In 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 you should know that CBS News reports American Airlines is on the verge of merging with US Airways. The American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa is the city’s largest employer, but has undergone layoffs as the company went into bankruptcy. A McAlester native who lives in the Middle East was prevented from returning home, even though he had previously been cleared to fly to the U.S. to visit his mother, who has congestive heart failure.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak joined with state lawmakers to unveil legislation that would crack down on uninsured drivers in the state. A Senate panel approved legislation to extend a hospital provider fee that allows Oklahoma hospitals to receive federal matching funds for Medicaid. On the OK Policy Blog, Camille Landry shares a true story of what it’s like to go without health insurance in Oklahoma.
A House panel approved a bill that would allow teachers to bring loaded handguns to school. Districts are just now realizing that the state Education Department has let expire a contract to provide a safe school hotline. The CEO of an Ohio education services company will be the next Oklahoma CareerTech director. The okeducationtruths blog raised questions about the new director.
A House panel approved a bill to allow human trafficking victims to clear prostitution convictions. In a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Oklahoma scored among the worst states in the nation for management of elections. The Number of the Day is how many people work for the largest private employer in Oklahoma, Wal-Mart. In today’s Policy Note, the Shriver Brief discusses federal legislation that has been introduced to stop abusive online and bank payday loans.
In The News
American Airlines, US Airways on verge of merging
A deal for American Airlines and US Airways to merge is likely to be agreed on early next week, sources tell CBS News. The board of directors of Fort Worth-based American’s parent company, AMR Corp., is slated to meet Monday to consider the agreement. American’s CEO, Tom Horton, is likely to move out of the day-to-day managing of the new combined carrier, and instead get a seat on the new board. US Airways CEO Douglas Parker will probably run the new airline, which would be named American Airlines and is seen as likely to stay headquartered in Fort Worth. The American Airlines maintenance base in Tulsa is the city’s largest employer, but has undergone layoffs as the company went into bankruptcy.
Muslim man in Oklahoma prevented from returning to Middle East
A McAlester native who lives in the Middle East was prevented from returning there Wednesday. Saadiq Long, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he tried to check in for his flight to Qatar on Wednesday at Will Rogers World Airport but was told by a representative of the Transportation Security Administration that he was not cleared to board. Long had been on the government’s “no-fly” list and prevented from entering the U.S. from Qatar for many months. In November, after several unsuccessful attempts, he was allowed to fly to Oklahoma to see his mother, who has congestive heart failure. Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma chapter, said he and Long do not understand why Long cannot leave the United States to return to his home in Qatar, where his wife and child are waiting, particularly because he was previously cleared to fly into the U.S.
Bills aim to crack down on state’s uninsured drivers
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak joined with state lawmakers to unveil legislation on Tuesday that would crack down on uninsured drivers in the state. Senate Bill 701 and House Bill 1792, authored by Oklahoma City Republicans Sen. David Holt and Rep. Mike Christian, would raise fines for uninsured drivers, allow law enforcement officials to seize car tags of uninsured drivers, and create a temporary state insurance plan that would cover vehicles with confiscated tags. Drivers who have their car tags confiscated under the legislative proposals would receive a temporary sticker to place on their vehicle until they obtain insurance. The legislation would also create administrative fees for uninsured drivers that would go to law enforcement and also to pay for the state temporary insurance plan.
Senate panel approves hospital fee extension
Legislation that would extend a program that helps reimburse hospitals and other health care providers that provide Medicaid services was approved by a state Senate panel Wednesday. Approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2011, the program generates more than $420 million to reimburse hospitals and other health care providers for serving low-income children, seniors and disabled Oklahoma residents. Its continuation has taken on more importance since Fallin decided to reject expansion of the state’s Medicaid program that is allowed under the federal health care overhaul law, said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, author of a similar bill in the House.
