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 email@example.com. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that a federal appeals court ruled Oklahoma’s ban on Islamic law is unconstitutional religious discrimination. Rep. Mike Reynolds filed a bill to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for the Oklahoma National Guard. All major categories of state revenue collections were up by double digits in December, except sales taxes. See OK Policy’s most recent Budget Trends and Highlights fact sheet here. Sen. Jim Wilson is seeking to pay for board-certified teacher bonuses by eliminating the sales tax exemption for newspapers.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling holding part of last session’s workers’ compensation law unconstitutional. The Attorney General also wrote a letter to Oklahoma police chiefs about complaints that police departments are violating the Open Records Act by withholding public information from initial incident reports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to close six offices in Oklahoma as part of a broad cost-cutting move.
On the OK Policy Blog, credit counseler Jennifer Wallis offers tips for improving credit scores and financial security. Connecticut is transitioning to state-managed low-income healthcare with a program similar to Oklahoma’s SoonerCare. Urban Tulsa Weekly examines the state of Oklahoma’s health.
The Number of the Day is the proportion of Oklahomans who live in ‘high-poverty’ neighborhoods. In today’s Policy Note, Education Sector shows that even auto mechanics are becoming more likely to have college degrees.
In The News
Court: Okla. ban on Islamic law unconstitutional
A proposed constitutional amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions, and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday. The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70% of Oklahoma voters in November 2010. Muneer Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, sued to block the law from taking effect, arguing that the Save Our State Amendment violated his First Amendment rights. State Sen. Anthony Sykes, who led the Senate effort to get the measure on the ballot, said Tuesday he would continue to fight to lift the injunction.
Rep. Reynolds files bill to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for Oklahoma National Guard
A bill being proposed by a state lawmaker would reinstitute the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the Oklahoma National Guard. “That’s exactly what it does,” said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, author of House Bill 2195. The bill is being proposed in response to requests from members of the Oklahoma National Guard, Reynolds said. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, implemented by federal law in 1993, barred gays from serving openly in the U.S. military. The policy ended Sept. 20 after President Barack Obama, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certified that repeal would not harm military readiness. Reynolds’ bill would prohibit anyone who was ineligible to serve in the U.S. armed forces under federal regulations that were in effect on Jan. 1, 2009, from serving in the Guard.
Oklahoma’s economy continues to outpace projections
State general fund collections recorded double-digit growth in December and for the first six months of this fiscal year, according to reports released Tuesday. All major categories of revenue collections were up by double digits in December, except sales taxes, according to revenue reports issued by the state finance office. Sales tax collections produced $153.5 million, or 5.7 percent more than a year ago, but came in below estimates. Sales tax collections for December came in 0.4 percent below projections. Despite the increase in revenue so far this fiscal year, state officials are preparing for a flat budget in the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers should have about $6.5 billion in state funds to appropriate for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year, or about $115 million more than this fiscal year. But in crafting this year’s budget, lawmakers and the governor used about $500 million in one-time funds that aren’t available next year; based on early budget projections, lawmakers could face a budget shortfall of about $150 million.
Previously: January 2012 Budget Trends and Highlights from the Oklahoma Policy Institute
Lawmaker seeks to end newspaper sales tax exemption to fund teacher bonuses
A Tahlequah lawmaker has proposed placing a state sales tax on the cost of newspapers. Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, said his bill to eliminate the sales tax exemption on newspapers and periodicals would raise about $17 million a year for the state – about the same amount of money he said nationally board certified teachers are owed for unpaid bonuses over the past three years. Although his bill doesn’t specify that the new state revenue would be used to pay unfunded teacher stipends, Wilson said it would raise adequate money to do so. Wilson said the Oklahoma Tax Commission told him that removing the tax exemption would raise about $17 million. He estimated the total shorted to nationally board certified teachers over the past three years is about $17 million. A spokesman for the state’s newspapers said the tax commission’s estimates are much too high.
Attorney General asks for do-over on OK Supreme Court decision striking Workers’ Comp changes
Attorney General Scott Pruitt is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reconsider its December ruling holding part of last session’s 149-page workers’ compensation law, SB 878, unconstitutional. By 6-3, the court found a provision limiting independent medical examiners only to medical doctors and osteopathic physicians, leaving out chiropractors (some of whom have served as IMEs, including at least one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit), and other medical professionals. The majority found this section to be an impermissible special law. Also stricken was other language requiring that the opinion of an independent medical examiner be followed in a workers’ compensation case unless clear and convincing evidence is presented to the contrary. The court said this language violated the constitutional separation of powers by infringing on the authority of the Workers’ Compensation Court.
