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In The Know: The Case for and Against Tapping the State’s Tobacco Fund

by | January 30th, 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

The Case for and Against Tapping the State’s Tobacco Fund: With another sizable budget shortfall looming, and state agencies pleading for help, some Oklahoma lawmakers are turning hungrily to one of the state’s biggest heaps of public cash. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, valued at $1.1 billion, has become a tempting target for legislators who want to redirect the flow of TSET funds to core state services not directly related to the agency’s mission. At least 10 bills have been filed for the upcoming legislative session that would channel TSET money to, among other things, health care for the poor, mental-health services and a pay raise for teachers [Oklahoma Watch].

Expert: Tax bill has ‘credit negative’ implications for health systems: In December, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law, effective Jan. 1. Much has been written about how those changes to the Internal Revenue Tax Code will affect businesses, but little has been said about how the tax bill will affect municipal, nonprofit hospitals like those in the Norman Regional Health System [Norman Transcript].

Freshmen lawmakers seek better culture in OK House: During Meloyde Blancett’s three decades in the business world, she never considered herself a partisan person. She still doesn’t, despite representing Oklahoma House District 78 in Tulsa as a Democrat. “I used to call myself a ‘Republicrat’ because I didn’t really have a flavor. It’s more policy related for me,” Blancett said. “I don’t mean to say I’m not loyal to the Democratic Party, I just don’t live and die by that. I just don’t because I think that’s dysfunctional.” [NonDoc]

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In The Know: Former Oklahoma governors endorse Step Up package

by | January 29th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, 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

Former Oklahoma governors endorse Step Up package: Members of one of Oklahoma’s most exclusive clubs, the state’s five living former governors, have unanimously endorsed Step Up Oklahoma’s package of proposals to resolve the state budget impasse and provide teacher pay raises. [Tulsa World] Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential [OK Policy]

Oklahoma nursing home closing due to lack of funding: Officials say 20 residents in an Oklahoma nursing home will have to find a new place to stay due to the ongoing budget crisis. While the next regular session is just weeks away, Oklahoma lawmakers are still struggling to agree on a budget. In the meantime, officials at a local nursing home say a lack of funds is leading to the closure of one of Pawhuska’s largest employers. [KFOR] The doomsday scenario has already begun — but it can be stopped [OK Policy]

From Teacher Pay to Free Speech, Education Bills Queue Up for Session: With the start of the 2018 legislative session eight days away, lawmakers have submitted a flurry of proposals related to education. They range from the expected — proposed salary boosts and other financial compensation for teachers — to the unexpected, like bills to allow schools to sell and place ads on school buses and to permit students to apply their own sunscreen. [Oklahoma Watch] Another year goes by, and Oklahoma still leads the nation for cuts to education [OK Policy]

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The Weekly Wonk: OK Policy’s 2018 Legislative Policy Priorities

by | January 27th, 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

We released our 2018 Policy Priorities this week!  Click here to read all about the issues we’ll be focusing on this legislative session. Executive Director David Blatt broke down the budget plan recently proposed by the Step Up Coalition. Blatt’s Journal Record column focused on the larger-than-usual number of women running for public office this season. 

Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update argued that Oklahoman’s are no longer willing to pay what it costs to incarcerate so many. Policy Analyst Courtney Cullison warned us that new protections for payday borrowers now appear to be under attack – by the agency that made the rules. 

OK Policy in the News

We held our 5th Annual State Budget Summit this week, and Public Radio Tulsa was there to cover it – according to Blatt, Oklahoma’s budget outlook is slowly improving. Public Radio Tulsa also reported on OK Policy’s analysis of felony case filing data, which indicates that felony filings for drug possession are down since the implementation of SQ 780. The Christian Science Monitor pointed out a new challenge that has resulted from these changes – without a felony threat, it may be more difficult encourage offenders to enter drug treatment.

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Oklahomans don’t want to pay what it costs to keep incarcerating so many (Capitol Update)

by | January 26th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (7)

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.

In preparation for the upcoming session, Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that are responsible for crafting next year’s DOC budget. He cited Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics showing Oklahoma is again number 2 in overall incarceration of our citizens and number 1 in incarcerating women. We are holding in prison 673 per 100,000 Oklahoma residents. The national average is 397 per 100,000. If Oklahoma incarcerated our people at the national average, there would be 11,020 fewer inmates in our prisons at a cost of $48 per day. Doing the math, if we were just average in incarceration, neither high nor low, the savings to the state budget would be $193 million!

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In The Know: Our top priorities in Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session

by | January 26th, 2018 | 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

Our top priorities in Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session: With the 2018 legislative session fast approaching, today we released OK Policy’s top policy priorities for the coming year. OK Policy is committed to supporting fair and adequate funding of public services and expanded economic opportunity for all Oklahomans through research and advocacy. [OK Policy]

Why Oklahoma Has No Misdemeanor Drug Courts, Even Though The Law Allows Them: Oklahoma criminal justice reform may be leaving drug courts behind. Voters in 2016 approved two state questions that reclassified some low-level drug crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The hope was that more drug users would stay out of prison and get treatment. But, in Oklahoma, you can’t get into drug court unless you have a felony. [StateImpact] SQ 780 should save Oklahoma millions next year [OK Policy]

Oklahoma Slowly Improving When it Comes to State Budget: The head of a prominent think tank says despite serious challenges still facing Oklahoma’s budget, there’s slow progress. Oklahoma Policy Institute’s David Blatt said just five years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin was saying Oklahoma could eliminate the income tax — now she’s calling for new revenue. [Public Radio Tulsa]

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Our top priorities in Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session

With the 2018 legislative session fast approaching, today we released OK Policy’s top policy priorities for the coming year.

