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Don’t take away Oklahomans’ right to regulate drilling (Guest post: Johnson Bridgwater)

by | April 20th, 2015 | Posted in Economy | Comments (2)

Johnson Bridgwater is the Executive Director of Oklahoma Sierra Club.

It’s undeniable that the fracking boom has had a huge impact on many Oklahoma communities. It’s helped bring jobs and income to some, but the rapid increase in this new method of drilling has a flip side—communities have serious concerns about earthquakes and threats to vital water supplies for cities and towns, not to mention the noise, air pollution, and damage to infrastructure from highly industrial drilling operations.

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs bill adding nitrogen gas as state execution method

by and | April 20th, 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.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday signed a measure adding nitrogen gas to the list of execution methods. The Legislature passed a measure to allow nonviolent felons on probation to obtain a commercial driver’s license. Restrictions on driver’s licenses is just one of many barriers that Oklahoma puts up for Oklahomans with a felony record. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed how the action is shifting to conference committees in the final third of the Legislative session.

University of Oklahoma economist Robert Dauffenbach said Oklahoma’s two largest metropolitan areas are well positioned to wade through the oil and gas industry slowdown, and Oklahoma is much less dependent on the industry than in the 1980s. Three bills remain alive in the Legislature that could take away local control over oil and gas drilling from cities and counties. Undocumented immigrants living in Oklahoma pay about $76 million in state and local taxes, according to a report issued this week by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. You can read the full report here.

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office gave no advance warning to the busy neighborhood store where it set up a sting operation that resulted in the shooting death of Eric Harris, nor the elementary school to the south where kids were playing outside. Protesters took to Tulsa streets again Friday evening, this time asking the Tulsa County Sheriff to fire two deputies. The Tulsa Voice shared an interview with an attorney who is suing the Tulsa County Sheriff on behalf of Eric Harris’s family. Training records do not show that Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates qualified on a revolver he carried during the fatal shooting, and his gun was not on the list of firearms deputies can carry on duty. Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said he can’t envision his department without volunteer deputies operating as law enforcement officers.

Tulsa County’s immunization rate for 2014 is below the state and national averages and falls well short of the state’s goal for 2020. Gov. Mary Fallin has nominated Robert J. “Bob” Ross, president and CEO of the Inasmuch Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, to a seat on the Oklahoma State Board of Education. After months of fighting for racial equality on campus, OU students with the group OU Unheard will receive receive the Angie Debo Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is 23 percent – the percentage of the state population potentially exposed to water exceeding a contaminant limit in 2013-2014. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post shows that states refusing to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion are leaving hundreds of thousands of mentally ill adults untreated.

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The Weekly Wonk April 19, 2015

by | April 19th, 2015 | 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 shared a new poll showing that a majority of Oklahomans want the income tax cut to be cancelled due to the budget shortfall. Let your legislators know that you agree by clicking here.  We are collecting signatures from business owners and directors of organizations for a letter to leadership urging them to halt the tax cut here.

We explained how suggestions that Congress won’t uphold its obligation to fund health coverage rely on a misunderstanding of how that funding is determined. OK Policy intern Drew Capps detailed new research showing that Oklahoma’s payday lenders target vulnerable populations and military installations. Oklahoma Watch hosted a forum on challenges in low-income neighborhoods on Thursday. In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis explained why the state’s legislative activity is currently concentrated in conference committees.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt encouraged lawmakers to uphold Rep. David Dank’s legacy by reforming costly tax breaks. Policy Director Gene Perry spoke to the Tulsa World about the budget shortfall’s impact on the state’s ability to fund core services.  The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board used OK Policy data while calling on legislators to halt the income tax cut.

We are currently accepting applications for our 2015 Summer Policy Institute (SPI)! Oklahoma college students of all levels with an interest in public policy are encouraged to apply. SPI attendees become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders, and prepare for their future studies and work in policy-related fields.

Weekly What’s That:

Striking Title

Striking title is a common procedural maneuver in the Oklahoma Legislature. It is used especially on bills that impact the state budget or bills that are considered to be a work-in-progress. Read more.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

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With session two-thirds finished, focus shifts at Legislature (Capitol Updates)

by | April 17th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

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.

Now that the standing committee work is completed for the 2015 session, the House will be taking floor action on Senate Bills and the Senate will be acting on House bills for the next couple of weeks.  Bills that survive the next two weeks will go on to the governor if they were passed in both houses in the same form.  If a bill is amended it will return to its house of origin where the author will have the option of moving to accept the amendments and send the bill to the governor or rejecting the amendments and asking for a conference committee. 

