In The Know: As Oklahoma inmate population ages, more die in custody

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 most of the 205 inmates who died over the past three years while in Oklahoma Corrections Department custody did so of natural causes, a trend that likely will continue as the prison system’s population grows older. Some legislators are asking Gov. Mary Fallin to block state tax money from going to nonprofit groups. An Oklahoma trade association contends out-of-state contractors are receiving favorable treatment on construction projects at Fort Sill in violation of federal law.

DREAM Act Oklahoma is hosting clinic to help young undocumented immigrants apply to work without fear of deportation. More than 1,000 Oklahomans lined up for free basic health care offered by the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. Drug testing done by Oklahoma employers comes up with few positive results, two-thirds of which are marijuana. A tobacco compact between Oklahoma and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation settles a lawsuit over tribal stores selling cigarettes with the wrong and much cheaper tax stamp.

Oklahoma City Public Schools plans to go after a federal Race of the Top grant that could bring $40 million or more to the district to help teachers and administrators tailor their lessons to individual students. The OU graduation rate has increased steadily with new initiatives to retain students. Oklahoma colleges and universities are looking at new tools to more quickly tailor their course offerings to hiring trends. Gov. Fallin and OKC Mayor Mick Cornett will speak tomorrow at the Republican National Convention.

NewsOK writes that Oklahoma consumers would benefit from fewer job licensing requirements for professions like barber and cosmetologist. Okie Funk discussed the new push for income tax cuts. The Number of the Day is how many metric tons of carbon dioxide were emitted through natural gas consumption in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic explains why returning to the gold standard would be a terrible idea.

In The News

As Oklahoma inmate population ages, more die in custody

Most of the 205 inmates who died over the past three years while in Oklahoma Corrections Department custody did so of natural causes, a trend that likely will continue as the prison system’s population grows older. The manner of death in 155 of those cases has been deemed “natural” by the state medicalexaminer. Natural deaths represent 75.6 percent of such cases, prison records show. And despite being filled with thousands of violent criminals, homicides account for only 7.3 percent of deaths over the three-year span. Only 15 of the inmates’ deaths were described as “homicides,” a figure that includes prisoners executed by the state. There were 14 inmate suicides reported by the Corrections Department since 2010, making it the third-most common way prisoners die while in state custody.

Read more from NewsOK.

Lawmakers want nonprofit groups cut off from state funds

Some legislators are asking Gov. Mary Fallin to block state tax money from going to nonprofit groups, including the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks and the Oklahoma Youth Expo. Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said: “Tax dollars are intended to fund government programs, not other organizations. I think it is a terrible practice, and we are calling for it to stop.” Examples cited by the lawmaker of inappropriate uses of state tax money include $50,000 over two years to the Clem McSpadden Roping competition, $50,000 over two years to the IPRA National Finals Rodeo, $2.25 million over three years to Rural Enterprise Institute, $2 million for the Oklahoma Youth Expo this year, $40,000 for the Jenks aquarium this year and $25,000 for the Red Earth Day Festival this year. A little more than $12 million in appropriations to four state agencies – the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry – are apparently headed to nonprofits, the legislators say.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma trade group questions Fort Sill bidding process

An Oklahoma trade association contends out-of-state contractors are receiving favorable treatment on construction projects at Fort Sill in violation of federal law. The American Subcontractors Association of Oklahoma alleges out-of-state contractors fail to follow bid specifications, use substandard materials and fail to have their work federally inspected. Many also fail to pay federal-scale wages or state taxes, the association said. Those advantages, in many cases, make it impossible for Oklahoma subcontractors to compete for projects on the Army post about 85 miles south-southwest of Oklahoma City. The result is hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business and tax revenue for the state.

Read more from NewsOK.