If you live in Oklahoma and do not have medical insurance, your life is at risk. Lack of health insurance coverage and the inability to access both primary and higher-level medical care result in Oklahomans having a life expectancy that’s ten years shorter than the national average — on par with countries like Bangladesh and Iraq. Oklahoma’s Medicaid insurance program, SoonerCare, provides coverage for low-income people who don’t have insurance, but adults have to be very ill in order to get coverage. The preventive medical care that helps people avoid serious illness and the diagnostic and screening services that identify problems early so that they can be treated before they become fatal, are out of the reach for 690,000 uninsured Oklahomans.
House panel passes measure to allow armed teachers
A bill that would allow public school teachers or administrators who successfully complete a basic police course academy for reserve deputies to bring loaded handguns to school passed a legislative committee Wednesday. It is the first Oklahoma school security measure advanced by lawmakers since the Sandy Hook massacre in December. Twenty children, ages 6 and 7, were shot and killed by a disturbed man in Newtown, Conn. Six adults also were killed. Under House Bill 1062, local school boards would decide whether to allow trained teachers and administrators to be armed in their schools. Teachers and administrators would have to go through a six-week reserve officer training, through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, to be permitted to carry firearms on school campuses.
Schools realizing safety hotline was dropped by state more than a year ago
The state Education Department a little over a year ago let expire a contract with a company that had provided a safe school hotline to all Oklahoma school districts for years. But many districts didn’t know it until recently. “We were surprised to learn from the Safe Schools hotline company that the state Department of Education had chosen not to renew the statewide contract as there was not any indication or communication from the SDE,” Jenks spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said. It has left many area school districts looking for a similar service with the cost now falling squarely on them. The anonymous hotline was available for students and parents to report threats, bullying and other school-safety issues at any time, day or night.
New Oklahoma CareerTech director named
An Ohio education services executive will be the next director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, officials announced. Bob Sommers of Middletown, Ohio, will begin work with CareerTech in April. Sommers is CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, a learning services company. Before going to work for Carpe Diem, Sommers served in several capacities with the Ohio Department of Education from 1986 to 2001. Before that, he was the superintendent of Butler Technology and Career Development Schools, a career-technical school district based in Hamilton, Ohio. Sommers will succeed Phil Berkenbile, who will step down Thursday.
See also: CareerTech: A peculiar choice from okeducationtruths
House panel supports bill to allow human trafficking victims to clear prostitution convictions
An Oklahoma state representative asked colleagues Wednesday to join seven other states that allow human trafficking victims to clear certain criminal records. Without debate or opposition, the House Public Safety Committee approved the proposal from Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, sending it to the full House of Representatives. The bill would allow victims of sex trafficking to petition to have prostitution convictions cleared. New York and six other states have passed similar law since 2010, according to the Polaris Project, a national advocacy group that says these laws ensure victims aren’t treated as criminals.
Oklahoma scores low for management of elections
Earlier this week the Pew Charitable Trusts released the Elections Performance Index, which examines election administration across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The index includes 17 indicators—developed by an advisory group led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Charles Stewart—that measure election administration policies and results, beginning with the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. These indicators include polling location wait times, availability of online voting information tools, the number of rejected voter registrations, the percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot problems, how many military and overseas ballots were rejected, voter turnout, and the accuracy of voting technology, among others. Low performing states include Alabama, California, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
Quote of the Day
Those millions of dollars are just the beginning. We know for a fact that it is making things more expensive in the state.
-Insurance Commissioner John Doak, speaking about Oklahoma’s high rate of uninsured drivers
Number of the Day
Number of people who work for the largest private employer in Oklahoma, Wal-Mart, employing nearly 4 times as many as the state’s 2nd largest employer (Integris) in 2011
Source: Oklahoma Dept. of Commerce
Federal legislation to stop abusive online and bank payday loans introduced
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Udall (D-NM) recently reintroduced the Stopping Abuse and Fraud in Electronic (SAFE) Lending Act. This bill attempts to address the issue of online lenders who have designed abusive products in order to evade state consumer protections. As state legislatures across the country continue to crack down on abusive practices, such as triple digit interest rates and unfair payment and debt collection practices, the SAFE Lending Act will ensure that consumers get the same protections regardless of whether they take out a loan from a storefront payday lender or a lender operating online.
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