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In The Know: Oklahoma Supreme Court says Governor can withhold details from public

by | December 17th, 2014 | 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.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court osided upheld a district court’s decision letting Governor Fallin withhold from the public records related to her decision-making process. The Tulsa World reported that Devon Energy’s political action committee and executive chairman have poured nearly $1 million since 2006 into the campaign funds of GOP candidates for state offices, including the maximum allowed contribution to Attorney General Scott Pruitt even though he faced no opponent. A new OK Policy report looks at the evidence that democracy is broken in Oklahoma and lays out several reforms that could fix it. You can download the full report here, download an executive summary, or watch an animated video summarizing the report.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday it had chosen Oklahoma to receive an Affordable Care Act grant of up to $2 million to develop innovative models for delivering health care. Despite Department of Corrections efforts to release inmates to make room for offenders from the county jails, the prison system remains significantly over capacity, understaffed, and badly in need of repair. The Enid News & Eagle wrote that Oklahoma needs to reform the prison system soon or risk the federal government taking over and mandating expensive changes. Tulsa World business columnist John Stancavage examined how cheap gas may cost the state economy down the road. A Community Action Project program providing education and job opportunities to low-income parents with young children celebrated its first participants’ graduation from a Registered Nurse program. On the OK Policy Blog, we previously discussed why it’s so important to expand policies that help parents.

The U.S. Geological Survey says groundwater levels are rapidly declining in an aquifer that serves parts of Oklahoma and seven other states. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved a plan to conduct a $1.4 million study of ways to conserve and manage water in southwest Oklahoma’s Upper Red River Basin. The Oklahoma City utilities department plans a public meeting Thursday on a proposal by a private company to drill for oil and natural gas near Lake Hefner. The Number of the Day is the percentage of women who entered the state correctional system in 2013 with a moderate to high need for substance abuse treatment. In today’s Policy Note, Nature discusses evidence that estimates of abundant natural gas reserves in the United States may be wishful thinking.

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New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

by | December 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (5)

Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents.

percentage-voting-OK-and-USYet in Oklahoma we are seeing growing signs of the breakdown of electoral participation. For example:

  • In this year’s midterm elections, less than 30 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls to cast a ballot for Governor and other offices. This was the lowest turnout in at least 50 years and perhaps in state history.
  • In 65 of 101 seats for the state House of Representatives, the winner was decided without voters casting a ballot in the general election.
  • In primary runoff elections this fall, average turnout was 18 percent, and for the two statewide Democratic runoff contests, barely one in ten registered party members cast a ballot.
  • In the 2012 November Presidential election, Oklahoma’s voter turnout was just 52.4 percent, third worst in the nation.
  • Only 66 percent of voting-age citizens in Oklahoma are even registered to vote, the nation’s eighth lowest registration rate.

It hasn’t always been like this. As late as 2004, Oklahoma’s voter registration rate and turnout rate remained on a par with or just above the national average.

Many voices have lamented Oklahoma’s declining electoral participation, but often the only solution offered is to urge our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to be better citizens. But in reality, the electoral rules and practices established by Oklahoma’s state lawmakers and officials are part of the reason why electoral participation is so low. And there are many reforms Oklahoma could adopt that would help repair our broken democracy by boosting voter turnout and electoral competition.

A new OK Policy issue brief reviews the numerous signs of weakening electoral participation in Oklahoma and considers some of the factors that may be hindering Oklahomans from fuller participation. We then lay out a broad range of possible reforms, which include:

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In The Know: OKC Public Schools under federal investigation for discriminating against black and Hispanic students

by | December 16th, 2014 | 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.

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating three complaints against Oklahoma City Public Schools for failing to provide equal opportunities to male and female high school students; discrimination against blacks and students with disabilities related to alternative education placements; and individual race-based harassment, retaliation and discrimination against Hispanic and black students related to discipline. Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel argued that schools should embrace moving away from Redskins mascots to improve school pride. Capitol Hill High School recently chose to switch to a new mascot, but the Oklahoman examined other schools in the state that still have mascots that are offensive to many Native Americans. The Tulsa school board has approved a $415 million bond package to send to voters on March 3.

