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In The Know: ‘We don’t have a sentencing problem’ AG Jeff Sessions tells Oklahoma sheriffs in a rebuke of state reforms

by | October 20th, 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

‘We don’t have a sentencing problem’ AG Jeff Sessions tells Oklahoma sheriffs in a rebuke of state reforms: Critics of criminal justice reforms approved by Oklahoma voters in November spent an hour Thursday railing against them before yielding the lectern to an apparent ally in their fight: America’s top law enforcement officer. “Despite the national surge in violent crime and the record number of drug deaths over the last two years, there is a move to even lighter sentences,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a gathering of the state’s sheriffs [NewsOK]. In message to Oklahoma sheriffs, Rep. Scott Biggs praised for stopping several criminal justice reform measures [The Frontier]. Misguided budget concerns sank criminal justice reform this year, but lawmakers have another shot in 2018 [OK Policy].

Budget shortfall could send thousands of drug court participants to prison: After hearing that their jobs might disappear and that their patients could end up in prison, several Oklahoma drug court officials and mental health providers said they have no intention to stay quiet. On Thursday, they told their staff members and patients that state-funded outpatient services could disappear before year’s end. …For the patients, that could mean no more support for drug addiction recovery, and worse, a prison sentence [Journal Record]. Latest state cuts ‘catastrophic,’ Tulsa mental health professionals say [Tulsa World]. Agencies grasping for new revenue might be able to delay a $215 million budget cut until 2018, Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall declared Thursday [NewsOK]. Although the Oklahoma Legislature has convened numerous special sessions in recent decades, none has dealt with issues as sweeping and consequential as the current one [OK Policy].

Fallin’s chief of staff to oil and gas leaders: ‘Participate in a way that can help’: After Oklahoma’s two largest oil and gas industry associations sent a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin opposing gross production tax increases, the governor’s chief of staff pleaded for the industry to “be for something” and noted that Fallin has been “the biggest supporter of your industry over the last several years.” Pasted below, the late-September email from Fallin’s chief of staff, Chris Benge, was widely discussed among industry leaders [NonDoc].

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In The Know: ‘Unprecedented’: Mental health advocates, state leaders prepare for the worst as mental health cuts loom

by | October 19th, 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

‘Unprecedented’: Mental health advocates, state leaders prepare for the worst as mental health cuts loom: Surrounded by dozens of representatives from across the state, including from hospitals, law enforcement and other state agencies, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services outlined budget cuts that were described as “unprecedented” and “devastating.” “This is a really difficult day for our department and for the behavioral health network across the state of Oklahoma. It is an especially difficult day for the families and individuals who rely on our life-saving services,” said Terri White, commissioner of ODMHSAS [The Frontier]. Although the Oklahoma Legislature has convened numerous special sessions in recent decades, none has dealt with issues as sweeping and consequential as the current one [OK Policy].

Rehab work camps were about to be regulated. Then a friend stepped in: For years, Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery proudly operated outside of state oversight in Oklahoma. The founders ran their Christian recovery program their way – with church, hard manual labor and little government interference. In 2013, it looked like that was about to change. After a handful of patients died in another unregulated rehab, state lawmakers introduced a bill to crack down on a wide swath of uncertified programs. Then Republican lawmaker Doug Cox stepped in [Reveal].

Oklahoma taxes are the lowest in our region, and falling: This week the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began alerting care providers that they will have to shut down the state’s entire outpatient behavioral health system, with just a few exceptions, if lawmakers don’t find ways in special session to fill the agency’s $75 million budget hole. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is planning to cut rates paid to doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes by 9 percent — a scenario that would likely put more rural hospitals out of business at a time when pregnant women in rural Oklahoma already are being forced to travel long distances for basic care [OK Policy].

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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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In The Know: Gov. Fallin disappointed in lack of progress made during special session

by | October 16th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, 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

Gov. Fallin disappointed in lack of progress made during special session: Governor Mary Fallin says she is disappointed in the lack of progress made on the state’s budget during the special session. Lawmakers only briefly met at the State Capitol three weeks ago when the special session convened to fill a $215 million hole in the state’s budget before going in to recess to meet behind the scenes. [Fox25] Gov. Fallin calling on both parties to compromise [KFOR] Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session [OK Policy]

‘Disappointed’: Wallace, Fallin, Doerflinger trade criticisms: Call it the nature of the beast, but elected officials are rarely as candid in their press releases as they are behind closed doors. With that in mind, dueling “disappointed” pronouncements Friday afternoon from House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) and Gov. Mary Fallin underscore growing tension at the Oklahoma State Capitol. [NonDoc] What happens ‘when push comes to shove’ on the budget [OK Policy]

