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 Oklahoma businesses are divided overwhether to allow open carry of guns on their premises when the law goes into effect in November. Practically all of Oklahoma’s costs for hospitalizing prison inmates would be picked up by the federal government if the state joins the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Changes approved by the 2012 Oklahoma Legislature opened the door to allow home warranty companies to sell service contracts without regulation by any state agency, opening the door to scams. Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary A. Jones on Thursday accused the state Marginal Well Commission of “widespread abuse and potential fraud.” The Tulsa World writes that Oklahoma should not spend any more taxpayer money on the American Indian Cultural Center
The Tulsa World also writes that Governor Fallin was wrong to flip her position on State Question 762, which would remove the governor from the parole process. The Number of the Day is the percentage increase in the average time served in prison for a drug crime in Oklahoma between 1990 and 2009. In today’s Policy Note, the Director of the Brennan Center for Justice discusses how using incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution is damaging our economy and society.
In The News
Businesses take sides on whether to allow open carry
Arby’s franchisee U.S. Beef Corp. is one of hundreds of businesses in the state trying to figure out what to do when Oklahoma’s open carry firearm law takes effect Nov. 1. Although U.S. Beef Corp. has the right to restrict weapons from entering its properties, the Tulsa-based company inadvertently became the target of a passionate Second Amendment controversy when it started posting “No Weapons” signs outside its Arby’s restaurants two years ago. The situation led to protests, and now U.S. Beef Corp. and other businesses face another decision: Should customers be allowed to carry guns openly in their business? The question must be answered soon. An amendment to the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act was signed in May by Gov. Mary Fallin, and beginning Nov. 1 people who are licensed to carry concealed weapons will be allowed to carry their guns openly.
Medicaid expansion would cover Oklahoma’s inmate hospitalization costs
Practically all of Oklahoma’s costs for hospitalizing prison inmates would be picked up by the federal government if the state accepts funding under the Affordable Care Act, a Department of Corrections analysis shows. In fiscal year 2012, the state prison system spent $13 million on hospital bills for inmates, DOC spokesman Jerry Massie said. Under the federal law, practically all of those costs would be picked up by Medicaid starting in 2014, he said. There’s one catch, however: The state would have to accept the federal government’s money. The DOC analysis largely verifies findings earlier this year by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which also estimated that the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services could save $34 million a year and the state Health Department could save $2.4 million a year with Medicaid expansion.
Legislative change takes away protection against fraud by home warranty firms
Changes approved by the 2012 Oklahoma Legislature opened the door to allow home warranty companies to sell service contracts without regulation by any state agency. Several Purcell residents have received letters from HomeServe USA Repair Management Corp., offering coverage for exterior water lines between the meter and the house. According to the letter, homeowners signing up for the $4.99 per month plan will have $6,000 protection for covered repairs. However, fine print on the reverse side states that to be covered, any damage to a water line must be the result of normal wear and tear. Jim Smith, chief of the Anti-Fraud Unit at the Oklahoma Insurance Department, said while the letters technically aren’t a scam, the solicitations “fall between any laws we have on the books.” When the legislature changed the rules governing home warranty companies like HomeServe, Smith continued, “they took away our jurisdiction over what they do.”
State auditor and inspector accuses well commission of fraud
Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary A. Jones on Thursday accused the state Marginal Well Commission of failing to correct internal control deficiencies and of negligence that has allowed for “widespread abuse and potential fraud.” “In addition, the Legislature should consider evaluating whether this agency might be consolidated with another agency to provide better oversight or whether their mission could be accomplished without being a part of state government,” Jones said in the report on the Oklahoma Commission on Marginally Producing Oil and Gas Wells. The marginal well commission was created by the Legislature in 1992 to identify factors that affect the state’s marginal wells and encourage producers to keep the wells operational.
Tulsa World: No more taxpayer money for Indian museum
Sadly, it was no surprise when an audit found problems with the creation of the multimillion-dollar American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. This operation has been mothballed due to lack of funding and its future remains unclear. The museum has been either on the books or under construction – on and off – since 1994. State appropriations planning began in 1996. In 2005 the city of Oklahoma City donated the site land. Now, 18 years later, the project remains incomplete and in need of another infusion of taxpayer money to finish. We have to wonder if this would be the last such request and the answer is, probably not.
Tulsa World: Fallin shouldn’t have flipped position on SQ 762
Maybe we shouldn’t be shocked that Gov. Mary Fallin has withdrawn her support for State Question 762 that – if passed by voters Nov. 6 – would remove the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders. Why would Oklahoma want to be as progressive as every other state in the country – none of which requires its governor to review every nonviolent offender’s parole? When it comes to criminal-justice issues, this state has a long, inglorious and expensive history of politics trumping reason and economics. This time the powerful Oklahoma District Attorneys Association won out, undoubtedly convincing Fallin to withdraw her support for SQ 762. Never mind that Fallin approved exactly the same measure – House Bill 2131 – last year.
Quote of the Day
When it comes to criminal-justice issues, this state has a long, inglorious and expensive history of politics trumping reason and economics.
-Tulsa World editorial board
Number of the Day
Percentage increase in the average time served in prison for a drug crime in Oklahoma between 1990 and 2009
Source: Pew Center on the States
Missing from the debates: Fixing our criminal justice system
We would be well served to recognize that every government policy affects the economy and has broad social consequences. As an example, our criminal justice system – which definitely will not be addressed tonight – has huge consequences for our labor force. The system costs taxpayers an $70 billion per year. But fiscal costs are the tip of the “cost iceberg.” Using incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution to every social quandary has led to a ballooning of our prison population to 2.3 million Americans behind bars—the highest per-capita rate in the world. You would be surprised at how many people are locked up for low-level crimes like jumping a subway turnstile, nonviolent crimes, or drug crimes. Half of those in state prisons are locked up for nonviolent crimes; half of federal prisoners committed drug crimes. Many of these individuals do not pose public safety risks, but are nonetheless prevented from contributing to our job force, participating in our democracy, and advancing educationally.