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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to email@example.com. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission held its last meeting after nearly 50 years of existence. The agency is being consolidated into the attorney general’s office. An Oklahoma City woman who was initially denied a kidney transplant because of her intellectual disabilities has died while on the transplant waiting list. The switch to sending out debit cards instead of checks for Oklahoma tax refunds is drawing complaints of punitive fees.
The Tulsa World reports that the tenants who would benefit from millions in taxpayer-funded repairs to Tulsa’s airport industrial complex are already paying low rents. Oklahoma State University plans to seek a tuition increase for next year. Wagoner Public Schools is laying off about 40 teachers’ assistants, paraprofessionals, and administrators to cope with a budget shortfall. Tulsa-area schools are launching a summer sex education program to curb teen pregnancy rates.
The OK Policy Blog shares lessons about Oklahoma politics that we can take from the 2012 tax and budget debate. OETA Executive Director John McCarroll has announced plans to retire by the end of the year. A California company will be paid up to $21,000 to help the state Department of Human Services find a new director. NewsOK writes that the latest conflict on the DHS Commission is another setback for the agency.
Wayne Greene examines the longstanding tensions within Oklahoma government over boards and commissions that do not report directly to the governor. Rep. Mike Reynolds has filed six ethics complaints against other elected officials. Representatives of the Sierra Club argue in the Tulsa World that Oklahoma should move beyond coal.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank among the states for per capita Iraq war deaths. In today’s Policy Note, the ACLU examines the increasing costs of elderly prisoners who no longer pose a threat to public safety.
In The News
Oklahoma Human Rights Commission holds its last meeting
Members of the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission took solace Wednesday that the agency will have lasted 50 years at least on paper. Commission Chairman Mari Fagin gaveled the commission’s meeting to a close for the last time as members talked about efforts to close the agency by June 30 and transfer its duties to the state attorney general’s office. “I feel as though I’ve conducted a funeral today,” Fagin said. Commissioners had planned to discuss whether another meeting was needed next month, but a letter from the attorney general’s office made it clear that would not be necessary. Commission Vice Chairman Neil McElderry said he hopes the attorney general’s office will act on human rights complaints after June 30. “That’s a good question for a lot of people: Are they going to accept complaints or are they going to bury them?” he said.
Disabled woman dies while awaiting second chance at kidney transplant
At Misty Cargill’s funeral, the minister called her an advocate for other people with intellectual disabilities. She was — although a reluctant one. Cargill became an advocate when NPR did a story about her fight to get a life-saving kidney transplant. In 2006, at the time of the NPR story, the transplant center closest to her, Oklahoma University Medical Center in Oklahoma City, turned her down, saying a woman with a mild intellectual disability did not have the mental competency to make an informed decision to choose a transplant. “Lurking below the surface is the more likely reason for denial: Someone determines that people with intellectual disabilities are inferior, human beings of lesser value, the last priority,” wrote Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics. Shriver was one of many listeners who heard the NPR story and was outraged. Shortly after the story ran, Cargill’s kidney function improved and she was no longer in need of a transplant. But in recent years, her health declined and in the last year she was placed on a waiting list by another Oklahoma City hospital.
Complaints generated by Oklahoma tax refund system
In years past, the Oklahoma Tax Commission came under fire for failing to get income tax refunds out on a timely basis. Now the agency is in the crosshairs for supposedly lousing up an alternative plan for issuing refunds. This time, the fault — if any is to be found — lies with the Legislature for stipulating that refunds would no longer be issued by check but instead direct-deposited or placed on a debit card. The plan saves more than $500,000, something that the taxpayers getting the refunds should applaud. But some taxpayers who asked for direct deposit got the debit card instead and others have complained that the cards carry punitive fees. A third-party vendor, chosen by competitive bidding, was selected for the debit cards. For a modest fee, those who get the card can cash it in at some banks. Those who don’t may incur hefty fees for keeping a balance on the cards.
Tax options bring to mind tenant rent rates
Different tax options are flying around as to how to fund $254.4 million in city airport industrial complex improvements. The situation has many Tulsa residents asking: How much do the tenants who would benefit pay in rent? The simple answer to glean from a complex web of numbers on a spreadsheet is: Not a lot. Tulsa Metro Chamber and government officials have said it is critical for the facilities to be repaired and modernized so they are marketable regardless of who currently occupies them. But they have admitted that some of the improvements needed would benefit specific tenants, such as American Airlines, to protect the thousands of jobs the companies provide. Chamber officials have refused to break down the list of improvements for the Tulsa World to specify which companies they would impact, citing nondisclosure agreements.