Clinic helps undocumented students with deferred action

Miguel has never told anyone in his hometown of Sand Springs what he discovered as a teenager. He was brought to the U.S. by his mother at age 8 without legal documents. “I was in shock when my parents told me,” the 19-year-old said. “I thought everything would be the same here as in Mexico in terms of rights. I was kind of mad at them because they are the reason I’m here.” Miguel was among about 60 undocumented immigrants attending a clinic hosted Saturday by DREAM Act Oklahoma at the Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 2801 S. 129th East Ave. He is in the process of applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program created after President Barack Obama issued a directive June 15 giving relief to a specific group of undocumented youth.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Hundreds turn out for free basic health care

His molars had been bothering him for a year, but without insurance Steve Thornton resigned to fight through the pain. Relief finally came Saturday for the 55-year-old Oklahoma City resident, one of about 1,000 to seek free dental, vision, mental health and general health treatment at State Fair Park. Hosted by Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, the two-day health care event is bringing dozens of local and out-of-state providers to the park to provide free services for some of the state’s neediest residents. Thornton, who lined up at midnight the night before, said his dental work Saturday morning made him feel “110 percent better, just knowing they’re out.” He also got a free cleaning. Ron Brewer, director of the volunteer medical group, said participants were able to get most their basic health care needs met at the event.

Read more from NewsOK.

Employer drug tests find few positives, mostly marijuana

State employers typically contract a centralized testing laboratory such as Oklahoma City-based Compliance Research Group (CRG) or an on-site service such as USA Mobile Drug Testing. CRG President Jim Tedrow said his lab daily tests about 150 employment samples, mostly pre-employment — with a 3.89 percent year-to-date positive test rate, down from 5.9 percent in 2010. The lab’s automatic testing is designed to find true negatives, he said, while positive tests are sent to labs in New Orleans and Wisconsin for confirmation. Among the positive tests, most show marijuana (2.63 percent of the 3.89 percent positive); followed by methamphetamine (0.44 percent, down markedly from several years ago when Oklahoma restricted the purchase of Sudafed, an ingredient used to make meth) and cocaine (0.31 percent). Employees discharged for misconduct are ineligible for unemployment benefits if they fail a properly administered drug test or refuse to take one, said Mike Lauderdale, a labor and employment attorney with McAfee & Taft.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma, Creek Nation sign tobacco compact

A tobacco compact was signed Friday between the state of Oklahoma and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which settles a lawsuit filed by the state over the practice of tribal stores selling cigarettes with the wrong and much cheaper tax stamp. The compact with the Creek Nation, one of the few tribes that didn’t have a compact with the state, ends several years of frustration by state officials because tribal stores were buying cigarettes bearing an “exception” tax stamp that costs 6 cents a pack and then reselling them in the Tulsa market. The tax stamp for nontribal retailers is $1.03, giving the Tulsa area tribal stores a 97-cent-per-pack advantage and shortchanging tax dollars owed the state. According to the compact, Creek Nation tribal stores, often called smoke shops, are required to sell cigarettes bearing the $1.03 tax stamp. Oklahoma will receive 50 percent of that tax rate. The compact recognizes the right of the Creek Nation to charge a higher tax on cigarettes, with all tax revenue going to the tribe.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma City to vie for Race to the Top funds

Oklahoma City Public Schools plans to go after a federal grant that could bring $40 million or more to the district to help teachers and administrators tailor their lessons to individual students. Race to the Top involves a series of federal grants that have been available only to state education departments until this year. On Aug. 12, the U.S. Department of Education announced the details of its grant program for individual school districts. The department plans to hand out $400 million nationwide. “The heart of the Race to the Top district grant is personalizing the learning environment for students based on their level of mastery and their interests so they are more engaged,” said Jackie Mania, innovative programs coordinator for Oklahoma City Public Schools. Examples of personalized learning include everything from tutoring programs to mentoring to professional development, she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

OU graduation rates on steady incline

In a time of economic downturn, widespread unemployment and uncertain finanical futures, eligibility for employment has never been so critical for the ascending crop of America’s workforce. Traditionally, earning a college degree has been the most reliable means of gaining a competitive edge in the job market, and according to the most recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Department of Commerce-Economics, those with bachelor’s degrees earned $1.1 million more than high school graduates in lifetime earnings. However, as universities across the country absorb funding cuts and are forced to continue raising tuition, modern high school seniors and college students face unprecedented financial, academic and personal challenges between them and their degrees. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and university administrators have taken steps to address these challenges with initiatives and programs, with the University of Oklahoma in particular seeing substantial success.

Read more from the Norman Transcript.

Oklahoma’s colleges, universities look to new tools to gauge industry demand

Two years ago, it was impossible to major in leisure services at Oklahoma City Community College. Now, nine students are majoring in the program. The program is one of the newest at OCCC, said Susan Tabor, dean of the college’s social sciences division. It can lead students to a range of careers, including the hotel and restaurant industry, as well as jobs aboard cruise ships, she said. The college began offering courses in the program two years ago, in response to industry demand. As Oklahoma struggles to produce enough qualified workers to keep pace with industry demands, higher education institutions across the state are looking at new tools to help gauge hiring trends and tailor their course offerings to those trends more quickly.

