In The Know: Attorney General revises 'Personhood' petition wording

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt has rewritten a personhood initiative petition to include language explaining that it would ban only some forms of contraception and would not ban in vitro fertilization. As worded, the measure would still ban birth control pills and IUDs, and it could require that all embryos created by in vitro fertilization be implanted.

The Affordable Care Act is expected to free up about $46 million in tobacco taxes when it takes over funding for insurance previously provided by Insure Oklahoma. With the Supreme Court hearing on the health care law beginning today, OK Policy previously explained what the court will look at and how the Affordable Care Act is already benefiting Oklahomans.

The number of potential welfare fraud cases referred to the Department of Human Services has tripled over the past three years due to more effective enforcement efforts. The state Ethics Commission publicly reprimanded a former Oklahoma Commerce Department recruiter of business Friday for allegedly leaking insider information to a Texas firm that eventually hired him. Legislative leaders are developing plans for up to $200 million in bonds to repair the Capitol building and the nearby Jim Thorpe State Office Building. The Norman Transcript discussed how OCAST works to diversify Oklahoma’s economy.

The Tulsa World looks at the growing number of voices speaking against tax cuts. A letter to NewsOK says that lawmakers need to identify what services they would eliminate before they cut taxes. Oklahoma is ahead of most states in implementing policies to identify effective teachers and get rid of those who aren’t, according to new 2011 rankings by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The Tulsa World writes that lawmakers are conducting a war against public education.

The Number of the Day is the percentage above the national average paid in property taxes by residents of no income tax states. In today’s Policy Note, a new OMB analysis shows that the benefits of federal regulations far exceed the cost.

In The News

Attorney General revises ‘Personhood’ petition wording

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has rewritten a personhood initiative petition because Pruitt says it did not adequately explain the effects. If approved by voters, the measure, State Question 761, would amend the Oklahoma Constitution. It would define a person as any human being from the beginning of biological development to death. The reworded measure says: “Biological development of a human being begins at fertilization, which is the fusion of a female egg with a human male sperm to form a new cell. The measure does not prohibit contraceptive methods that prevent the creation of a person as defined by this measure. The measure would not ban contraception that prevents the creation of a person but would prohibit contraception that ends a pregnancy. The measure would also protect persons created in a laboratory, which would affect, but not prohibit, medical procedures such as in vitro fertilization. For example, persons created in a laboratory as part of the medical procedure would not be deliberately destroyed.” The signatures Personhood Oklahoma gathered under the old version of the ballot initiative are still good, said Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Pruitt. Supporters need to collect 155,216 signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: Why a ‘Personhood’ law could outlaw birth control from LiveScience

Affordable Care Act will free up $46 million in tobacco tax dollars for Oklahoma

An unexpected payoff for state government comes with the Affordable Care Act – about $46 million a year in tobacco tax money with no home. Assuming it survives a U.S. Supreme Court challenge that is set for oral arguments this week and the national elections of November, the law takes full effect Jan. 1, 2014. That’s the day the law says just about everyone should have health insurance and the day that a big part of Oklahoma’s tobacco tax becomes homeless. When state voters approved a net 55-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax in 2008, they dedicated much of the revenue to health care. The state used much of that funding for Insure Oklahoma, a state program that mixes Medicaid funding, employer contributions and tobacco tax revenue to provide health insurance for working Oklahomans who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In fiscal year 2011, Insure Oklahoma received about $46 million in tobacco tax money, said Ron Jenkins, spokesman for the Office of State Finance. But all that changes Jan. 1, 2014, said Nico Gomez, spokesman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which runs Insure Oklahoma. Under the federal health care law, people who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be covered by Medicaid. Everyone above that level who doesn’t get insurance through an employer would be eligible to purchase insurance through a health insurance exchange with assistance of a federal subsidy. Insure Oklahoma is left without anyone to serve.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Previously: The Affordable Care Act: What has it done for you lately? from the OK Policy Blog; High Court Hears Health Law: What’s up for debate? from the OK Policy Blog