Attorney General tells Oklahoma chiefs of police that information is public
State Attorney General Scott Pruitt has written a letter to the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police about complaints that police departments are violating the Open Records Act by withholding public information from initial incident reports. “The state Legislature has made it clear in this regard that a police department’s initial offense report or cover sheet should be open for public inspection, regardless of its inclusion in an investigation file,” Pruitt wrote in his Jan. 4 letter. Joey Senat, an open records advocate and journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, said he wrote a letter to the attorney general in November asking for help after Edmond police refused to release details about an investigation into Assistant Fire Chief Tim Wheeler. Citizens and members of the media also complained about police withholding information this fall when attorney general officials toured the state holding Open Meeting and Open Records acts seminars, Pruitt said in the letter.
USDA to close six offices in Oklahoma
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to close six offices in Oklahoma as part of a broad cost-cutting move that will affect many of the massive department’s agencies. The closures will hit agricultural research, rural development and farm service offices in Oklahoma. The department pledged steps to minimize the impact on the 27 employees in those offices. The department is targeting 259 offices and labs in the United States and seven foreign offices. According to the department, some offices on the closure list are unstaffed or have only one or two workers, and many are within 20 miles of related operations. The actions come as departments and agencies across the federal government start to implement cuts mandated last year by Congress and the president. Pentagon officials last week outlined the first steps in meeting new budget targets that are $490 billion less over the next 10 years.
Guest Blog (Jennifer Wallis): Managing credit and debt for financial security
According to the Fair Isaac Corporation, 58 percent of Americans have credit scores above 700, which is considered a really good score. If you are among the other 42 percent, it may feel like you will always be stuck with a lower score. Fortunately, credit scores are just a snapshot of your credit at one point in time and can change frequently. In just a few short months, you could notice a big increase in your credit score if you work to improve it. Bad credit is not a life sentence. Poor credit and the resulting low credit score may mean that you can’t borrow money from traditional lenders like banks and credit unions. If you are able to borrow money at all, you may have to pay increased interest rates and higher overall prices. Because of this, studies have shown that people with poor credit can pay $250,000 more over their lifetime more than people with good credit.
Connecticut moves to state-run Medicaid program modeled on Oklahoma
Starting this year, Connecticut will no longer rely on private insurance companies to manage its low-income health care programs. On Jan. 1, Connecticut assumed direct financial responsibility for its Medicaid, HUSKY and Charter Oak health care programs, which offer medical services to eligible low-income residents. This move represents a change from the state’s former policy of paying private health insurance companies such as Aetna and UnitedHealthCare to administer their low-income health care services. With this change, Connecticut became the second state in the nation to move away from private management of low-income healthcare. In 2004 Oklahoma implemented a similar program, called Sooner Care. Mike Fogarty, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, a state agency, said that Oklahoma has been doing “extremely well” since the switch, citing the “extraordinarily low” rise of per-member total costs as 1.2 percent per year. Fogarty added that Oklahoma transitioned to state-managed low-income healthcare after this after running both private and state-directed programs simultaneously and finding that patient satisfaction and quality care measurements were the same or higher for state-run services.
Oklahomans sick and getting sicker
We are sick, and we’re getting sicker. The 2011 State of the State’s Health Report paints a picture of an unhealthy Oklahoma, and one sharply divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. While wealthier, better-educated and insured Okies are as healthy as people anywhere, the rest of the Sooner State is falling far behind the rest of the nation. It’s a big ravine between rich and poor; or at least the middle class and the have nots. Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate is about 30 percent higher than the national average, according to the annual report. But break that statistic down along ethnic lines, and there are still some cultural divides. Cancer incidences, diabetes prevalence and mortality all soar above the national average here in Oklahoma. And it’s not just our health that’s failing us. We’re facing a physician shortage, especially in rural areas. Insurance premiums have skyrocketed in recent years, and our healthcare system is a tangled web of red tape and regulations, all wrapped up in a distorted system of payment.
Quote of the Day
Some police departments don’t like the Open Records Act for whatever reason, so they refuse to follow it.
–Joey Senat, open records advocate and journalism professor at Oklahoma State University
Number of the Day
1 in 3
Oklahomans live in ‘high-poverty’ neighborhoods, census tracts in which the poverty rate is twenty percent or higher.
Source: American Community Survey 2006-2010
Rick Santorum doesn’t understand how the labor market works
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently criticized President Obama’s initiative to increase college-going as “elitist snobbery.” Said Santorum: “If one of my kids wants to go and be an auto mechanic, good for him. That’s a good-paying job – using your hands and using your mind.” In the early 1970’s, when Rick Santorum was entering high school, most auto mechanics were high school dropouts. About a third had a high school diploma, and only seven percent had been to college or earned a degree. Since then, cars have become a lot more complicated. They run on computers now. Fixing them requires increasingly sophisticated technical skills. Accordingly, more and more auto mechanics have acquired specialized training and educational credentials to match. By the late 2000s, less than 20 percent of auto mechanics were high school dropouts. By contrast, more than one-third had been to college or earned a degree. That’s why President Obama is pushing to help more student earn post-secondary credentials. Obama’s educational strategy is aimed at the future economy, not the past.
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