Oklahoma State University to seek tuition increase Friday
Oklahoma State University students could see an increase in tuition and fees during the upcoming academic year. OSU officials plan to seek a “minimal” tuition increase during an OSU/A&M Board of Regents meeting this week, said OSU spokesman Gary Shutt. He didn’t disclose the exact size of the proposed increase. The tuition hike is part of the university’s proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which is up for approval at the meeting. The OSU/A&M Board of Regents meets at 10 a.m. Friday at OSU-Tulsa’s executive board meeting room. OSU’s funding remained flat under a budget for the upcoming fiscal year passed last month by the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education.
Wagoner schools to cut jobs
More than 23 years as a Wagoner Public Schools paraprofessional, Becky Minton dealt with children with multiple handicaps and learning disabilities. “I did everything,” Minton said. “I cleaned diapers. Some students had to be fed. I helped kids learn to walk when I did multiple handicapped. Then, I had only learning disabled children. I had autistic children I helped motivate.” Minton and more than 37 other teachers’ assistants and paraprofessionals likely will not be rehired for the 2013 school year. As part of the district’s reduction in force, the support workers, plus two district administrators, were notified June 5 of proposed nonre-employment. They were given 10 days to appeal the decision by requesting a hearing. Superintendent Monte Thompson said a tight budget prompted the reduction in force.
TPS launching summer sex ed program to curb teen pregnancy rates
Sobering statistics in teen birth rates and increasing pressure from community health advocates have prompted the introduction of sex education programs in several Tulsa-area schools. The Tulsa City-County Health Department will be bringing the Personal Responsibility Education Program, or PREP, to secondary students in Tulsa Public Schools’ summer school in the coming weeks. More than 1,000 secondary students in the Jenks, Sand Springs and Union school districts already participated in the program this spring. “The data itself demonstrates that we certainly have a need in our community for this type of education,” said Pam Rask, division manager of health promotion and outreach for the Health Department. “A recent survey showed that half of all high school students in Oklahoma have already had sex. I’m a parent myself – I would rather they learn from experts, rather than their peers.” Oklahoma does not require schools to teach sex education, but it has the fifth-highest rate of teen births in the nation among 15- to 19-year-olds and the second-highest rate in births to teens ages 18-19.
Facts Matter: Lessons from the Great Tax and Budget Debate of 2012
Earlier this year, OK Policy was hosting a briefing in Oklahoma City about the ongoing battle over taxes and the state budget. During the question period, a woman in the audience rose with a question that went something like this: “Your arguments are all well and good. But how can you even try to persuade these legislators who are dead set on destroying government? These people won’t be happy until they’ve wrecked our tax system, wiped out public education, dismantled Medicaid and the safety net, and achieved Grover Norquist’s goal of shrinking government to the size where you can drown it in the bathtub.” My response was that there are unquestionably some elected officials in Oklahoma on a mission to dismantle government. They make a lot of noise and have some rather well-funded forces behind them crafting and amplifying their message. Yet this faction of hard-core ideologues that sees government as the enemy is largely a minority making life miserable for the larger group of moderates who hold power.
OETA to seek out new executive director
A new executive director will be sought soon for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA). John McCarroll, 65, who has served in the position for nine years, has announced his plans to retire from the agency by the end of 2012, according to a news release. Selection of a new OETA executive director will become a top priority for the network, chairman of the OETA board Dr. James W. Utterback stated in the news release. McCarroll has overseen the completion of the digital conversion of the Oklahoma network during his tenure, as well as received two regional Emmy Awards for his work on various OETA projects.
DHS hires search firm to find new director candidates
A California company will be paid up to $21,000 to help the state Department of Human Services find a new director. Neher & Associates was hired last week to identify more candidates for the agency’s top job. The company’s president, Robert L. Neher Jr., said Monday searches normally take 90 to 120 days. “We’re probably going to try to do it in less time than that,” said Neher, who lived in Edmond as a child. The agency’s last director, Howard Hendrick, announced in January he was retiring and since has left. DHS commissioners initially hoped to have a new director hired by July 1. The agency already has done its own search for a new director. Commissioners and Gov. Mary Fallin interviewed the top two candidates from that search last month. DHS officials then moved forward with hiring a professional search firm. Only one of the candidates from the original search remains in the running. That candidate, Ed Lake, is a retired deputy commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Tennessee.