Government more effective at catching welfare fraud

The number of potential welfare fraud cases referred to the Department of Human Services has tripled over the past three years – but that doesn’t mean the actual amount of fraud has increased, says DHS Inspector General Tony Bryan. “We’re just catching more of it,” said Bryan. Greater federal and state emphasis on fighting fraud is beginning to pay off. Federal overpayments – including both fraud and honest errors – actually declined last year, according to the Government Accountability Office. Bryan’s 74-person department reviewed more than 7,100 complaints of welfare fraud last year. Of those, 43 percent were further investigated. About 725 cases resulted in prosecution or administrative penalties, including benefit disqualification. Welfare fraud – encompassing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, and other public assistance – may be a widely recognized problem, but the nature of it sometimes isn’t. Drug-testing public assistance recipients, as the Oklahoma Legislature is contemplating, may sound good to constituents, but catching and preventing fraud is more a matter of oversight and audit trails. And, almost always, major fraud involves non-recipients, either directly or as facilitators.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Former Oklahoma Commerce Department business recruiter reprimanded

The state Ethics Commission publicly reprimanded a former Oklahoma Commerce Department recruiter of business Friday for allegedly leaking insider information to a Texas firm that eventually hired him. The reprimand states that Robbie Ruminer secured confidential information from the Commerce Department and made it available for his personal gain. The incidents are believed to have occurred between May 2008 and January 2010. Ruminer began work with the state agency in 2005 and quit in 2010. “You literally changed jobs over the weekend, joining an organization which you had supplied with confidential agency-owned information,” the reprimand states. The Ethics Commission issued the public reprimand after meeting in a closed session. The commission may issue a private reprimand, a public reprimand or a fine or file a lawsuit.

Read more from NewsOK.

Okla. Legislature developing bond issue to fix State Capitol, but some lawmakers oppose bonds

Legislative leaders have been quietly developing plans to ask the House and Senate to authorize up to $200 million in capital improvement bonds to repair the Capitol building and the nearby Jim Thorpe State Office Building, which houses the offices of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and other state agencies. A structural inspection performed in September found mortar between limestone panels was disintegrating, and the metal clips that secure the panels to the building’s exterior have apparently corroded. “Another winter season of water infiltration coupled with freeze-thaw cycles will cause further degradation of an already poor condition and has a high probability of causing additional falling debris,” the report concludes. Officials have estimated that repairs to the Capitol, along with revamping outdated electrical, plumbing and other systems, could cost as much as $130 million. Conditions at the Jim Thorpe Building are no less serious. The building’s air conditioning system no longer works and its boilers are about to collapse. Portable chillers have been located throughout the building in an effort to keep it cool, but temperatures in the Corporation Commission’s main courtroom have reached the mid to upper 80s during recent rulemaking hearings on energy issues.

Read more from the Associated Press.

OCAST provides funding for scientists, researchers, manufacturers

Public investment in science and technology will pay rich dividends down the road in terms of new products, better treatments, job growth, higher per-capita income and better quality of life. That’s the message being delivered around the state in recent weeks by C. Michael Carolina, executive director of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. The little-known state agency provides funding for scientists, researchers, small businesses, manufacturers and organizations. “It’s about competing in the innovation economy,” Carolina said. “Our mantra now is ‘how do we compete in the innovation economy.’” Created in 1987 to help diversify the state’s economy, OCAST has funded 2,327 projects with about $215 million in state tax dollars. Carolina said they leveraged $20.39 for every $1 invested by the state, for a $4.3 billion economic impact. More than 1,500 jobs were created or retained by OCAST-supported organizations in fiscal year 2011. “If Oklahoma wants to be a player in science and technology, it must invest,” Carolina told a Transcript editorial board meeting Tuesday morning.

Read more from The Norman Transcript.