OK Policy is committed to supporting fair and adequate funding of public services and expanded economic opportunity for all Oklahomans through research and advocacy. During the 2018 legislative session, we will work with lawmakers, community partners, and concerned citizens to promote an ambitious but achievable policy agenda in the areas of budget and taxes, economic opportunity and security, education, criminal justice, and health care.

We have identified the following issues as our top 2018 policy priorities. These are the issues on which we expect to devote the bulk of our energy and resources and to play a leading role in working with legislators in favor of good legislation and in opposition to harmful legislation. Our priority issues were selected based on numerous criteria, including their consistency with our mission, our experience and expertise on the issue, their importance for the citizens of Oklahoma, and our likelihood of success.  There are many other issues on which we expect to conduct research and contribute to policy campaigns, and issues may move on or off our top priority list as events unfold.

You can read a summary of all of our priorities here, or follow the links below for more detailed explanations. As the Legislative session develops, you can also check our advocacy alerts page to hear about ways to take action on these priorities, and check out our advocacy toolkit for more resources to stay informed and get involved during the legislative session.

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In The Know: Oklahoma makes progress in foster-care capacity

by | January 25th, 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

Oklahoma makes progress in foster-care capacity: A national report shows Oklahoma bucking the trend on the number of children entering foster care and having the greatest increase in foster-care capacity in the nation. The report by the Chronicle of Social Change touts itself as the “first ever report of its kind” and analyzed state data from 2012 through 2017 to determine if the government is providing enough supports to provide placements for foster-care children and youth [Tulsa World].

Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential: The new Step Up Oklahoma coalition, a bipartisan group of business and civic leaders and organizations, has put forward a comprehensive plan aimed at stabilizing Oklahoma’s budget and reforming state government. While far from perfect, their plan is a serious and laudable attempt to address the budget problems that have plagued our state for years. The most significant aspect of the coalition’s plan is its clear recognition that Oklahoma has a structural budget deficit that can be fixed only through approval of substantial new permanent revenue [OK Policy].

‘Return to its roots’: New facilities and cultural shift change course of state juvenile justice agency: The youths’ rooms at the facilities are small, about the size of an office cubicle, and separated by dividers. Many of the spaces don’t have windows, and the ones that do are covered with spray paint. Each cubicle has a metal bed frame with a thin mattress and a desk nailed to the wall. In some dormitories, blind spots can make it difficult for staff to keep an eye on all of the children at once [The Frontier].

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Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential

by | January 24th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (5)

Note: This post was edited on Jan. 28th to reflect updated revenue estimates from the Step Up coalition

The new Step Up Oklahoma coalition, a bipartisan group of business and civic leaders and organizations, has put forward a comprehensive plan aimed at stabilizing Oklahoma’s budget and reforming state government. While far from perfect, their plan is a serious and laudable attempt to address the budget problems that have plagued our state for years.

The most significant aspect of the coalition’s plan is its clear recognition that Oklahoma has a structural budget deficit that can be fixed only through approval of substantial new permanent revenue. The proposal is projected to generate $750 million through a combination of higher taxes and the elimination of various tax breaks. In conjunction with an improving budget outlook, this amount would end the longstanding reliance on one-time funds and accounting gimmicks to balance the budget. The plan includes a $5,000 raise for teachers; although other critical spending priorities, including raises for state workers and more support for schools are not spelled out, the plan should generate enough revenue to meet those goals while preserving essential state services.

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In The Know: Oklahoma opioid commission unveils recommendations

by | January 24th, 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

Oklahoma opioid commission unveils recommendations: After more than six months of work, the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse laid out 31 recommendations for the Legislature, state agencies and local law enforcement on Tuesday afternoon. Whether the report will prove to be anything more than interesting reading remains to be seen, however. Lawmakers will face a difficult budget situation when they return in February, even if better-than-expected revenues narrow the $600 million projected gap, and already have heard demands to build more prisons and raise teacher salaries [NewsOK].

Step Up Oklahoma plan receives endorsement from nonprofit advocacy group: The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits announced Monday that it has added its name to the growing list of organizations endorsing Step Up Oklahoma’s plan to resolve the state budget impasse. Meanwhile, a group of small independent oil and gas producers added its tentative endorsement to a modified Step Up Oklahoma plan after coming out in opposition to the original plan [NewsOK]. The plan also received endorsements from nursing home, business and child advocacy groups [NewsOK].

Oklahoma lawmakers can accept limitless hotel stays and travel subsidies from special interest groups: In July, at least 10 Oklahoma legislators accepted scholarships valued at as much as $440 to attend a two-day conference at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino sponsored by a trade group representing high-interest installment loan companies. The Independent Finance Institute of Oklahoma, which hosted the meeting, has the same mailing address as the Texas-based money lender Western Shamrock Corp., according to its website [The Frontier].

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New protections for payday loan borrowers are under attack

Last fall, we told you about new rules issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would protect payday loan customers from some of the most abusive practices in that industry. These new rules, scheduled to be enforced in mid-2019, offer basic and common sense protections for consumers, like requiring that lenders verify customers can afford to repay the loans before making them and that they gain authorization before drawing payment from a borrower’s bank account after two unsuccessful attempts. The rules were a promising and important first step in preventing consumers from being lured into debt traps of frequent, high-interest loans.

These protections were especially welcome news for Oklahomans since our state has the highest rate of payday loan usage in the country. Even worse, the majority of payday loans in Oklahoma are going to frequent borrowers who take out seven or more of these loans in a year. But now these protections have come under attack from two sources: Congress and the new leaders of the CFPB.

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