Tickets are now available for OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit on January 29, featuring keynote speaker EJ Dionne. The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of $120 million in bonds that are paying for repairs to the crumbling state Capitol building. Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s re-election campaign has raised more than $300,000 — and spent almost $160,000 — since he learned in mid-April that he would not have an opponent. Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has filed legislation to restrict the hiring practices of politicians who are leaving office. The bill comes in response to State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s recent creation of a new position and hiring the husband of her general counsel, sparking accusations of cronyism. The Ethics Commission decided to look at rewording a proposal concerning reporting of scholarships and payments for trips and conferences, after one commissioner argued the new language would open a “Pandora’s box” of ethics abuses.

Buzzfeed reported that Oklahoma’s “enabling child abuse” law has sent women to prison for not intervening to stop their violent partners from harming their children, even though the partner was also abusing the woman. In several cases identified by Buzzfeed, the woman has been imprisoned for longer than the man who committed the abuse. Authorities are investigating the strangulation death of an inmate at a private prison in southeastern Oklahoma as a homicide. Tulsa County’s board of commissioners deferred voting today on a resolution to set jail fees for municipal inmates.

With foundations already finished for dozens of giant turbines, the federal government is no longer seeking a court order to stop construction of a wind-energy development near Pawhuska. The Oklahoma Blood Institute declared a statewide blood emergency Monday, saying there is less than a one-day supply available. Representatives of Oklahoma’s public retirees who have not had a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008 say the time has come to increase their pension incomes now that the state’s underfunded pension systems are regaining financial strength. A survey by an anti-smoking advocacy group found 80 percent of Oklahoma respondents saying they prefer smoke-free bars and nightclubs. The Hefner Canal has added a donkey to the team of goats who have been chewing back weeds and underbrush.

The Number of the Day is how many cases of malaria were reported in Oklahoma in 2013. In Today’s policy note, Vox discusses research showing that growing up in a poor neighborhood can hold you back in life — even if your parents aren’t poor.

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Upcoming Event: State Budget Summit featuring E.J. Dionne

by | December 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, OK Policy, Taxes, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)
Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Although Oklahoma is now several years removed from the worst of the fiscal crisis that accompanied the Great Recession, the gap between the cost of providing basic public services and the revenues we collect to pay for them seems to be growing. State agencies continue to be squeezed by budget cuts and funding shortfalls, tax collections are flat or declining, and ever greater challenges are looming on the horizon. What ideas and solutions can we bring to bear to address the fiscal gap?

These questions will be addressed on Thursday, January 29th as part of OK Policy’s 2nd State Budget Summit, titled “Mind the Gap: Sensible Budget Policy in Challenging Times”.  The event will run from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm at the Will Rogers Theater, 4322 N. Western Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73118. Click here to buy tickets. The cost is $60, which includes morning refreshments and lunch; scholarships are available for students and those for whom cost would be an obstacle (to request a scholarship, send a brief email to

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In The Know: Corrections officials revise policies to release more violent, sex offenders

by | December 15th, 2014 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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.

Pushing to reduce prison overcrowding, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has quietly changed its policies to give early releases to greater numbers of violent and sex offenders. Oklahoma Watch shared a timeline of documents they uncovered showing the policy change. Corrections reforms and an examination of some tax credits are front and center on the agenda when the Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes in February, and House Speaker Jeff Hickman said the federal government could take over Oklahoma’s corrections system if the state doesn’t address overcrowding and understaffing in prisons. Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Michael Carnuccio wrote that Oklahoma needs to ask hard questions about who we are putting in prison and whether there are better ways to do justice.

When Oklahoma investigators issued a report on what went wrong with the April execution of Clayton Lockett, they downplayed and omitted disturbing details from witnesses and officials, records filed in federal court show. Dozens of Oklahomans protested at the state Capitol over the death of Luis Rodriguez while he was being restrained by Moore police. Lawmakers would be able to carry weapons anywhere in the state, including on college campuses and into the state Capitol, under legislation filed by Sen. Mark Allen, a Republican from Spiro. Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman named the members Friday who will serve as chair and vice chair of Senate committees and subcommittees during the next Legislature.

