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In The Know: State Supreme Court to decide if oil companies can be held liable for earthquake injury

by | January 26th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn 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.

In a case expected to set a precedent for future earthqfuake claims in Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court will consider whether two oil companies can be held liable in state court for injuries a Prague woman suffered during the 2011 earthquake.  While state authorities are quietly scrutinizing wells in quake-prone parts of the state, most of the companies that operate the wells are staying silent. The Oklahoman editorial board criticized OK Policy for pointing out that tax breaks to the oil and gas industry are costing Oklahoma more than $500 million this year alone.

 Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said it is alarming that Texas pays teachers so much more than Oklahoma. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed House Speaker Jeff Hickman’s comments that Oklahoma is “one lawsuit away” from a federal takeover of our prison system. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White said she is hopeful the agency will be one of the few not receiving budget cuts this legislative session. Officials with the highway patrol say they can already see the rise in interest from trooper recruits because of a pay raise that went into effect at the start of 2015. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has given $217,655 in pay raises to Senate employees. 

More than 100,000 Oklahomans have selected or were automatically re-enrolled in private health insurance plans they bought through healthcare.gov. The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will review the drug protocol used in Oklahoma executions to determine whether the procedure violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. A recent federal policy reversal, long-sought by states and health care advocates, could enable schools to take a lead role in managing chronic childhood diseases and result in the hiring of many more school nurses. The Oklahoma Department of Health says influenza has taken the lives of 16 people during the past week, bringing the total numbers Oklahomans who have died due to flu-related illness since the flu season began to 47. The Tulsa school board has called off its Monday vote on a new superintendent, citing a need for more time to deliberate between finalists Millard House II and Deborah Gist.

The Tulsa World discussed the comprehensive set of election reform ideas being put forward by Senator David Holt. OK Policy discussed many of the ideas in our report on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy. Tulsa World editor Julie Delcour looked at how the state budget breaks down. More information and charts about the state budget can be found in OK Policy’s 2015 budget highlights report. The Washington Post profiled how families in Oklahoma are reacting to the sudden arrival of same-sex marriage.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans vaccinated for for the seasonal flu between fall 2013 and spring 2014. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses recent research showing that when public schools get more money, students do better.

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The Weekly Wonk January 25, 2015

by | January 25th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week, we revealed that the one-year price tag for Oklahoma’s oil and gas tax breaks will top $500 million this year. We shared three barriers that prevent Oklahomans with felony convictions from putting their lives back together. A former OK Policy intern and current Ph.D. student at Stanford explained why Governor Fallin should embrace President Obama’s community college plan.

A post by OK Policy Research Fellow Michael Thomas made the case for strengthening higher education in Oklahoma. In his weekly Capitol Update, Steve Lewis discussed state House Speaker Jeff Hickman’s warning that Oklahoma’s prisons are “one lawsuit away” from federal takeover.

Oklahoma Assets Network, coordinated by OK Policy staffer Kate Richey, is pleased to announce “Who Pays More?: A Town Hall on Predatory Lending in Oklahoma” on Wednesday, March 4, in Oklahoma City. The event will be open to the public, but space is limited; click here to reserve your ticket.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discusses a new report showing that low-income households pay a greater share of their income in taxes than wealthy households. We shared Oklahoma-specific data here. The Norman Transcript covered the report here. Blatt appeared on KOSU’s This Week in Oklahoma Politics, where he talked about expanding health coverage to low-income Oklahomans, raising teacher pay, and more.

OK Policy Research Fellow Ryan Gentzler and OK Policy Intern Shaheen Sheikh were featured in a Tulsa People piece on OU-Tulsa’s Masters of Public Administration program. OK Policy intern Nikki Hager talked to staffer Kate Richey about deferred action in TU’s The Collegian.

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Oklahoma ‘one lawsuit away’ from a federal takeover (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | January 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)
Photo by Keith Allison.

Photo by Keith Allison.

