinated through the oversight of a primary care physician or team, which provides referrals if patients need a specialist. 

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In The Know: Experts say state’s draft education standards have many flaws

by | October 7th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, 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

Experts say state’s draft education standards have many flaws: Two of the three experts brought in to help Oklahoma create new academic standards say numerous flaws in the third draft show Oklahoma will likely fall short of creating the best standards in the nation. The flaws highlight the monumental challenge lawmakers gave to the state Education Department to write new standards, but also clash with the rhetoric that surrounded the process at the start [Oklahoma Watch].

Fallin pushes for amendment to allow Ten Commandments on state grounds: Fallin made her remarks at a press conference alongside state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, who paid for the statue to be built, and the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, which agreed to keep the monument on its property until legal issues could be settled [Journal Record]. A push to amend the state Constitution to keep a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol could also boost efforts to expand vouchers for private religious schools [Oklahoma Watch].

Attorney general says ban on public prayer at school sporting events is ‘overbroad’: The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association has prohibited prayer during playoff and postseason activity since 1993. Last summer, the OSSAA’s board of directors approved an update of the policy. Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Tuesday in a nine-page opinion the policy was “constitutionally overbroad.” He issued the opinion in response to state lawmakers questioning the policy [Tulsa World].

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With the right strategies, Oklahomans can overcome unprecedented drought (Guest post: Martin Koch)

by | October 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | Comments (1)

Martin Koch is an M.A. student at the University of Kansas’s Department of Geography.  He recently earned a B.A. in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma has struggled under severe drought conditions for most of the decade. Conditions have been even drier than during the notorious Dust Bowl of the 1930s. While the current drought is still challenging, especially for Oklahoma’s agricultural communities, we aren’t seeing the same kind of catastrophe as in the Dust Bowl because of soil conservation strategies put in place since then.

History has proven that the resourcefulness and fortitude of Oklahomans is stronger than any adverse climate or weather event. However, we still face a difficult task to improve our conservation of water supplies that are under more stress than ever before.

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