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 critics of bill unveiled yesterday to change Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system are saying it would cut many benefits to injured workers. A Senate committee snuffed out a bill that would have let cities and towns craft their own anti-smoking laws. A bill to reform Oklahoma’s controversial A-F school grading system advanced from the House education committee, as well as a bill that would ban school districts from disallowing corporal punishment.
A Senate committee approved a measure to merge the agency overseeing the half-built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum with the Oklahoma Historical Society, but the Historical Society doesn’t want it. An analysis by The Oklahoman found speeding laws and prosecution of those repeatedly caught going more than 100 mph are weak in Oklahoma compared with other states.
The OK Policy Blog shows that Governor Fallin’s tax cut proposal would do little to nothing for the average Oklahoman. A bill to repeal the state franchise tax that would cost the state an estimated $40 million annually has cleared a House committee. A new push to implement a sales tax on Internet purchases is taking place at the Federal level.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma households who would receive no tax cut under Governor Fallin’s tax cut plan. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examines how mass incarceration is creating a “poverty trap” for many communities in America.
In The News
Senate unveils workers’ compensation overhaul bill
A state Senate leadership bill to abolish the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court and replace it with an administrative system for compensating injured workers was unveiled Monday to a chorus of cheers and jeers. The bill is 260 pages long. Workers’ compensation attorney Bob Burke complained about a lengthy list of benefit cuts contained in the bill. For example, he said a worker making $500 a week would receive $20,000 less for an amputated arm, $16,000 less for an amputated hand and $24,000 less for a loss of hearing in both ears. Burke also objected to a provision in the bill that he said would eliminate workers’ compensation for “cumulative trauma injuries, including carpal tunnel, from the use of keyboards or video terminals.” Senate leaders said the bill is modeled after the workers’ compensation system in Arkansas.
Oklahoma Senate committee kills anti-smoking bill
In a victory for the tobacco industry, an Oklahoma Senate committee snuffed out a bill Monday that would have let cities and towns craft their own anti-smoking laws. The 6-2 vote not to pass Senate Bill 36 ensures the proposal is dead for the next two years, or the length of the 54th legislative session, said Sen. Greg Treat, chairman of the Senate General Government Committee. State law bans smoking in most public buildings. It is allowed in bars and in separately ventilated rooms in restaurants. Opponents said the bill would have been unfair to businesses that built these special rooms and that they should not be penalized for playing by the rules.
Education committee advances bills to reform A-F system, expand teacher discipline options
A bill to reform Oklahoma’s controversial A-F school grading system advanced from the House Common Education Committee on Tuesday, although the exact nature of the reform remains unclear. As currently written, House Bill 1658 would reduce the impact of the lowest 25 percent of test scores on a school’s A-F grade. The bill’s author, Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing said she expects the bill to change significantly during the legislative session. Also advancing from the committee was an amended version of HB 1313, which would give teachers more latitude in determining grades and school discipline, including corporal punishment.
Measure to transfer American Indian center advances
A state Senate committee approved a measure Monday that would place the agency that is overseeing the half-built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in downtown Oklahoma City under the Oklahoma Historical Society. Sen. Greg Treat, author of Senate Bill 511, said his measure calls for the elimination of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority. The fate of the agency’s 11 employees would be up to the Historical Society, he said. The Historical Society doesn’t want the Indian cultural center, said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. Treat, chairman of the Senate General Government Committee, asked committee members to vote for the measure to keep it alive with the hope he could find a state agency willing to take the authority.
Oklahoma law seems to give 100 mph speeders a pass
On Nov. 30, 2011, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper ticketed Brandon L. Maples for driving 111 mph on Interstate 44 in Comanche County. A week later, another trooper cited Maples for traveling 101 mph in Grady County. Then, in March, Maples received another ticket in Grady County, this time for doing 102 mph. In every instance, Maples, 34, of Oklahoma City, was found guilty. He paid $475 in fines and hundreds of dollars more in court costs. But despite accumulating three citations in less than four months for driving more than 100 mph, Maples was never charged with reckless driving, nor did he slow down. An analysis by The Oklahoman has found that despite the deadly dangers of traveling so fast, speeding laws and prosecution appear weak in Oklahoma compared with some other states.
Governor Fallin’s tax cut would do little to nothing for the average Oklahoman
In her State of the State address, Governor Fallin unveiled yet another proposal to cut Oklahoma’s income tax. Her plan is drastically scaled back from last year’s proposal, which attempted to stretch out Oklahoma’s tax brackets, cut the top rate in half, and eliminate dozen of tax credits, exemptions, and deductions. This year, the Governor proposes simply repealing the top rate without identifying how it will be paid for. So how would this latest proposal affect Oklahomans’ taxes? The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy calculated how repealing the 5.25% rate would affect Oklahomans at different income levels. They found that 43 percent of households would receive no tax cut at all. Among households that did receive a tax cut, the median benefit would be just $39. The top 1 percent (households with incomes higher than $392,800k) receive an average of $1,870.
House panel approves franchise tax elimination
A bill to repeal the state franchise tax that would cost the state an estimated $40 million annually has cleared a House committee. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted 11-1 on Monday for the bill by Republican Rep. Leslie Osborn of Mustang. A proponent of eliminating the state’s income tax, Osborn said the state’s franchise tax is “both immoral and illogical.” According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the franchise tax of $1.25 is levied on Oklahoma corporations “for each $1,000 of capital invested or used in Oklahoma.” Out-of-state companies pay an additional $100 per year.
Push underway for Internet sales tax
A new push to implement a sales tax on Internet sales is taking place at the Federal level. Last week, members of both parties sponsored legislation that would place Internet companies on the same playing field as local businesses. Reuters reported that in the last decade, Internet sales have gone up from 1.6 percent of all U.S. retail sales to more than five percent according to the Commerce Department. In the third quarter of 2012, Internet sales were reported at $57 billion. The move toward implementation at the Federal level is welcome news to Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore), who attempted to pass a bill through the state house in 2012.
Quote of the Day
I think we expected more out of the Legislature, and I think it’s another victory for big tobacco.
–Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, on a Senate committee’s defeat of a bill that would have let cities and towns craft their own anti-smoking laws
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma households who would receive no tax cut under Governor Fallin’s tax cut plan.
Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute
Prison and the poverty trap
Why are so many American families trapped in poverty? Of all the explanations offered by Washington’s politicians and economists, one seems particularly obvious in the low-income neighborhoods near the Capitol: because there are so many parents like Carl Harris and Charlene Hamilton. For most of their daughters’ childhood, Mr. Harris didn’t come close to making the minimum wage. His most lucrative job, as a crack dealer, ended at the age of 24, when he left Washington to serve two decades in prison, leaving his wife to raise their two young girls while trying to hold their long-distance marriage together. The shift to tougher penal policies three decades ago was originally credited with helping people in poor neighborhoods by reducing crime. But now that America’s incarceration rate has risen to be the world’s highest, many social scientists find the social benefits to be far outweighed by the costs to those communities.
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