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman spoke to the Tulsa Republican Club at noon last Friday and told them Oklahoma is “one lawsuit away” from a federal takeover of its prison system.  Hickman reported that Oklahoma prisons are at 116 percent of capacity but are staffed at 60 percent “of where they should be.”  Speaker Hickman told the audience that “as Republicans, we talk a lot about not wanting the federal government coming in and telling us how to do our business.  If we don’t address this ourselves we are one lawsuit away, one federal judge, one federal court away from someone other than the people you elect deciding how you operate corrections.”

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In The Know: State Rep. Kern files handful of anti-gay proposals

by | January 23rd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn 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.

State Rep. Sally Kern filed three anti-gay bills, including one to allow businesses to refuse service “to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Oklahoma women earn some of the lowest wages in the country.

The widow of a man killed by three Moore police officers and two off-duty game wardens in the parking lot of a movie theater filed a lawsuit alleging unreasonable force; Rodriguez had not committed any crime, didn’t attempt to resist or evade arrest and didn’t have a criminal record.

A proposal to ban oil and natural gas drilling in some parts of Stillwater was rejected by the city council. Gov. Mary Fallin announced Oklahoma’s new secretary of education and workforce development.

The OK Policy Blog discusses Governor Fallin’s goal of boosting educational attainment – and President Obama’s new plan to make that happen. The Number of the Day is the percentage of women incarcerated in Oklahoma who ran away from home before age 18. In today’s Policy Note, PolicyLink published new research to inform the debate about racial equity and the future of the American economy. 

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Governor Fallin wants to boost educational attainment. President Obama has a new plan to do it.

by | January 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Education | Comments (0)
Photo by Turner Photography.

Photo by Turner Photography.

Rosie Nelson is a former OK Policy intern and is currently a PhD student at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

In the recent inaugural address for her second term, Governor Fallin said one of her top goals is to boost Oklahoma’s educational attainment. Now a new plan from President Obama provides a great opportunity to advance that goal.

Just after the New Year, President Obama unveiled his America’s College Promise proposal, which would provide a tuition waiver for two years of community college to all students attending at least half-time and maintaining a 2.5 GPA or higher. The program is modeled on the Tennessee Promise program, which was launched in 2014.

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In The Know: State Rep. proposes barring marriage licenses for same-sex couples

by | January 22nd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn 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 State Rep. Todd Russ proposes barring court clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman says Oklahoma teachers are underpaid.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt is accused of harassment and misconduct in a suit filed by the Humane Society, alleging a campaign of harassment of the organization at the behest of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. Authorities are quietly scrutinizing wells in earthquake-prone parts of the state.

Sen. Jim Inhofe supports an amendment declaring that climate change is real and not a hoax, but maintains that, “the hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate.” The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs began presenting its case against a Sequoyah County doctor who it says was overprescribing controlled substances at his clinics. 

The OK Policy Blog writes about the three biggest barriers that block Oklahomans with a felony record from putting their lives back together. The Number of the Day is the percentage of children receiving the full series of childhood vaccinations in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Howard University’s Center on Race and Wealth reports on how predatory lenders drain income and wealth from economically vulnerable communities.

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Every sentence is a life sentence: 3 barriers to life after prison

Photo by Matteo Parrini.

Photo by Matteo Parrini.

Criminal justice reform is in the air for the upcoming legislative session. For more than a decade, experts and advocates have warned of a mounting incarceration crisis that has created huge costs for taxpayers while, perversely, possibly increasing crime. For years these warnings were ignored, but the situation may have finally gotten so dire that lawmakers will pay attention. Reports from prisons leave no doubt that they are “understaffed, overcrowded and badly in need of repair.” Already, both corrections officers and inmates have paid for our neglect with serious injuries or lost lives. House Speaker Jeff Hickman recently spoke out that Oklahoma risks losing control of our prison system to the federal government if we don’t manage it more responsibly.