Health care advocates hope to avoid ‘moral crisis’: Across the state, health care officials are bracing for the worst. Without prompt legislative action, they say it will soon start to become more difficult for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans to find doctors, receive mental health treatment or receive social services. [CNHI] Care for seniors, people with disabilities at risk as DHS grapples with budget shortfall [OK Policy]

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In The Know: Capitol building to temporarily close

by | October 13th, 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

Capitol building to temporarily close: The state Capitol building, which will be without power, will be closed to everyone but workers from Manhattan Construction for one week starting at 7 p.m. on Friday. The temporary closure is necessary to ensure the safety of construction workers, tenants and visitors while the Capitol’s outdated electrical infrastructure is being replaced. The building will be reopened to tenants and the public on Oct. 23 [Journal Record]. The Legislature will not meet while the Capitol is shut down [OK Policy].

Proposed tax hike could fund teacher raises, new textbooks: Cash-strapped lawmakers are eyeing a plan that would ask voters next year to approve an income tax hike to pay for teacher raises and new textbooks for schools. State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said asking voters to approve a 0.5 percent hike to the state’s income tax rate is the only surefire way to generate enough revenue to pay for $5,000 raises for more than 40,000 public school teachers [CNHI]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Former Oklahoma Teacher of the Year who left for Texas shares his own cost-of-living comparison: When Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year penned a viral breakup letter to the state and announced his reluctant departure for a higher-paying job in Texas, he promised to keep advocating for Oklahoma teachers. This week, Shawn Sheehan followed through by publishing a full, side-by-side comparison of his and his wife’s teaching incomes and household expenses from when they worked at Norman Public Schools and now, in public schools in Lewisville, Texas [Tulsa World]. Cost-of-living doesn’t make up for Oklahoma’s low teacher pay [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Mental health in jails: ‘Is this the best we can do?’

by | October 12th, 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 in jails: ‘Is this the best we can do?‘ Tests found Kathleen Collier-Melchior, 53, with blood-alcohol levels nearly three times the legal limit. She told Midwest City jail staff she was going to hurt herself. A crisis intervention officer was called in to evaluate her. Officers removed her clothes and slipped her into a suit meant to protect mentally fragile people from using their clothes against themselves [NewsOK]. Despite warnings, little has been done to ease prison and jail overcrowding [OK Policy].

Statewide student proficiency rates plummet in first year of higher academic standards: As predicted, student proficiency rates in Oklahoma public schools plummeted on the first state tests aligned to new academic standards. For example, just 22.97 percent of eighth-graders are now considered proficient or better in math and 34.53 percent proficient in English/language arts. At the fourth-grade level, 37.01 percent of students are proficient in English/language arts and 40.5 percent in math [Tulsa World]. Accurate test results a step in the right direction for Oklahoma [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Oklahoma Senate panel studies payments between advanced nurses, doctors: The Oklahoma Senate’s only member who is a doctor said Tuesday he will consider writing a law that ends payments that some nurses make to doctors for prescription supervision. State Sen. Ervin Yen might introduce legislation next year to address complaints from advanced practice nurses, who are fighting to reverse Oklahoma’s requirement that doctors supervise those nurses’ prescription authority [NewsOK].

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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: House will not convene Monday as special session drags on to address $215 million budget hole

by | October 9th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, 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 will not convene Monday as special session drags on to address $215 million budget hole: The Oklahoma House will not return Monday to resume a special session at the Capitol, House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said Friday. Earlier this week, Echols told members to plan on being in session on Monday. “We are still working on some details,” the Oklahoma City Republican said. Gov. Mary Fallin called lawmakers into special session starting Sept. 25 after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled legislators violated the law in passing what amounted to a $1.50 tax increase on cigarettes. The ruling blew a $215 million hole in the state’s budget. Coupled with a loss of federal dollars, the shortage is closer to $500 million. [Tulsa World] Oklahoma House won’t convene Monday [The Oklahoman] Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy]

New poll finds Oklahoma voters want comprehensive revenue deal in special session: A new poll shows a large majority of Oklahoma voters (67 percent) want lawmakers to pass a comprehensive revenue plan in special session that avoids further cuts and funds a teacher pay raise and other critical needs. That compares to just 15 percent of voters who want only a tobacco tax increase without other revenue options and just 11 percent who say the legislature should not pass revenues and allow budget cuts to take effect. [OK Policy]

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