The latest OK PolicyCast shares excerpts from a presentation by Duke University researcher Nick Carnes on what’s keeping working-class Americans out of public office. Today marks the last day to purchase insurance plans through the federally operated health marketplace set up under the Affordable Care Act for those who want benefits to begin with the new year. Americans can still purchase plans through February 15, but plans purchased after today will not go into effect until after the New Year. The Oklahoman shared tips for how to sign up for health insurance through

Teacher attrition is on the rise in Oklahoma, with Tulsa Public Schools seeing an annual teacher turnover rate of 15 percent. With Kansas facing an already large and growing budget shortfall, lawmakers have begun to consider rolling back Governor Brownback’s tax cuts. A new study in the journal Health Affairs says one in three Oklahoma children experience at least two traumatic events in their lives. The Tulsa World discussed how unfunded repairs could threaten Oklahoma’s Port of Catoosa. Due to understaffing, forensic pathologists in Oklahoma’s Medical Examiner’s Officer perform almost double the recommended number of autopsies per year. Vice magazine shared photos of the Satanic monument being built for the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of all arrests made in Oklahoma in 2014 that were related to drugs or alcohol. In today’s Policy Note, the Los Angeles Times reports on how Arizona’s shifts in Medicaid coverage provide strong evidence that expanding the program reduces illness and saves lives.

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The Weekly Wonk December 14, 2014

by | December 14th, 2014 | 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 on the OK Policy Blog, we discuss the the new leadership team appointed by House Speaker Jeff Hickman. A guest post from the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public Schools Resources center describes the importance of supporting innovation in the state’s rural schools. In an upcoming Practice & Policy event, the state Department of Human Services will host Tim Knapp of The Bowery Mission, one of New York City’s oldest missions to the homeless.

In this week’s episode of the OK PolicyCast, we share Dr. Nick Carnes’ keynote remarks on what’s keeping working-class Americans out of public office, recorded at our 2014 Summer Policy Institute. Carnes is a graduate of the University of Tulsa and Princeton, and presently teaches at Duke University. We also review the major headlines of the week. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS.

Writing in the Journal Record, Executive Director David Blatt notes that the voices of women and minorities will be largely missing in the state legislature in the upcoming session, and discusses why that matters. In our Editorial of the Week, Tulsa County sheriff Stanley Glanz argues that Oklahoma’s overincarceration of people with mental illness rarely results in positive outcomes.

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OK PolicyCast Episode 16: Who’s keeping working-class Americans out of office?

by | December 12th, 2014 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (0)
Nick Carnes

Nick Carnes

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Each week the OK PolicyCast brings you the most important news about Oklahoma and what it means. In this episode, we share some clips from the keynote speaker at OK Policy’s annual Summer Policy Institute. Nick Carnes, a professor at Duke University and graduate of the University of Tulsa, spoke about his research on what’s keeping working class Americans out of public office. Dr. Carnes is the author of, “White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making”. The slides from Dr. Carnes’ presentation are available here.

You can download the episode here or play it in your browser:

In The Know: Oklahoma’s growth could trail nation in 2015

by | December 12th, 2014 | 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.

Experts at an Economic Outlook Conference said Oklahoma’s economic growth Oklahoma in 2015 likely will go from bettering the nation to trailing it slightly, thanks to the slump in energy prices. The state’s General Revenue Fund collections in November flattened, dropping below last year’s revenue and the official estimate. The Justice Department released a memo implying that federal prosecutors will take a hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana charges on any Indian lands when tribes vote to allow it, but an Oklahoma City U.S. Attorney said it will only apply in states that have already legalized marijuana