As we consider the best reforms to reduce the number in prison, we should not forget to look at what happens after inmates return to the streets. In numerous ways, Oklahoma continues to punish ex-felons long after they have paid their debt to society. We put up so many obstacles that it can be extremely difficult just to survive out of prison without returning to crime. With an estimated 1 in 12 Oklahomans having a felony conviction in their past, these barriers affect a substantial part of our state’s population. Here are three barriers that can block Oklahomans with a felony record from putting their lives back together:

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In The Know: Oklahoma’s oil and gas tax breaks top $500 million this year

by | January 21st, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn 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.

Tax breaks for Oklahoma oil and gas production will result in $516 million less in state revenues in this fiscal year. The cost of the oil and gas tax breaks is some $130 million greater than what state officials projected back in February, a few months before the Legislature voted to make most of the multi-million dollar tax breaks permanent. Oil services company Baker Hughes Inc. says it will lay off about 7,000 workers, possibly including hundreds in northeast Oklahoma, even as the company is reporting record revenues. 

New state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has fired two more key members of Janet Barresi’s leadership team. The Tulsa school board is set to hold final interviews later this week with candidates to replace retiring superintendent Keith Ballard. The final two candidates are Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist and former Tulsa Deputy Superintendent Millard House II. At a panel hosted by the Oklahoma Coalition Against High-Stakes Testing, Rep. Katie Henke said parents possess the most clout in the growing fight over the use of high-stakes tests in public education.

On the OK Policy Blog, our research fellow Michael Thomas examined how investing in higher education contributes to economic growth. A state lawmaker has filed a measure to allow offenders convicted of crimes requiring them to serve 85 percent of a sentence to begin earning credits toward early release at the beginning of their sentence, though the credits would not change the 85 percent requirement. This reform was originally part of Oklahoma’s justice reinvestment bill and has been repeatedly requested by state corrections officers as a tool to improve their safety, but lawmakers have voted it down for the past two years. For the second straight year, Tulsa claimed the award for the best tasting water at a regional conference.

A Chickasha lawmaker has filed a bill targeting automated political calls. Candidate filing begins Monday for a special election in state Senate District 11 to replace Sen. Jabar Shumate, who resigned to become state director of private school voucher advocacy organization. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s latest budget proposal cuts about $127.4 million from state support to local school districts. The Number of the Day is the annual income level at which a family of 3 makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Vox has a guide to the policies proposed by President Obama at last night’s State of the Union address.

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Higher Education: A sound investment towards Oklahoma’s economic prosperity (Guest Post: Michael Thomas)

by | January 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

MichaelThomasMichael Thomas is one of four 2014-2015 OK Policy Research Fellows. Michael is a Master’s student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at Oklahoma State University. He works as a Graduate Research Assistant for the department of Graduate Studies, Outreach, and Research, focusing on the recruitment and retention of graduate students within the College of Education. He aspires to become a Professor of Higher Education Leadership and Policy.

The vitality of higher education is a fundamental and increasingly important determinant of a nation’s position in the world economy. Oklahoma is no stranger to this concept. In 2008, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education contracted with Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) to analyze the economic contribution of Oklahoma’s higher education system on the state’s economy. Examining current and future contributions of higher education through the development of a single-region, 70-sector Policy Insight Model, REMI demonstrated that by 2048, increased earnings from college graduates will contribute $8.825 billion annually to state disposable income. As a result, economic activity will increase, leading to more economic growth for the region.

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One-year price tag for oil and gas tax breaks to exceed $500 million

by | January 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

oil productionThe cost of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry will exceed $500 million this year, according to projections recently released by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This is substantially more than the projections made a year ago, reflecting the growing shift of production to minimally-taxed horizontal wells. The tax break for horizontal production alone is now estimated at a whopping $379 million for FY 2015.

The Tax Commission presented forecasts of gross production tax revenues on oil and gas for FY 2015 and FY 2016 in mid-December. For FY 2015, the OTC projects the state will collect $590.5 million in gross production taxes based on an average oil price of $76.32 per barrel and an average natural gas price of $4.25 mcf. Of this total amount, $63.1 million will be collected at the 1 percent tax rate, which is the rate currently assessed on horizontal wells during the first years of production, and $5.6 million at the 4 percent rate assessed on deep wells.

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