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All articles by Ryan Gentzler

In The Know: Mental health providers given details of planned state funding cuts

by | October 18th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Mental health providers given details of planned state funding cuts: The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began delivering the bad news to providers on Tuesday. Meeting behind closed doors at the agency’s headquarters Tuesday afternoon, providers were told how the department plans to shed 23 percent of its budget — $75 million — beginning Dec. 1. Those plans will be made public at a 1 p.m. Wednesday news conference [Tulsa World]. If lawmakers wait until regular session to fix the budget, it will already be too late [OK Policy]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Lawmakers discuss budget deal at Governor’s Mansion: The Oklahoma Capitol is closed for business, but House and Senate leadership are holding off-site budget meetings. One of the spots where those meetings have been held is the Governor’s Mansion, where lawmakers are working to come up with compromises to determine how to fill a $215 million budget hole. Some of the potential areas include raising taxes on cigarettes, gasoline, income on high earners and gross production for oil and gas [KOCO].

Is Oklahoma spending more than ever? Only if you ignore inflation: As Oklahoma’s elected officials wrestle to close a budget gap, a recent op-ed from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs argued that tax hikes shouldn’t be part of the solution. “Why do we need to raise taxes if the government is already spending more than ever before,” the conservative think tank wrote. “State government spending is at an all-time high. The state is on track to spend more in this fiscal year — more than $17.9 billion — than at any time in state history.” Where does the state money go? [Politifact] Two big myths that distort Oklahoma’s education funding debate [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Oklahoma cuts funding for child abuse prevention due to budget crunch

by | October 17th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma cuts funding for child abuse prevention due to budget crunch: Because of the state’s budget crunch, at-risk children in Oklahoma could lose access to services that try to reduce the odds they will be abused or neglected. The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Monday it will cut funding for nine child abuse prevention programs and 25 community health centers as of Nov. 15. The state faces a $215 million budget gap this year after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax. About one-third of the budget for the home visiting program in Oklahoma County, which serves about 75 families, will be lost, said Sherry Fair, executive director of Parent Promise [NewsOK]. Child abuse prevention and at-home care for seniors are latest services at risk due to shrinking state government [OK Policy].

State Health Department cuts funding to local social service agencies: The tourniquet tightened a little more on Tulsa social services agencies Monday as the Oklahoma Department of Health cancelled contracts with Morton Comprehensive Health Services and the Parent Child Center of Tulsa. The cancellations were part of a larger move by the Health Department to trim $3 million from its budget. The department has already notified staff of furloughs and layoffs to cope with state government’s financial straits [Tulsa World]. 

ACLU wants to talk to work camp participants after allegations of abuse: American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Arkansas and Oklahoma are investigating reports of abuse at the Jay-based work camp Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery, or CAAIR. The Oklahoman first reported earlier this month on Oklahoma courts sending drug-addicted defendants to work gutting chickens for the Arkansas-based company Simmons Foods Inc. through CAAIR and a similar program in Tahlequah called the DARP Foundation. Clients in the CAAIR and DARP programs work at the poultry plants in exchange for room and board and a chance to avoid prison [NewsOK].

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Oklahoma’s sprawling criminal code could make a felon of almost anyone

by | October 12th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (5)

In the wake of the failure of the criminal justice reform proposals put forth by the Justice Reform Task Force this year, Rep. Scott Biggs, the chairman of the House Judiciary – Criminal Justice and Corrections committee, blamed Governor Mary Fallin and others of refusing to discuss the definition of “violent” and “nonviolent” crimes used by some of the bills. After the session, in the lead-up to an interim study on that definition, Rep. Biggs distributed a survey asking respondents to classify every felony under Oklahoma law as violent, nonviolent, or a new, vaguely-defined category created by Rep. Biggs, “danger to the public.”

Governor Fallin, for her part, declined to return the survey, instead sending a strongly-worded letter criticizing Rep. Biggs’ actions during and since the regular legislative session. (OK Policy was also invited to complete the survey, but declined to do so.) But the content and length of the survey are striking in themselves, revealing an increasingly sprawling criminal code that could make a felon out of just about any Oklahoman.

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In The Know: Several Oklahoma agencies lose millions in funding as budget negotiations continue

by | October 11th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Several Oklahoma agencies lose millions in funding as budget negotiations continue: Several Oklahoma agencies are seeing their funding decrease as lawmakers have yet to come up with a budget plan. Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a $1.50-per-pack ‘cigarette fee’ was unconstitutional after lawmakers passed the revenue raising measure in the final five days of a legislative session without a 75 percent majority vote [KFOR]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Class-action suit filed against court-referred work program following national investigation: A class-action lawsuit has been filed against a controversial court-referred recovery program and an Arkansas-based company in the wake of a national news investigation that drew attention to the program’s practices and treatment of people assigned there. The lawsuit, filed in the Northern district of Oklahoma on Tuesday morning, accuses Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery and Simmons Food Inc. of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, Oklahoma Protection of Labor Act, Oklahoma Minimum Wage Act and Oklahoma’s Human Trafficking statutes [The Frontier]. Read about the investigation [Reveal].