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In The Know: State gross production revenues decline

by | April 17th, 2015 | Posted in 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.

Although state general revenues grew last month, gross production tax collections were below last year’s March collections by 65.9 percent, or $25.9 million. In the Tulsa World, Policy Director Gene Perry of OK Policy and Jonathan Small of OCPA shared their differing perspectives on whether this year’s budget shortfall will allow the state to continue funding core functions of government like education and roads. Oklahoma has options for closing the budget gap.

Speaking to a Senate appropriations committee on Tuesday, ODHMSAS commissioner Terri White explained that the state has never adequately funded the mental health system and said that flat funding, rather than an increase for her agency, will result in thousands of Oklahomans losing services. The Oklahoman shared how Mike Brose and the organization he directs, Mental Health Association Oklahoma, work decrease stigma around mental illness. A new post on the OK Policy Blog discussed how Congress’s recent approval of a higher federal match to fund children’s health care signals that fears the government would fail to hold up its obligation to fund health coverage to low-income Oklahomans are unfounded. Although some politicians blamed the federal government when Oklahoma’s federal match decreased last year, the real problem was closer to home.

The Oklahoma Chapter of the NAACP and has asked state Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the US Department of Justice to investigate the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, Rep. Mike Shelton has called for the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation to step in, and the Oklahoma Chapter of the ACLU has called for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s resignation over the shooting of an unarmed man by a reserve deputy. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the  Sheriff’s Office has said that some training requirements for the deputy might have been waived. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett sought to clarify that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office operates independently of the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Police Department.

A bill that would allow charter schools to expand statewide passed through the Senate Thursday, and now awaits Gov. Fallin’s signature. Amendments added to a controversial “right to farm” bill would allow individual counties to vote whether to adopt the measure rather than putting it before a statewide vote to amend the Oklahoma Constitute. Legislation that would cut Oklahoma’s property tax exemption for new wind power developments passed through the House and now proceeds to the Senate, which already approved an earlier version of the bill. Oklahoma now ranks fourth nationwide for wind energy produced.

The Tulsa City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected under the city’s fair housing policy. The ordinance amendment now goes to the mayor for his signature. A Cleveland County judge has set a hearing for today on a gun advocacy group’s lawsuit challenging a firearms ban at the upcoming Norman Music Festival. The Number of the Day is 472 – the number of federal public corruption convictions in Oklahoma from 1976 through 2010. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic notes that more than half of all prisoners in the US are mentally ill, and very few are receiving treatment for this illness in prison or jail.

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Federal Money As Promised (FMAP)

by | April 16th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

It’s rare that Congress finds bipartisan consensus on important issues, but that happened last month when the House approved health care legislation that includes an extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Last night the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.

Under this law, states will receive a substantially higher federal match rate for coverage of certain low-income children through 2017. Oklahoma will see a 23 percentage point jump in its SCHIP match rate in fiscal year 2016.

The temporary boost in the federal match was included in the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 but was not initially funded. The higher match will boost federal Medicaid spending in Oklahoma by $42 million, according to projections from our state Medicaid agency.

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In The Know: Tulsa County Sheriff supervisors told to falsify reserve deputy’s training records

by and | April 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.

The Tulsa World reported that supervisors at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office were ordered to falsify a reserve deputy’s training records, giving him credit for field training he never took and firearms certifications he should not have received. A deputy who made a callous comment to a man who had just been shot claims he did not hear the gunshot and didn’t know the man had been wounded. Ginnie Graham wrote that the incident has added to Oklahoma’s recent pattern of inspiring hashtags of shame on social media.

The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that a generous compensation package for new Superintendent Deborah Gist could create a perception problem with the district’s poorly paid teachers. Outgoing Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard wrote a NewsOK op-ed praising the district’s collaboration with Teach for America. With testing already underway, public schools are having troubling finding enough volunteer test monitors. Jenks Principal Rob Miller wrote that Oklahoma’s system of high-stakes testing resembles a coach being evaluated on a single game that he’s not allowed to attend at a school where every child is required to play football.

The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics is struggling to keep its doors open amid a funding crisis, as legislators discuss making even more cuts. Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline said there could be dire consequences if the Legislature doesn’t fund a new public health lab during the current session. A new poll shows that 60 percent of Oklahoma voters support delaying or canceling a planned income tax cut during the budget shortfall, and 74 percent of voters believe the state is not spending enough on education. Oklahomans can contact legislators about cancelling the tax cut using this online form.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column called on legislators to honor the memory of Rep. David Dank by taking real action to end wasteful tax breaks. The Oklahoma House has approved legislation that eliminates a tax credit for the state’s wind energy industry. Several issues related to wind power development have been lively topics of debate in this year’s Legislature. 