State tax-cutting effort raising more concerns

“That train has left the station,” said Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, about the likelihood of a tax-cut plan emerging from this legislative session. From the looks of things, it’s a runaway train. Why, when state services are crippled and concerns about tax cuts are growing, are state lawmakers still hurtling toward that goal? Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, says it’s because “Oklahomans have told us time and again they are hungry for a meaningful tax cut.” Maybe they’re clamoring for cuts in Creek County, but that does not appear to be the case in the Ardmore area. “I have yet to have a constituent come up to me and say, ‘I’m sure glad you’re getting rid of that income tax,'” said Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, at a recent event. In an effort to satisfy all stakeholders, tax-cut proponents keep saying they’ll protect “core services” like education in the process. But the awful, unsaid truth is these core services haven’t been protected for years and as a result are decimated by recent cutbacks. Which is why more and more people are speaking out against tax cuts: local school leaders, local city leaders, senior citizens, health-care advocates, college professors, business leaders – the list goes on.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: Identify spending cuts before cutting taxes from NewsOK

State teacher evaluation plan gets B- in 2011, up from D- in 2009

Oklahoma is ahead of most states in implementing policies to identify effective teachers and get rid of those who aren’t, according to new 2011 rankings by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The state scored an overall B-minus in the council’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook, up from a D-plus in 2009 and one of the highest grades ever given by the nonprofit nonpartisan group. Florida received the highest grade of B, with Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee each getting a B-minus. The report features a detailed 166-page analysis of Oklahoma’s progress on the policies it sets for teacher preparation, licensure, evaluation, career advancement, tenure, compensation, pensions and dismissal. The grade is based on the quality and rigor of these policies and is not an evaluation of the quality of teachers in Oklahoma.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

See also: Full Oklahoma analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality

The war on public education

The war on public education continues. Just a few days ago state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi called local school officials “the usual complainers” when they pointed out, correctly, that their districts were being strangled (our word, not theirs) by a combination of sharply reduced state funding and unfunded mandates imposed on them in the form of added testing and remediation requirements. Local school officials also noted that new end-of-instruction tests are creating a class of students who have successfully completed all their courses and other graduation requirements but won’t be allowed to graduate because they did not pass enough of the newly required tests. Those complaints, too, raised Barresi’s ire. Barresi called a meeting to let educators discuss the new requirements but then neither she nor any member of the state Board of Education bothered to attend and listen. Then on Thursday, state Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, called local school officials “tax hogs.” That came after educators pointed out, again correctly, that his proposal to freeze property taxes on homes owned by everyone 65 or older would result in less revenue available for local schools. Seniors’ property taxes already are frozen if their income is at or below their home county’s median income. Dank said local school officials were lying and that his proposal is not a tax cut. Well, here’s the thing, Rep. Dank: If it results in some people paying lower taxes, which it will, it is a tax cut.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

Years down the road, I don’t want my children or grandchildren to be saddled with dealing with a broken system that doesn’t have the money to fund state operations.
Oklahoma City resident Bill Moore, in a letter publish by The Oklahoman

Number of the Day

21 percent

Percentage above the national average paid in property taxes by residents of no income tax states

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Benefits of federal regulations far exceed the costs

Today’s debate about “regulatory overreach” is filled with mostly empty talking points, so it’s easy to forget that there’s actually a ton of regularly-updated, widely available data analyzing precisely the cost-benefit breakdown of federal rules and regulations. Yesterday, the OMB released a draft of its annual report titled, literally, “On the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations,” spelling out in clear terms how much money different federal regulations save us each year, compared to the costs of compliance. The report is long, but there are a couple main points that every critic of regulatory overreach should take note of: First, according to the report, the year with the highest regulatory costs was actually 2007 — right in the middle of the Bush Administration’s second term. That’s surprising, since I don’t remember so much talk of “job-killing regulations” at the time. But the point is not the costs, since for every single year over the past decade, the benefits have yielded massively greater savings. From 2001 to 2011, the estimated annual benefits of all federal regulations range from $141 to $700 billion, while the costs fall between $43.3 and $67.3 billion.

Read more from Policy Shop.

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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.

2 thoughts on “In The Know: Attorney General revises 'Personhood' petition wording

  1. Attorney General Scott Pruitt clearly stated in his wording of the ballot title that the Personhood Amendment would NOT ban contraceptives, but would only affect birth control methods that destroy a person (such as chemical abortifacients). He also clarified that IVF would NOT be banned, but would be affected, presumably to address the lack of regulation in regard to protecting the embryos created in the IVF process. The gist of the proposal and the ballot title is that deliberate and intential destruction of human life is prohibited; thus, spontaneous miscarriage (an unintential, naturally occuring event) is not affected and would not be identified as a prosecutable event.

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