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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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Bills filed in special session put many options in play

by | September 26th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)

Yesterday was the first day of the special legislative session called by Governor Fallin to fix Oklahoma’s chronic budget problems. One day in, the outcome of special session is still very much up in the air. With so much at stake, it’s an essential time for Oklahomans to call, write, and visit lawmakers. Read on for analysis of the bills filed so far and what you can do to influence the result.

Although Governor Fallin promised to veto any budget that makes further cuts to state agencies, House Speaker Charles McCall continues to insist that the only revenue on the table will be another try at a cigarette tax. At this point in the year, the cigarette tax by itself will only close about half of Oklahoma’s current budget shortfall. And if the Legislature still does not have a three-fourths majority needed to pass the tax, sending it to a vote of the people means the soonest it could go into effect would be 2019, far too late to avoid life-threatening cuts to health care.

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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: Governor promises to veto any proposal with further cuts to state agencies

by | September 25th, 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

Governor promises to veto any proposal with further cuts to state agencies: Governor Mary Fallin today issued the following statement on the upcoming special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, which is scheduled to get underway Monday: “This special session is an opportunity for lawmakers to solve lingering, critical structural problems in our state budget. I am hopeful lawmakers will consider thoughtful, realistic solutions in a timely manner. Many ideas have been fully vetted over the past couple of legislative sessions, so it really should be a matter of taking care of unfinished business. [Norman Transcript] The 5 things Gov. Mary Fallin wants legislators to do in the special session and how much it will cost taxpayers [Tulsa World] State Party leaders comment on upcoming Special Legislative Session [Sandite Pride News]

Special session has special process: The fall date won’t be the only deviation from the norm during Oklahoma’s special legislative session. The process will look pretty different as well. No bill is required to go through the committee process. Lawmakers can circumvent the initial hearings, where a dozen other members get to prod their colleagues for more information, voice their concerns or offer amendments. If the measures do go to committee, the window for amendments will be shorter. Instead of the normal two days, amendments will have to be filed on the same day as the committee hearing. [Journal Record]

Second Time’s a Charm? Budget Again Hinges on Tobacco Tax: If at first you don’t succeed … try the same thing again. When legislators return to the State Capitol Monday for a special session, they will face a familiar dilemma: Can they muster enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax? Or will an impasse lead to cuts in core state services? In either case, given previous votes and lawmakers’ statements, both parties could share responsibility.[Oklahoma Watch] Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy]

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The Weekly Wonk: Lawmakers have many good options to fill the budget hole during special session

by | September 22nd, 2017 | 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

Policy Director Gene Perry reminded us that lawmakers have many good options to fill the budget hole during special session – but they will need to find the will to use them. In a Tulsa World editorial, Executive Director David Blatt implored lawmakers to take advantage of this second chance and fix a budget that was not meeting the needs of Oklahomans even before the court’s ruling. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update argued that the worst thing legislators could do is adjourn special session without raising revenue to address the structural budget deficit.

In his Journal Record column, Blatt lamented that more and more Oklahomans have had enough – discouraged by year after year of budget cuts, Oklahomans are chosing to leave the state to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler walked us through the provisions of State Question 788, the medical marijuana ballot initiative that Oklahomans will vote on next year.

Advocacy Alert

As the legislature enters special session on Monday, they have many options to fix the state’s structural budget deficit. But they need to hear from you – revenues must be raised in order to adequately fund core services. Click here to see our Advocacy Alert to find your legislators and to get more information.

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The best vote a legislator can cast in special session (Capitol Update)

by | September 22nd, 2017 | Posted in 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.

I recently heard a well-regarded Republican legislator say that he was not sure he would vote to adjourn the special session if something is not done to raise revenue to deal with the state’s chronic budget deficit. Yes, you read that right. He may vote “no” on a motion to adjourn the special session sine die — in other words to just quit and go home — unless the Legislature has passed revenue measures to deal with the budget deficit.

This leads me to believe there has been thinking and some talk among Republican legislators of finding a way to deal with the gridlock between their leadership, the Democrats, and the governor on revenue. It leads me to believe that there may be the possibility afoot that most legislators, both Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, might choose to exercise the vote they were elected to make by refusing to accept more budget cuts, moving money around from one starving state agency to another, and robbing various funds as the way the legislature should do its business.

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In The Know: Still no budget agreement days before special session

by | September 22nd, 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

Still No Budget Agreement Days Before Special Session: The governor is ordering the legislature to return to session Monday to fill a roughly $215 million budget shortfall. But as of right now, there’s no plan. The state faces the shortfall after the Supreme Court struck down a last minute tobacco tax passed by republicans after negotiations broke down with democrats. Democrats refused to support the tobacco tax without an increase in the gross production tax; that is, the tax on the production of oil and natural gas. [News9] Lawmakers have good revenue options for special session if they have the will to use them [OK Policy]

Oklahoma Democrats eyeing statewide vote to raise oil, gas tax rate: After repeated calls to raise the tax rate on oil and gas production to 7 percent, Democrats in the Oklahoma House said they might next push for a statewide vote. Raising the tax rate is part of House Democrats’ own budget plan, but despite pressure from both inside and outside the Capitol, Republican leadership has rejected those ideas. [The Oklahoman] How much new revenue will ending oil and gas tax breaks bring in? [OK Policy]

State’s New Education Plan Calls for Big Strides: Reducing schools’ use of emergency certified teachers by 95 percent and boosting high school graduation to 90 percent are some of the goals set by the state Education Department in its plan for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The state also proposes attacking hunger in schools and is considering forcing failing schools that are on a four-day school week to change their calendar. [Oklahoma Watch]

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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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How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws?

by | September 20th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Healthcare | Comments (6)

Photo by Chuck Coker

Next year, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 788, a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. As of 2017, 29 states have approved measures legalizing the drug for medical purposes. We often think of legalization in binary terms — either medical marijuana is allowed, or it isn’t — but in practice, the systems put in place by those 29 states to regulate the drug vary greatly. Each state has many choices to make about how patients can be prescribed marijuana, how much they can have, and where they get it from. Some states choose permissive systems that lead to higher numbers of patients and dispensaries; other states restrict prescriptions to people with specified conditions and few or no dispensaries.

In contrast with the states that left the design of most of those regulations to state agencies, the language of SQ 788 is specific on many details. It would put in place laws that decide how a person applies for and receives a license to use medical marijuana; the quantities that a license holder can possess; the qualifications and licensing process for retailers, growers, processors, and transporters; and the tax rate and distribution of revenue from sales. When compared to other systems, SQ 788 would put in place a system that is on the permissive side, but well within the current spectrum of laws.

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