A new “fracking scorecard” released by a coalition of shareholder advocates and environmental watchdogs found that major Oklahoma oil and gas companies are not being transparent about their fracking practices or their progress in reducing risks of the operations. Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, Inc. was ranked last out of 30 major companies in the report with a score of ‘zero.’ You can read the full report here. In the Journal Record, Arnold Hamilton argued that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s close collaboration with oil and gas companies to fight regulation of their industry has violated the spirit of his oath of office. Rep. Earl Sears says he will sponsor legislation that would put regulations on the wind industry in next year’s legislative session.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association president made the case to state lawmakers for why Oklahoma should accept federal funds to expand Insure Oklahoma. OK Policy previously discussed how the state’s negotiations with the federal government over Insure Oklahoma can pave the way for this long-term solution. There have 16,219 new Soonercare enrollees in the past six months. Monday is the last day to sign up for new individual coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace in order to be covered on Jan. 1, but Oklahomans can continue to sign up through Feb. 15. The Oklahoma Department of Health says influenza has taken the lives of two people in the state. OK Policy previously discussed why everyone should get a flu shot.

A federal judge denied the state’s request for a broad protective order to conceal information and block testimony in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma death row inmates. On the OK Policy Blog, we look at who’s on the new leadership team appointed by House Speaker Jeff Hickman. Members of the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee asked the Legislature to delay the due date of its final plan by six months. Oklahoma County District Judge Bernard Jones said he would not overturn the results of Locust Grove’s contested 20-19 win over Douglass in 3A high school football quarterfinals.

Oklahoma’s drought continued to spread this week, and some parts of the state have gone more than a month without substantial rain. StateImpact Oklahoma reported that expanding residential development has increased the risks associated with dam failures, but the state has put little funding into safety efforts. The Number of the Day is how many babies were born to women incarcerated in Mabel Basset Correctional Center in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, PBS reported that domestic violence is as prevalent an issue among college students as sexual assault.

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A look at the new House leadership team (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | December 11th, 2014 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

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 began naming leadership positions last week.  The top leadership position named directly by the Speaker is the Majority Floor Leader who is usually considered his right hand person.  From the standpoint of actual power, floor leader is the number two position in the House.  The floor leader prepares the agenda every legislative day controlling which bills will be heard and when.  He also controls the floor action with all recognitions for motions and bill presentations going through him.  The floor leader serves as both counselor to the Speaker and agent for carrying out his decisions and policies. 

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In The Know: Some early legislative proposals could rock Oklahoma state government

by | December 11th, 2014 | 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.

Lawmakers have begun to introduce measures for next year’s legislative session, including bills that seek to eliminate the state Senate, reduce legislators’ pay, and transfer gaming and tobacco revenue to pay for completing the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses the voices still missing from the Oklahoma Legislature. Devon Energy CEO Larry Nichols admitted that he believes oil and gas wastewater disposal wells have been triggering earthquakes.

Officials from the Osage and Cherokee nations were sworn-in as tribal special assistant U.S. attorneys on Wednesday, becoming the first two such attorneys in the state. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a retailer that denied employment to an Oklahoman after she wore a religious head scarf to a job interview. Students protesting against racism at Oklahoma State University said they’ve received death threats on social media.

Marketplace examined the huge cost of prescription drugs that are thrown out unused, and efforts in Oklahoma and other states to donate unused drugs to people who need them. Oklahoma scored slightly above the national average for readiness to protect people during a health emergency or disaster. Governor Fallin and state agencies will participate in a conference on improving older Oklahomans’ health.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that seniors in Oklahoma have about two fewer years of healthy life than the national average.

 On the OK Policy Blog,  a guest post discusses a new program that is providing grants for innovation in Oklahoma’s rural public schools. The okeducationtruths blog discussed a new rule from the state Department of Education seeking to block schools and parents from opting out of field tests that are used only to help testing companies develop questions. The Oklahoman editorial board praised new Oklahoma City Schools superintendent Rob Neu’s frank assessment of problems facing the district.

Randy Brogdon, a former state senator and one-time tea party favorite who ran unsuccessfully for governor and U.S. Senate, is now setting his sights on the chairmanship of the state Republican Party. Grand River Dam Authority directors voted a $45,000 raise for Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan on Wednesday, bringing the former legislator’s annual base pay to $270,000 a year. Discussions have begun to potentially start a Space Flight Participant Training Program in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of households in Oklahoma that do not have bank accounts. In today’s Policy Note, Slate shared an excerpt of a new book on why it’s so hard to climb out of poverty in the United States.

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