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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.
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Today you should know that the state Senate narrowly passed a bill (SB 1495) that would privatize Medicaid in a pilot project at a yet-to-be-determined location in the state. The House approved sending to a vote of the people a $120 million bond issue to repair the state Capitol. The House also called for a statewide vote to allow Oklahoma school districts to hold their own bond issue votes for safety upgrades such as safe rooms and storm shelters (HJR 1092). Oklahoma Policy Institute published a new fact sheet about prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma.
A staff member at a Lexington minimum-security prison was taken hostage at knifepoint by a prisoner. The House voted down a bill (HB 2732) that would allow prison inmates to begin earning credits for good behavior earlier in their sentences. The bill had the backing of Gov. Mary Fallin, the state District Attorneys’ Council, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, several private prisons, and Oklahoma corrections officers, but it was defeated after a lawmaker warned that votes for the bill would be seen as being “soft on crime.” In an editorial, The Oklahoman suggested that the recent annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) showed that conservatives are embracing criminal justice reform.
The House approved a resolution asking for a public vote on whether the state legislature should devote every other session only to budget issues. The Senate passed a bill that would ban using a cell phone while driving in a school zone. Regulators are adopting new rules for oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in earthquake-prone central Oklahoma. Politicians and landowners are clashing over wind energy regulations as the industry expands into eastern Oklahoma.
The Number of the Day is the staffing levels at an Oklahoma correctional facility where an employee was briefly taken hostage. In today’s Policy Note, the Economix blog suggests ways in which the US could trim down health care spending.
In The News
Senate passes pilot project for Medicaid privatization
The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would privatize Medicaid in a pilot project at a yet-to-be-determined location in the state. Senate Bill 1495 by Sen. Kim David, R-Wagoner, passed by a vote of 25-21 and heads to the House for consideration. Senate approval requires 25 votes. The Oklahoma State Medical Association opposes the bill. Managed care for Medicaid was tried in the 1990s and failed miserably, said Wes Glinsmann, Oklahoma State Medical Association spokesman.
Lawmakers put the vote in the people’s hands; $120 million bond to repair Capitol
Today, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to put a bond proposal before the people of Oklahoma to repair the crumbling Capitol. House Joint Resolution 1033, by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, asks the people of Oklahoma to approve a $120 million bond issue to conduct much needed repairs and renovations to the Capitol building. For decades, the Capitol has suffered from neglect and is literally falling apart on the inside and the outside. “The longer we wait, the more expensive the repairs will be,” said House Speaker Hickman, R-Fairview. “This is one option that will get the job done.”
House Approves Oklahoma School Shelter Initiative
A proposal supported by Gov. Mary Fallin to help local school districts pay for safety upgrades like storm shelters and safe rooms has been approved by the Oklahoma House. The House voted 65-28 Thursday for the bill and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
New fact sheet: Prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma
Prescription drug abuse is a public health crisis in Oklahoma, contributing to over eight hundred deaths in 2012. In our new fact sheet on the topic, we provide a quick overview of the issue, dispel a few myths, and suggest policy reforms going forward.
Criminals Won’t Be Earning Early Credits For Good Behavior
The Oklahoma House has shot down a bill to allow criminals to begin earning credits for good behavior earlier in their sentence after a lawmaker warned that a vote on the bill would be seen as being “soft on crime.” The House voted 62-29 on Thursday against the bill by Slaughterville Republican Rep. Bobby Cleveland that was requested by Oklahoma’s prison guards. The bill would have allowed inmates who are sentenced to prison for one of the 85 percent crimes to begin earning good-time credits immediately. Under current law, inmates first serve 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for the credits. But Chickasha Republican Rep. Scott Biggs, a former prosecutor, described the bill as being “soft on crime” and urged its defeat.
Inmate takes Lexington staff member hostage at knife point
An inmate at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center managed to get inside a vehicle in the parking lot Wednesday as he held a female staff member hostage at knife point. Two inmates entered offices near the minimum-security unit of the prison where one of the men grabbed the staff member and threatened to hurt her with a hand-fashioned, sharpened instrument before leading her out of the building and to her vehicle, state Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said.
