In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that a legislative task force on the new federal health care law called for establishing a state-run health exchange. See the committee’s full report here. The committee did not say how the state exchange would be paid for. OK Policy previously explained why we may have already waited too long to avoid a federal takeover.
A House committee approved a bill to eliminate the state agency charged with enforcing Oklahoma’s pet breeding laws. The Tulsa U.S. postal center, which employs 600 people, is set to close and could begin winding down operations as soon as May. The superintendent of the OKC School District and the city’s school board president announced they would fight any takeover of struggling schools by state officials. The OK Policy Blog assessed the situation of Oklahoma schools after three straight years of budget cuts. The director of a Tulsa Medicaid provider explained how most public sector spending flows back into the community.
The Tulsa World explains why bills requiring drug-testing of TANF recipients are not in the state’s best interest. Kurt Hochenauer shows that these bills rely on false stereotypes about welfare recipients. Ethics Daily spoke with OK Policy for a story on how Payday lenders enslave the poor in a debt cycle. State Rep. Mike Christian’s said he wanted to question House staff under oath to determine whether they tried to intimidate judges in his workers’ compensation case.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of public school teachers in Oklahoma who are men. In today’s Policy Note, a study of unauthorized immigrants in Oklahoma City shows that restrictive laws have not caused immigrants to self-deport.
In The News
Committee calls for Oklahoma insurance exchange
Oklahoma, which a year ago returned a $54.6 million federal grant to develop a health insurance exchange program, should create a state-based exchange, a legislative committee recommended Wednesday. The mostly Republican Joint Committee on Federal Health Care Law, which met several times last year, suggested the state begin taking steps to establish a system similar to the one in Utah, which was established before the national health care law was written. It also recommended Attorney General Scott Pruitt continue to seek to overturn the national health care law. The recommended Oklahoma exchange would be housed in the Insure Oklahoma program, which would be spun off from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and turned into a public trust. No cost estimate for setting up an exchange or how it would be paid for were included in the report. The federal government will impose its version of an insurance exchange on states that don’t set up their own.
Previously: Clock ticks down on a state-run health insurance exchange from the OK Policy Blog
Panel approves eliminating Oklahoma’s pet breeders licensing board
The state agency charged with enforcing Oklahoma’s pet breeding law would be eliminated and another state agency would take over its duties under a bill that won unanimous approval Wednesday from a House committee. The House of Representatives Agriculture, Wildlife and Environment Committee voted 18-0 to pass House Bill 2921, which would eliminate the Board of Commercial Pet Breeders. The board was formed two years ago. Its duties would be transferred to the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department. “You’ll see a lot more people come forward and get licenses under the Department of Agriculture,” said Rep. Brian Renegar, a committee member and author of legislation that established the original rules for the fledgling agency. “The Department of Agriculture is an agency that doesn’t stress writing citations and fining as much as they stress educating the people on what they need to do to be in compliance.”
Tulsa’s postal center likely to close in May
Employees have been told the U.S. Postal Service’s Processing and Distribution Center could begin winding down operations as soon as May, a union representative said Wednesday. The plant’s 600 employees learned in September that the Tulsa center was on the list of some 250 processing and distribution centers targeted for closing under a reorganization plan that calls for eliminating about 225,000 jobs and ending overnight first-class mail delivery. The closures were originally to go into effect early this year, but in December, the USPS announced it would delay the closings until May – the “moratorium” referred to be Boyd. For Tulsa, the reorganization would mean that local mail would be hauled to Oklahoma City for sorting and then returned to Tulsa for delivery. Business and direct mail advertisers and vendors are particularly concerned because the change could mean higher rates and slower delivery times for direct mail and great lag time in accounts payable.
OKC education leaders say they will fight state takeover of schools
The superintendent of the Oklahoma City School District and the city’s school board president announced Wednesday they would fight any takeover of struggling schools by state officials. “Changing the strategic direction at this time could be fatal to our district and not good to the students of our school system,” Superintendent Karl Springer said during a morning news conference at the state Capitol. The state Education Department received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act earlier this month. One portion of the state’s waiver allows the Education Department to hire private companies to run failing public schools that are unable to demonstrate the ability to improve. Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for the Education Department, said no decision has been made about which schools, if any, will be taken over by the state.
