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The Weekly Wonk: FY 2019 budget is an improvement after several years of shortfalls and cuts, but there’s still work to do

by | May 4th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Monday was our last Bill Watch post – see what we were looking at during this final week of session. One of those things was, of course, the FY 2019 budget. Executive Director David Blatt mused that, after several straight years of shortfalls and cut, this budget is a step in the right direction. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update remarked on the return of line-item appropriations in this budget. Our full video series on Oklahomans who are under threat by the push to restrict access to SoonerCare is now available.

Liz Waggoner, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, wrote a guest post explaining the importance of pay transparency in shrinking the gender pay gap. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler lamented the passage of a bill that will allow life without parole sentences for juveniles in Oklahoma. Blatt’s Journal Record column paid tribute to Penny Williams, the longest-serving female lawmaker in Oklahoma history and one of very few women to rise to a position of leadership in the legislature.

OK Policy in the News

OK Policy’s work advocating against increasing barriers to health care was referenced by the Tahlequah Daily Press. And our work on the negative effects of tax cuts on Oklahoma’s budget made an appearance in The Courier in Waterloo, Iowa.

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In The Know: Legislative session adjourns after raucous House session

by | May 4th, 2018 | 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.

In The News

Legislative session adjourns after raucous House session featuring shouted insults; controversial adoption bill heads to governor’s desk: Oklahoma senators ended their 2018 session with a sort of collective sigh in time for dinner Thursday evening, while their counterparts in the House continued to battle away, wrapping up finally after dark with even the motion to adjourn contested. Still, it was the earliest adjournment in memory — although it might not have seemed that way to lawmakers. Counting special sessions, they had met almost continuously since February of last year [Tulsa World].

Who Will Feel Effects of the 2018 Legislative Session: The curtain fell Thursday night on the 2018 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, leaving indelible echoes of sound and fury. This spring’s session – as well as the concurrent special session that spilled over from last year – was dominated by the teacher walkout and the heated debate over tax increases to pay for teacher raises and to boost public education funding. But lawmakers’ actions went well beyond the centerpiece dramas. Here’s a look of who will be feel the impact of what the Legislature did, and didn’t do, in this turbulent year [Oklahoma Watch].

Bill is revenge for teacher walkout, unions say: A new bill introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature this week is being criticized as “revenge” for the teacher walkout and political pressure put on lawmakers. The latest version of Senate Bill 1150 would prevent school districts from automatically deducting union dues from teacher paychecks. Instead of their being withheld, teachers would have to make arrangements with their union to make payments. It would also require that a majority of educators in the district vote every five years to keep their collective bargaining unit [NewsOK].

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Why shouldn’t women be allowed to talk about wages with their co-workers? (Guest Post: Liz Waggoner)

Liz Waggoner

Liz Waggoner is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, the state’s leading advocacy organization for women and girls.

You might have missed it, but April 10th was Equal Pay Day in the United States.  Equal Pay Day indicates how far into the current year women must work to earn what men made in the previous year; in other words, women must work for 15 and half months to earn what a man earns in 12 months. This day exists because the gender wage gap is still a reality – in Oklahoma, women working full-time, year round earn just 77 percent of what men earn. Though multiple factors contribute to gender pay disparities, one of the reasons women make less than men is wage discrimination – employers paying women less than their male colleagues for the same job. It’s been illegal since 1963, but it can happen easily when wage and pay information is a secret.

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In The Know: Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children

by | May 3rd, 2018 | 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

Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children: The Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that makes massive changes to the sentencing procedures for minors convicted of first-degree murder, and members allowed that policy to circumvent the vetting process all other bills must endure. Senate Bill 1221 started out with no mention of juvenile sentencing. The original bill would have required the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to contain two members with backgrounds in mental health or substance abuse services. The criminal justice reform measure was intended to increase parole rates [Journal Record]. Juvenile life sentence bill is a return to outdated thinking [OKPolicy].

Set for Senate Vote: Bill Would Let Adoption Agencies Refuse Placement with Gay Couples Even If They Accept Government Funds: Through parliamentary sleight of hand, proponents put back into play a bill that would guarantee that private social service agencies could continue to refuse to place children in certain adoptive and foster homes based on religious conviction even if they accept taxpayer money. It is generally accepted that the bill primarily targets same-sex couples. To keep the bill alive, House leadership took the unusual step of creating a special conference committee just for SB 1140 and stocked it with members sympathetic to the agencies [Tulsa World].

The FY 2019 Budget: Been Down So Long This Looks Like Up: In the 1960s, the New York City poet and folksinger Richard Fariña published a novel titled “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.” This title certainly applies to Oklahoma’s FY 2019 state budget, approved by the House and Senate last week. After several straight years of large shortfalls and repeated rounds of budget cuts, including mid-year cuts the past three years, lawmakers were finally able to pass a budget that kept funding for all agencies at least flat, provided modest increases for some critical programs and services, and included over $350 million for teacher pay raises [OKPolicy].

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The FY 2019 Budget: Been down so long this looks like up

by | May 2nd, 2018 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

In the 1960s, the New York City poet and folksinger Richard Fariña published a novel titled “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.” This title certainly applies to Oklahoma’s FY 2019 state budget, approved by the House and Senate last week. After several straight years of large shortfalls and repeated rounds of budget cuts, including mid-year cuts the past three years, lawmakers were finally able to pass a budget that kept funding for all agencies at least flat, provided modest increases for some critical programs and services, and included over $350 million for teacher pay raises.