Repeal the capital gains tax break: A tax break that benefits a small number of wealthy taxpayers and costs the state of Oklahoma around $100 million per year cannot “be credibly shown to have significant economic impact or a positive return on investment for the State,” according to a study presented to Oklahoma’s Incentive Evaluation Commission by a national consulting firm. Lawmakers should heed the advice of the experts and act quickly to repeal this expensive and inefficient tax break [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Anti-tax pledge haunts Oklahoma budget talks

by | October 10th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Special elections take place today in 27 counties across the state. Check the list of elections here, and use the Online Voter Tool to view a sample ballot for the elections in your county.

Today In The News

Anti-tax pledge haunts Oklahoma budget talks: If lawmakers agree to raise taxes as part of a deal to save the state budget, some prominent Republican members of the House and Senate may run afoul of a promise they made to their constituents. Six members of the Oklahoma Senate and 17 state representatives have taken a pledge to vote against tax hikes. If lawmakers hammer out a deal over the weekend and return to special session with a revenue package, they could see votes on raising the tax rate on cigarettes, motor fuel and so-called “luxury” services [NewsOK].

Little progress as special session clock ticks: Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative special session has lumbered along in fits and starts, with most of the work going on behind the scenes. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office rattle off ideas behind closed doors. Republicans and Democrats gather at the Capitol every few days for closed-door meetings to decide what, if any, plan has enough votes to pass. One thing is clear: On paper, the Oklahoma Legislature is no closer to a resolution now than when Gov. Mary Fallin ordered them back to the Capitol on Sept. 25 [NewsOK].  Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Tulsa drug court to review use of work-based diversion program targeted in Reveal investigation: Tulsa County’s drug court has had “very positive results” from a controversial work-based diversion program, officials said Monday, but the program’s continued use will be reviewed after a national news report raised questions about the legality and treatment of people assigned to it. “In light of these revelations, we will reconsider our use of CAAIR,” said Heather Hope-Hernandez, communications director of the Community Service Council of Tulsa, which administers the county’s drug court program [Tulsa World]. Read the investigation [Reveal].

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In The Know: SoonerCare reimbursement could be slashed 9%

by | October 4th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

SoonerCare reimbursement could be slashed 9%: State officials are preparing to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates by 9 percent for many SoonerCare services. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority warned providers and advocacy organizations Tuesday that the rate cut would take effect Dec. 1 unless the Legislature restores $70 million to the agency lost when the Supreme Court struck down a cigarette tax. Cutting reimbursement rates is a lengthy process. The authority has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 2 [NewsOK].

House leadership calling members back to Oklahoma Capitol: Oklahoma House members are being told to make plans for a return to special session next week. In an email obtained by The Oklahoman, Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols asked fellow Republicans to be on the House floor at 1 p.m. Monday. The email signals that lawmakers may be close to reaching a deal to close a $215 million budget shortfall caused when the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the Legislature’s attempt at taxing cigarettes this year [NewsOK]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Two big myths that distort Oklahoma’s education funding debate: Some lawmakers continue to resist admitting that Oklahoma needs to increase revenues for education — especially if it means raising taxes. Lawmakers and anti-tax interest groups have felt the pressure from the large numbers of Oklahomans upset about what’s happening in public schools, so they put a lot of energy into coming up with excuses for why more revenues are not the answer. They have manipulated data and cherry-picked numbers to claim that lack of funding isn’t the problem. Here are two big myths that have distorted Oklahoma’s education funding debate [OK Policy].

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In The Know: House goes into recess so cigarette tax negotiations can continue ‘off the clock’

by | September 28th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

House goes into recess so cigarette tax negotiations can continue ‘off the clock’: Gov. Mary Fallin made the rounds of legislative caucuses Wednesday in attempts to piece together a budget agreement after the special session wheezed to a halt. “I told them the people of Oklahoma expect us to solve the problem,” Fallin said early Wednesday evening after a 2½-hour closed-door session with House Republicans. Fallin met with Democrats earlier in the day and was to face Senate Republicans later Wednesday evening. House Republicans continued their closed caucus meeting after Fallin left about 5 p.m. [Tulsa World]

State health department employees to be furloughed amid budget crunch: While lawmakers are working in a special session to fill a $215 million budget hole, leaders at one Oklahoma agency say they are being forced to cut their budget. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that it is working to reduce agency spending due to a shortfall of more than $10 million. Officials say the shortfall is due to a loss of federal funds, increased costs and reduction in state appropriation [KFOR].