Stuck in a hole: What flat funding means for the common education budget
After three straight years of budget cuts, funding for public education in Oklahoma is in dire straits. This year’s appropriation to the Department of Education is $254 million, or 10.0 percent, less than it was in 2009. In the past three years, funding to school districts through the state aid formula, which funds the basic operating costs of schools, has been slashed by $222 million, while public schools enrollment has grown by 22,000 students. According to the most recent data, the number of teachers was cut by over 1,000 between 2010 and 2011, and this year it is likely there are fewer teachers still. Even though schools have tried to manage cuts while protecting class sizes, simple math dictates that more students and fewer teachers is leading to more kids per class. Meanwhile, the Legislature has also cut the activities budget for common education, which funds health care costs for teachers and support staff, as well as a portion of retirement costs and programs that aim to improve teacher quality and student performance.
What do those ‘entitlements’ really cost?
I find myself intrigued by the Republican rant of how we need to cut “entitlements.” It’s easy to use that word without really defining what would happen or who would be affected. As executive director of Daybreak Family Services in Tulsa, I find myself really challenging the concept that entitlements “cost” our state adversely in the long run. Let’s use our agency (which is one of many such services in this community). We started four years ago with three people providing outpatient counseling and therapy services to children and families in their schools and homes. We currently have 98 employees. This year, we will likely bill Medicaid close to $5.5 million. But let’s quantify what happens with that $5.5 million. More than 93 percent of that $5.5 million flows back into the community in the following ways.
Drug testing of aid applicants may not be in state’s best interest
Drug testing of public-aid recipients is one of those proposals that sounds good at first blush. After all, many private-sector employees are required to undergo drug testing as a condition of getting or keeping a job. So why shouldn’t those who are supported by the taxpayers have to abide by the same rules? Because the issue isn’t quite that simple. A private employer can simply dismiss a drug-positive employee and be done with the problem. But in the case of aid recipients, what happens when they test positive? Should those individuals be forced into treatment, or at least offered treatment? Where would the funds come from to provide that treatment? Should their children be removed from their homes? Should law enforcement be alerted? And, most important, is drug testing of these individuals really in society’s best interests?
See also: Ideological testing from Okie Funk
Payday lenders enslave poor in debt cycle
One of the primary emphases of the New Baptist Covenant II meeting in Oklahoma was a push for economic reforms related to “payday lending” – industry terminology for the practice of extending short-term, high-interest loans with no credit checks. When the NBC II met in Oklahoma City last year, at least one state senator showed interest in tackling the problem of exorbitant interest rates. Rick Brinkley (R-Owasso) has regularly spoken out about another complicating factor in the payday lending business: tribal lenders. American Indian tribes are sovereign nations with their own laws, many of which can create problems for state legislatures. Brinkley called the companies’ business practices “unethical,” and according to the Center for Responsible Lending, he said that most grievances against payday lenders involve fees of more than 1,000 percent. Even more troubling to Brinkley is that some of the worst offenders are in his back yard.
Lawmaker wants House staff to testify in workers’ compensation case
State Rep. Mike Christian’s workers’ compensation case took another twist Wednesday as his attorney said he wanted to question state House of Representatives staff members under oath to determine whether they tried to intimidate workers’ compensation judges. Christian’s attorney asked Judge Bob Lake Grove to compel Ashley Kemp, Amy Alden and John Estus to answer questions under oath. Kemp is the general counsel for the state House of Representatives, Alden is the House’s former general counsel and Estus is House Speaker Kris Steele’s press secretary. Christian is seeking benefits for injuries to his neck and back that he says were suffered in a traffic accident nearly three years ago while driving to the state Capitol.
Quote of the Day
We have the CEO of Quik Cash on record saying the goal is to get people pulled in so they’ll have to renew the loans and then roll them over. I’ve stopped calling it payday lending. It’s predatory lending.
–OK Policy analyst Kate Richey, speaking to Ethics Daily
Number of the Day
Percentage of public school teachers in Oklahoma who were men in 2011, 38th least in the nation.
Source: National Education Association
Staying put but still in the shadows
In the absence of federal legislation providing a coherent immigration policy, states have taken it upon themselves to enforce their way to a solution. This patchwork of state and local laws is driven by a strategy known by immigration restrictionists as “attrition through enforcement.” The goal is to create a climate of fear and make life so difficult for immigrants that they will self-deport. So have state anti-immigration bills led to an exodus of unauthorized migrants from the United States as restrictionists have promised? To answer this question we review the current evidence, as well as findings from the University of California, San Diego’s Mexican Migration Field Research Project’s, or MMFRP, study of unauthorized immigrants in Oklahoma City. Since the city’s unauthorized population has had more time to gather experiences under the immigration ordinances, the data from this population provides a unique lens into what actually happens to immigrant communities and families in the wake of restrictionist laws.
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