Read more from NewsOK.

Fallin, Cornett to speak Tuesday at Republican National Convention

Republican leaders Sunday scheduled Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett for their Tuesday afternoon program as they reshuffled speakers to make up for a day lost to Tropical Storm Isaac. Cornett now is scheduled to speak Tuesday about 3:15 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s prime-time slot Tuesday was retained. She now will speak third in a segment of Republican governors that begins at 7 p.m. central time. The mayor had been scheduled to speak Monday, the first day of the convention, but Republicans canceled most of the day’s events to protect delegates and others attending the convention from expected heavy rain and high winds.

Read more from NewsOK.

NewsOK: Oklahoma consumers would benefit from fewer licensing regulations

Legislative policy discussions often focus on taxes, but eliminating needless regulations could also benefit entrepreneurs and create jobs. A case in point is the Oklahoma law that says only licensed funeral home directors can sell caskets. How are the skills of a funeral director related to selling caskets? They’re not. In most states, a wide range of vendors sell caskets without harm to consumers. Oklahoma is one of only a handful of states with this restriction. Sadly, this regulation costs Oklahoma jobs and limits consumer choice. Kim Powers Bridges tried unsuccessfully to challenge the law in court several years ago. Basically, the court affirmed that such laws aren’t necessarily unconstitutional. Bridges has since moved to Tennessee and now oversees a company that operates in nine states and employs 100 people with a payroll of $2 million. Those jobs and related tax revenue could be benefiting Oklahomans, if not for one law. The state’s funeral home industry defends the restriction as a consumer protection measure, but we’re unaware of any problems in the 40-plus states that don’t restrict casket sales.

Read more from NewsOK.

Okie Funk: Tax cut forces regroup

The state’s tax cut forces are already posturing and signifying their intentions several months away from next year’s legislative session. Last week, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who leads a Republican-dominated state government, told the Wall Street Journal that her party would again push for an income tax reduction, a proposal that failed to pass the legislature last session. According to StateImpact, Fallin would like to see at least a cut from 5.25 percent to 4.8 percent in the income tax. Such a cut, if not offset by raising other taxes or increasing other revenues, would devastate the budgets of state agencies and educational institutions, which have faced severe cuts in recent years. It’s important to note that tax revenues remain significantly below what they were before the 2008 economic downturn. It’s simply unconscionable and irresponsible to cut taxes under these conditions unless there are replacement revenues or a specific plan that spells out the ensuing budget cuts.

Read more from Okie Funk.

Quote of the Day

If Grandma goes to the hair salon and returns with an unrequested Mohawk, that place will go out of business at a high rate of speed — regardless of government regulations.

The Oklahoman editorial board, arguing that Oklahoma should not require licenses for jobs like barber and cosmetologist

Number of the Day

35.9 million

Metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted through natural gas consumption in Oklahoma, more than both coal (35.6) and petroleum (33.6) in 2009

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why the gold standard is the world’s worst economic idea, in 2 charts

The greatest trick Ron Paul ever pulled was convincing the world that the gold standard leads to stable prices. Well, maybe not the world. Just the Republican Party. After a 32-year hiatus, the party’s official platform will include a plank calling for a commission to look at the possible return of the gold standard. There might be worse ideas than this, but they generally involve jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge because everybody else is doing it. Economics is often a contentious subject, but economists agree about the gold standard — it is a barbarous relic that belongs in the dustbin of history. As University of Chicago professor Richard Thaler points out, exactly zero economists endorsed the idea in a recent poll. What makes it such an idea non grata? It prevents the central bank from fighting recessions by outsourcing monetary policy decisions to how much gold we have — which, in turn, depends on our trade balance and on how much of the shiny rock we can dig up. When we peg the dollar to gold we have to raise interest rates when gold is scarce, regardless of the state of the economy. This policy inflexibility was the major cause of the Great Depression, as governments were forced to tighten policy at the worst possible moment. It’s no coincidence that the sooner a country abandoned the gold standard, the sooner it began recovering.

Read more from The Atlantic.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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