Oklahoma’s drug overdose death count set a new record in 2014, despite efforts to curtail overprescribing and raise public awareness of the crisis. Terminally ill patients in Oklahoma would have access to experimental medications that are not yet available in pharmacies under a bill that is heading to the governor’s desk.  The Senate voted to legalize cannabis oil for kids who have uncontrollable seizures. NewsOn6 reported on a couple struggling to get care for their autistic son, because Oklahoma is one of just 10 states that doesn’t require insurance companies to cover autism.

A bill to end restrictions on beer sales in Oklahoma has been sent to a conference committee, where it is expected to stay until next session. A bill that sets up a regulatory framework in Oklahoma for ridesharing programs such as Uber and Lyft passed the state Senate on Wednesday, but not before a provision protecting gay and transgender passengers from discrimination was removed. Tulsa’s updated zoning code could increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. A Seattle zoo has sent two elephants on their long journey to a new home in Oklahoma City after a federal appeals court declined to block the transfer.

The Number of the Day is 25.6% – the percentage of Oklahomans claiming itemized deductions on federal taxes in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the Huffington Post reported that a federal law change finally allows Native American tribal courts to investigate and prosecute non-Native men who abuse Native women on reservations.

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New poll: Majority of Oklahomans favor halting tax cut amid budget shortfall

A new poll shows that 60 percent of Oklahoma voters support delaying or canceling the income tax cut scheduled for 2016, and only 33 percent still want the tax cut to go forward while the state has a large budget shortfall.

Before hearing any other information about the tax cut, 62 percent of Oklahoma voters said Oklahoma has cut the state income tax too much or the right amount, compared to just 27 percent who said it has not been cut enough. At the same time, a very large majority (74%) said they think Oklahoma is not spending enough on education funding.


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In The Know: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt defends Bible distribution in schools

by and | April 15th, 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.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has sent a letter to public school superintendents across the state vowing to defend the distribution of Bibles on campus. Less than two weeks after a third-grade teacher in Duncan distributed Gideon Bibles to her students, a Satanist church in Oklahoma City has asked permission to distribute Satanist literature at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. A statewide Second Amendment advocacy group said they plan to file a lawsuit seeking to prohibit enforcement of a “no guns policy” at the Norman Music Festival.

A lawyer representing the family of Eric Harris, who was killed when a volunteer deputy with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office pulled a gun instead of a Taser, is asking to have an outside agency investigate the death. More than 100 protestors marched to the Tulsa County sheriff’s doorstep, demanding action against deputies who did not provide medical aid immediately after the shooting. A public forum tomorrow hosted by the nonprofit news organization Oklahoma Watch will discuss challenges in low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City.

A Tulsa World op-ed by Suzanna de Baca examines the wage gap between men and women in Oklahoma and nationally. Oklahoma has been ranked 48th out of all 50 states for the well-being of women and last in the nation for women’s health. School districts throughout the state would be allowed to create charter schools under a bill approved by the Oklahoma House on Tuesday. The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that Oklahoma’s repeated income tax cuts have made it impossible to fund adequately the education and infrastructure that are needed for economic growth.

The Oklahoman editorial board wrote a tribute to Rep. David Dank, who passed away on Friday. Governor Fallin ordered flags on state property to be flown at half-staff in honor of Rep. Dank. A recent study by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and Feeding America shows that one in six, or an estimated 656,000, Oklahomans, turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families. OK Policy has published a comprehensive overview of Oklahoma’s food security safety net.

Tulsa-resident Michelle Evans, who was crowned Mrs. America 2015, has traveled across Oklahoma and the U.S. to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse. As of yesterday, about one-third of Oklahomans still hadn’t filed a tax return. Citizens for Tax Justice shared five things you should know this tax day. The Number of the Day is 15.3 – the number of black students per thousand who were referred to police and courts by schools in 2011-2012, far higher than the national average for black students (9.8) and about 3 times Oklahoma’s rate for white students (4.2) and Hispanic students (6.3).

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Upcoming Event: Oklahoma Watch forum on low-income neighborhoods

by | April 14th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Poverty, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

Nonprofit news organization Oklahoma Watch and the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication will host a public forum about challenges in low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City. The event is Thursday, April 16, 6-7 p.m. at the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church gymnasium, 123 S.W. 25th St., Oklahoma City.

The forum will focus on the needs and concerns of south Oklahoma City communities and is tied to a recently released mobile-video news project, “Talk With Us: Poverty in Oklahoma City Neighborhoods.”

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