As Oklahoma Lawmakers Try to Fill Budget Hole, State Employees Ask For Increased Pay: As Oklahoma lawmakers work to fix a budget hole of $215 million dollars during the special session, frustrated state workers are calling on the legislature to increase their pay. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association wants a $7,500 per person raise provided to state workers. Executive Director Sterling Zearley says most of the 34,000 employees in Oklahoma haven’t seen a pay increase in ten years and earn 25 percent less than those in the private sector [KOSU].

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In The Know: Lawmakers resume partisan stances as special session begins

by | September 27th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Lawmakers resume partisan stances as special session begins: Oklahoma lawmakers met for about 15 minutes Monday, the first day of a special session that so far has produced no answers to the state’s $215 million budget shortfall. Aside from procedural votes to kick-start the special session, state Capitol politics picked up where lawmakers left it four months ago. House Republicans are calling for a cigarette tax, and criticizing Democrats for not supporting a stand-alone vote [NewsOK]. Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy].

Cigarette tax passes first test in special session: A $1.50 per pack cigarette tax the Republican-led Legislature is depending on to patch a $215 million hole in the state budget passed House and Senate committee votes Tuesday on the second day of a special session. Tuesday’s actions set up a floor vote in the House as soon as Wednesday, but passage is far from certain. The bill will require 76 of the current 100 votes in the House, and has significant opposition in both parties [Tulsa World]. The second attempt at the cigarette tax is already in jeopardy [Public Radio Tulsa]. A House Democrat called the cigarette tax a distraction [Rep. Shane Stone / NewsOK].

Oklahoma Could Lose $49M for Needy Children’s Health Care: Though the Senate now will not vote by Saturday’s deadline for Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a simple majority, it’s also the last day for another significant action. Additional funding approved under President Barack Obama for the Children’s Health Insurance Program must be reauthorized by then. “Should the enhanced CHIP funding not be reauthorized, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority stands to lose about $49 million in federal funds in state fiscal year 2018,” said Cate Jeffries with OHCA [Public Radio Tulsa].

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In The Know: Senate Republicans call for hiking motor fuels taxes as special session opens

by | September 26th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Senate Republicans call for hiking motor fuels taxes as special session opens: Senate Republicans on Monday proposed increasing the gasoline and diesel tax as one way of plugging the budget hole that brought lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session. Lawmakers met briefly in separate chambers Monday for the start of a special session called by Gov. Mary Fallin after the Oklahoma Supreme Court said lawmakers had violated the law in passing a $1.50 cigarette tax as a “fee” during the regular session [Tulsa World]. No agreement was made after the first day of special session [Oklahoma Watch]. Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy].

McCall: Cigarette tax ‘first priority,’ GPT not focus right now: After Oklahoma’s 56th Legislature gaveled in this afternoon for the state’s first special session since 2013, House of Representatives leadership said passage of the storied $1.50 cigarette tax is top priority in filling a $215 million budget hole. “First priority of the House (…) will be to take up the tobacco tax,” House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said Monday. “That is the issue that will fix the hole that’s been created, and to the extent we can do that, that dictates other conversations we’ll have.” [NonDoc]

As Legislature gathers, Oklahomans await results: When the compressor broke on the industrial refrigerator at the Cocina De Mino Mexican restaurant in south Oklahoma City, co-owner Tim Wagner faced a $5,000 replacement or a quick fix for around $1,500. “I just went ahead and paid for a new one because you can’t always put a Band-Aid on problems,” said Wagner, sitting in his windowless office behind the kitchen, between stacks of purchase orders and food inventory lists [NewsOK]. The special session started quietly [Journal Record].

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In The Know: OU President Boren intends to retire in June after 23 years

by | September 21st, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

OU President Boren intends to retire in June after 23 years: A packed Reynolds Performing Arts Center had an idea of what was coming when University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren walked out to the podium without an introduction. The second-longest serving president in university history confirmed the rumors that were already circulating: he will retire at the end of the academic year, June 30, 2018. That is also contingent on finding a successor, Boren said, as he does not want to leave a vacancy in the position [Norman Transcript]. Oklahoma’s US Senators called Boren an Oklahoma institution [NewsOK]. Boren was hailed as one of state’s most accomplished leaders upon news of his retirement [KTUL].

Oklahoma has a second chance to get its budget right: Last month’s Supreme Court decision striking down a cigarette fee has opened a big hole in the state budget. But it also gives lawmakers a second chance to fix a budget that was not meeting the needs of Oklahomans even before the court’s ruling. The Legislature originally passed the cigarette fee as part of a last-ditch effort to fill Oklahoma’s nearly $1 billion budget shortfall and prevent even deeper cuts to our schools, health care, and other key services [David Blatt / Tulsa World].

Last-Ditch Effort By Republicans To Replace ACA: What You Need To Know: Republican efforts in Congress to “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act are back from the dead. Again. While the chances for this last-ditch measure appear iffy, many GOP senators are rallying around a proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), along with Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) They are racing the clock to round up the needed 50 votes — and there are 52 Senate Republicans [Kaiser Health News].

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