CPAC showed that conservatives embracing criminal justice reform
Most of the news coming from the recently concluded annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference focused on big names in the Republican Party who are positioning themselves for a run at the presidency in 2016. Another storyline was the intra-party debate over how much focus should be given to social issues that conservatives hold dear. A variety of other topics discussed at the conference drew far less attention. One of those was corrections reform. The takeaway: More and more conservatives understand that it must happen.
Resolution would ask for public vote on alternating legislative sessions
The state House of Representatives approved a resolution Thursday asking for a public vote on whether the state Legislature should start meeting in alternating sessions. Every other session would be devoted solely to budget issues under the proposed constitutional amendment by state Rep. Randy Grau, R-Oklahoma City. Both policy matters and budget issues could be considered in the other biennial session.
Cellphone Use In School Zones Will Result In A Fine
Using a cellphone in a school zone will result in a fine in Oklahoma under a bill that has been overwhelmingly approved in the state Senate. The bill by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman passed Thursday on a 42-0 vote. The bill would make it illegal for anyone to use a cellphone in a school zone, with fines of up to $250 per offense.
Regulator Votes To Adopt New Rules For Disposal Wells In Earthquake-Prone Region
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to adopt new data monitoring and reporting rules for operators of disposal wells in central Oklahoma’s earthquake-prone Arbuckle Formation. The rules require operators in the Arkbuckle to record daily injection pressure and volume measurements, and turn the data over to the commission if requested. Previously, operators were only required to record monthly measurements. State, federal and university scientists say limited data from disposal well operators has hampered their efforts to study how the wells, which are used by the oil and gas industry, could be linked to Oklahoma’s so-called earthquake “swarm.”
As Wind Energy Moves Into Eastern Oklahoma, Resistance Turns Political
Oklahoma is one of the country’s top wind-energy producers, and companies want to build more turbines across the state. For many landowners, wind farms can be a financial windfall. But as wind energy moves into regions unaccustomed to turbines, opponents have taken the fight to the state Capitol. Joe Bush grew up in Dallas, and he knows a lot about the energy business. During the frenzied 1980s oil boom, he worked as a tax accountant for a big petroleum company in Texas. After the bust, he started a new life as a cattleman on the ranch his grandfather built near Shidler, in northeastern Oklahoma’s Osage County. Bush’s Tower Hill Ranch is named for the opportunity elevation has brought this family. Decades ago, AT&T leased land to build a microwave tower to connect long-distance telephone calls. More recently, Bush leased out land for cell phone towers. Bush hopes the next towers erected on the ranch will carry wind turbines.
Quote of the Day
This isn’t about managed care. It is about privatization. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is already one of the most efficient agencies in state government. Their administrative overhead is far less than what you would find with most private insurers and so for there to be any cost saving, it is going to be borne on the back of providers.
-Wes Glinsmann, spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Medical Association, speaking against a bill that would move a portion of the state’s Medicaid population onto privatized managed care plans (Source: http://bit.ly/O9RsF9).
Number of the Day
The staffing levels at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, a minimum-security prison where a staff member was taken hostage at knifepoint. The facility is authorized to employ 196 officers, but it has only 98 on staff.
How to Shave $1 Trillion Out of Health Care
Americans spend more than 17 percent of GDP on health care; other high income industrial democracies spend only about 11 percent. The 6 percent difference in our $17 trillion economy amounts to $1 trillion. The excess in the United States is primarily attributable to a more expensive mix of procedures and services, higher prices paid to drug companies and physicians, and inefficiencies in the financing of health care. There are undoubtedly cultural differences between the United States and other countries, but it is also true that Swedes differ from Italians, Germans from French, and the English from all of the above. What these countries have in common that distinguishes their health care systems from the American is universal insurance for basic care, a larger share of government in financing health care (typically about 75 percent of the total versus 50 percent in the United States), and more aggressive control of expenditures.
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