State agencies next year will be appropriated a total of $7.567 billion in SB 1600, which is the annual General Appropriations bill. This is an increase of $718.5 million (10.5 percent) compared to the initial FY 2018 budget approved last May, and an increase of $601 million (8.6 percent) compared to the final FY 2018 budget, which included various mid-year cuts and increases. Next year’s appropriations will be the largest in state history, surpassing the $7.235 billion budget in FY 2015; however, when adjusted for inflation, next year’s budget remains 9.4 percent ($788 million) below the budget of FY 2009.

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In The Know: Group Seeks to Overturn Oklahoma Tax Hikes for Teacher Raise

by | May 2nd, 2018 | 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

Group Seeks to Overturn Oklahoma Tax Hikes for Teacher Raise: An anti-tax group filed paperwork on Tuesday seeking a public vote on whether to overturn a package of tax increases approved by the Legislature this year to pay for teacher pay raises and fund public schools. The group Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite, which includes former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, now has until July 18 to gather about 41,000 signatures needed to place the question on the ballot. Ronda Vuillemont-Smith of Tulsa, who co-founded the group with GOP political consultant Brooke McGowan, said the Legislature should have looked for waste and fraud within state government instead of seeking more money from taxpayers [AP]. Revenues bill is a good start and lawmakers can do more [OK Policy].

Chairman of Oklahoma Ethics Commission accuses legislators of retaliation: The chairman of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is accusing legislators of retaliating against the watchdog agency by illegally cutting its budget. “I am appalled,” the chairman, John C. Hawkins, wrote in an email sent Sunday to state senators and House members. “The retaliation on a state agency by cutting their budget for doing their job is unconscionable.” The Ethics Commission may sue [NewsOK].

Oklahoma House passes stipend for pensioners, turns down cost of living adjustment: Most pensioners in the state’s retirement systems would get a one-time stipend of at least $350 under a measure sent to Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. House Bill 1340, by Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond, authorizes stipends of, in most cases, 2 percent but with an absolute minimum of $350 except for volunteer firefighters, who would get $100 [Tulsa World].

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In The Know: Governor signs budget bill

by | May 1st, 2018 | 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

Governor signs budget bill: Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a $7.6 billion spending bill, signalling to lawmakers they can adjourn session nearly a month before it’s scheduled to end. Legislative leaders have said that once work on the budget was done, they could send lawmakers home for the rest of the year. The legislative session is annually scheduled to run between February and the end of May [NewsOK].

New budget marks a return of line-item appropriations: When Republicans took full control of the legislature, both House and Senate, they began a process of dismantling the use of line items in state appropriations measures. The policy took full root in 2010 when Republican governor Mary Fallin was elected. The new legislative majority felt it was not their place to dictate to the executive department, particularity through line-item budgeting, how to spend the appropriated dollars. They also accused Democrats of using line items to promote favored programs over others. In sum the mantra was to give the executive agencies flexibility in the use of funds in the name of efficiency [OK Policy].

SB 888 to end wind tax credit refundability stalls: With lawmakers intending to adjourn the 2018 regular session Friday, the Oklahoma Senate attempted to send SB 888 to Gov. Mary Fallin today, but a vote on the adoption of House amendments failed to receive a majority of those voting. The controversial bill would have terminated the refundability of wind energy tax credits — meaning refunds given beyond the elimination of tax liability — beginning Jan. 1, 2019 [NonDoc].

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Juvenile life sentence bill would be a return to outdated thinking

by | May 1st, 2018 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (5)

Oklahoma’s parole system has been broken for years. In most states, parole is the most common form of release from prison; it allows a person to serve a portion of their sentence under community supervision to provide accountability while they readjust to society. But despite now having the highest incarceration rate in the country, at 990 inmates per 100,000 residents, we have among the lowest rates of people being supervised on parole. There were 6,218 people in prison for nonviolent offenses sitting in Oklahoma prisons who had passed their first parole date at the end of 2017.

Members of Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board are currently required to have experience in the criminal justice field, which has limited the board to mostly judges and law enforcement officers, who tend to have punitive attitudes. To begin to address this, SB 1221 was introduced to require that all Board members receive training on best practices for reforming criminal behavior and that two members have experience in mental health services, substance abuse services, or social work. 

After quietly passing the Senate, however, SB 1221 was amended on the House floor to include a process to allow juvenile offenders as young as 13 years old to be sentenced to life without parole. The thinking behind the amended SB 1221 is severely misguided, moving against a strong national current that has seen many states ban life without parole for juveniles.

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Video series tells real-life stories of Oklahomans threatened by push to restrict SoonerCare

Thousands of Oklahoma parents need our state’s Medicaid program, called SoonerCare, just to fill a prescription or go to the doctor. But now, lawmakers are rushing to require these parents to work a certain number of hours per week or lose their health care.

As our video series shows, these new requirements are bad for Oklahoma. Work requirements will endanger families by taking needed health care from parents trying to make a better life for their children. They’ll even put working families at risk by threatening health care for those who can’t control the hours they’re scheduled for. And they won’t help to move more Oklahomans into the workforce. Please contact Governor Fallin and ask her to stop the push for Medicaid work requirements. You can watch all the videos below or learn more here.

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New budget marks a return of line-item appropriations (Capitol Update)

by | April 30th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

When Republicans took full control of the legislature, both House and Senate, they began a process of dismantling the use of line items in state appropriations measures. The policy took full root in 2010 when Republican governor Mary Fallin was elected. The new legislative majority felt it was not their place to dictate to the executive department, particularity through line-item budgeting, how to spend the appropriated dollars. They also accused Democrats of using line items to promote favored programs over others. In sum the mantra was to give the executive agencies flexibility in the use of funds in the name of efficiency.

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