NewsOK: Another setback for Oklahoma’s human services agency
The Department of Human Services, an agency that badly needs things to go right, instead continues to see things go wrong. Commission Chairman Brad Yarbrough resigned that post after another commissioner, Jay Dee Chase, sought to have him censured. The move by Chase followed Yarbrough’s attempt to have two former commissioners, Anne Roberts and Steven Dow, continue to serve as nonmembers on two DHS-related committees. The thought of Dow helping in any way was particularly off-putting to Chase, who never got along with Dow. The former commissioner had “caused problems” on the board, Chase said, and had been “an objectionist on everything.” That latter criticism is particularly rich. Chase (and two other board members) objected to settling the federal class-action lawsuit filed against DHS over its child welfare system. Chase objected to being asked to give a deposition in that lawsuit. He bristled at Dow’s insistence that board and committee meetings adhere to state open meeting laws. He objected when October’s meeting ran long and caused him to miss an eye appointment. Chase obviously prefers the days before Dow was named to the board and began causing “problems” by actually asking questions and demanding answers about children who had died in DHS custody.
Tulsa World: State boards confuse and conflict
The recent Ethics Commission decision that led to the resignations of two state Human Services Commission members points to the fine line between a highly qualified gubernatorial appointee and a conflict of interest. The Human Services Commission – and all the other alphabet boards that run state government – is an expression of one of the fundamental tensions in Oklahoma government. Oklahoma’s founding fathers didn’t trust a strong chief executive. So, they fractured the governor’s authority among boards filled with members with lengthy terms in office. The Legislature maintained that tradition for decades as state government grew. So, the top officers of the state’s colleges, prisons, welfare programs and most other key areas don’t report to the governor – or at least not directly. They report to boards and commissions.
Rep. Mike Reynolds files six complaints with state Ethics Commission
State Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, has filed six ethics complaints before the state Ethics Commission. Soon after the filings on Wednesday (June 13), he provided copies of the complaints to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations. The first filing is aimed at state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Reynolds contends Jolley accepted “in excess of $5,000 from a political action committee, registered as Oklahoma Medical PAC, for the respondent’s 2010 Campaign committee, registered as Friends of Clark Jolley 2010.” Reynolds also filed a complaint against Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, District Attorney David Prater, Rep. Cory Williams, House Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon, Rep. Glen Mulready, and Rep. Jason Nelson.
Oklahoma should move beyond coal
Tulsa sits within a ring of fire, flanked by three massive coal-fired power plants that sit less than 50 miles away. These plants pump out huge amounts of pollution, including gases that form a layer of haze over the city. These gases form ozone, or smog, an acidic and dangerous form of air pollution that causes something like a sunburn for your lungs. Smog levels are at their highest in the summer, so while Oklahomans are enjoying the outdoors the most, they are also at the highest risk of smog-related illnesses. Last year was one of the worst on record for smog pollution in Oklahoma, with the Tulsa metro area exceeding federal clean air protection levels on 25 separate days. This puts Tulsa in the same league as Pittsburgh and Detroit for unsafe levels of smog pollution. Smog has been linked to multiple serious health problems.
Quote of the Day
The data itself demonstrates that we certainly have a need in our community for this type of education. A recent survey showed that half of all high school students in Oklahoma have already had sex. I’m a parent myself – I would rather they learn from experts, rather than their peers.
-Pam Rask, division manager of health promotion and outreach for the Health Department, on a new sex education program in Tulsa-area schools
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s rank among the states for per capita Iraq war deaths, 1.88 military casualties per 100,000 residents
Source: Department of Defense via Population Health Metrics
At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly
Elderly prisoners are twice as expensive to incarcerate as the average prisoner and pose little danger to society, yet the population of elderly prisoners in the United States is exploding. Our extreme sentencing policies and a growing number of life sentences have effectively turned many of our correctional facilities into veritable nursing homes — and taxpayers are paying for it. This increasing warehousing of aging prisoners for low-level crimes and longer sentences is a nefarious outgrowth of the “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” policies of the 1980s and 1990s. Given the nation’s current overincarceration epidemic and persistent economic crisis, lawmakers should consider implementing parole reforms to release those elderly prisoners who no longer pose sufficient safety threats to justify their continued incarceration.
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