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.
Today you should know that state Rep. John Bennet has filed a bill that would require state aid recipients and their children to take drug tests and deny aid to any who test positive. Medicaid health coverage is exempted for children under 12, but they would still be denied food stamps and day care subsidies under the bill. The cost of the drug test would be charged to the aid recipients and deducted from their benefit. OK Policy wrote about a similar bill in 2009 that passed the Senate but did not make it through conference committee.
The OK Policy Blog looks at how Oklahoma is planning to implement insurance exchanges required under the Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Fallin’s plan to shift tag renewals to a 2-year system to help solve the state’s budget shortfall is receiving criticism from tag agents who worry it will hurt their business. Secretary of State Glenn Coffee is claiming that 200 paroles signed by Gov. Henry in his last days in office may be invalid because Henry was no longer Governor by the time they reached his desk. Oklahoma is one of only 3 states (with Maryland and California) where the Governor has to sign off on all paroles.
Scott Carter covers the continuing controversy over whether Gov. Henry’s final OK Supreme Court appointees violate SQ 752. Kurt Hochenauer finds that Oklahomans are paying less taxes under President Obama than they did under President Bush. The Oklahoma Gazette looks at attempts by state government to reduce OK’s divorce rate. Lows in NE Oklahoma this week were colder than at the South Pole.
More below the jump.
In The News
State Rep. calls for drug testing for those on state aid
Legislation filed by state Rep. John Bennett would require recipients of state aid to undergo routine drug tests as a condition of eligibility. … House Bill 1083, by Bennett, would require those applying for state-provided assistance to undergo urine screening for illicit drugs upon initial application and then every six months following. The cost of the test would be deducted from the first payment to the applicant if he or she passes. Any applicant failing or refusing to take a drug test would forfeit eligibility for state-provided benefits for the next 90 days. An individual who fails a drug test while receiving benefits would be ineligible for further benefits for one year. Under the bill, the decision to deny services could be appealed and overturned if the applicant can show the testing process was faulty.
Read more from CapitolBeatOK at http://capitolbeatok.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3829519.
See also: If it ain’t broke, don’t break it on the OK Policy Blog
Health Care Reform: Oklahoma begins planning to implement insurance exchanges
One of the most important provisions of the federal health care reform law, officially known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is the requirement that states establish private insurance marketplaces, or ‘Exchanges’, to sell plans to individuals and small groups in their state. Health insurance exchanges were written into the law to ensure that these particularly vulnerable segments of the market – individuals and small groups – could obtain affordable coverage. What is unique about these segments? Well, consider how insurance works for a large group employer: every employee is covered regardless of medical history and all employees pay roughly the same premiums. This is possible, and perhaps more importantly profitable, because the risk of covering the sicker/costlier employees is offset by the ease of covering healthier/cheaper employees. Now consider how insurance works in the individual and small group market: currently, when you shop for insurance for yourself, or a handful of employees, you pay a much higher premium and have fewer plan options. Why? The insurance company does not have that larger pool of people to spread out the risk that you or your employees will be the sick/costly type. This is exactly the problem exchanges are designed to remedy. Exchanges enable individual and small group consumers in a state to pool their buying power and create a marketplace to negotiate with insurers for higher quality lower cost coverage, just like a large employer.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/health-care-reform-6-implementing-insurance-exchanges/.
See also: Oklahoma Policy Institute looks at insurance exchanges on CapitolBeatOK
Tag agents criticize Fallin’s vehicle registration plan
A proposal by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to change the state’s single-year vehicle registration system to a biannual one is drawing fire from some tag agents who say the new program could cost them money and – for the next two years – force motorists to pay more for their car tags. Detailed in the governor’s 2012 executive budget, the transition to a two-year registration system was designed to help the state cover a $600 million budget gap. Budget documents from the governor’s office said the change would create “a two-year transition period” for the owners of non-commercial vehicles and would generate a one-time bump in tax revenue of $104.9 million. Right now Oklahomans who register non-commercial vehicles pay $94 plus fees for a one-year registration. Fallin’s two-year plan would change that. “Registrants of odd-model-year vehicles (would) obtain a two-year registration in the first year of implementation,” the governor’s 2012 budget summary noted. “Registrants of even-model-year vehicles would obtain their two-year registration in the second year of implementation.”
Read more from The Journal Record at http://journalrecord.com/2011/02/10/fallin-seeks-changes-in-vehicle-registration-system-capitol/.
Henry’s paroles under review
The new Republican regime at the Governor’s Office is scrutinizing more than 200 paroles granted by former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry in the last days of his administration. Meanwhile, the bulk of the inmates caught in the snafu already have been released from prison. State law requires that as soon as the governor signs paroles, the inmates must be released. The review was triggered by Gov. Mary Fallin’s new secretary of state, Glenn Coffee, who decided that his office could not certify the files because Henry was no longer governor by the time the stack of parole certificates reached his office. … “This is a bureaucratic nightmare,” Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, said this week. “That certification is only a formality.” Johnson questioned what would happen if Fallin decided that someone’s parole should not be signed, contrary to Henry’s action. Johnson also blamed Coffee, former head of the Senate, for refusing year after year to allow a hearing on a reform bill intended to reduce the governor’s role in paroling inmates and speed up the process.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110211_16_A15_OLHMIY231931.
Oklahoma Marriage Initiative battles high divorce rates
Love may be a many-splendored thing, but in Oklahoma, love often turns into a country song, à la Tammy Wynette’s 1968 No. 1 hit, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Unfortunately for Oklahoma, as the decades roll by, the state can’t seem to get out of the top-five ranking for highest divorce rates in the U. Yet, it’s not for lack of trying. In 1998, then-Gov. Frank Keating wanted to tackle the embarrassing (and costly) ranking by pledging to reduce the divorce rate by one-third by 2010. The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative resulted, which has helped thousands of Oklahomans since its inception in 1999 with relationship education for every age and life stage. Did they reach Keating’s lofty goal? Short answer: no. But according to Kendy Cox, the director of service delivery for OMI, they got wise to realistic goal-setting with the help of some of the world’s top researchers.
Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette at http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/print-article-10749-print.html.
See also: Guest Blog (Scott Stanley): A promising approach for strengthening disadvantaged families on the OK Policy Blog
M. Scott Carter: Legislature is overstepping its bounds
Most people didn’t even notice. On Monday, dignitaries from around the state, members of the governor’s cabinet and other elected officials gathered in the chamber of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to hear the governor speak. The event was historic: the state’s first female governor delivering her first State of the State address. Just before the governor entered the chamber, seven members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court entered and were seated directly in front of the rostrum. The players were in place, but two people were missing. Normally, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has nine justices; but on Monday only seven were seated. Why? The answer is simple: politics. With a lawsuit still being argued over an unnecessary state question, the court’s two missing justices, Justice Douglas Combs and Justice Noma Gurich, were not seated among their peers.
Read more from The Journal Record at http://journalrecord.com/2011/02/10/fourth-reading-legislature-is-overstepping-its-bounds-opinion/.
Oklahoma pay less taxes under Obama
It’s the type of news that should but won’t help fizzle the Tea Party anger here and elsewhere over its caricature of President Barack Obama. The Associated Press reported Monday that Americans now pay less in federal taxes than under former President George W. Bush and that federal taxes “as a share of the national economy” are the lowest since 1950. According to the AP: “The poor economy is largely to blame, with corporate profits down and unemployment up. But so is a tax code that grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. The result is that families making as much as $50,000 can avoid paying federal income taxes, if they have at least two dependent children. Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.” … But what about Oklahoma? Using 2008 estimates, residents here pay an average of about 9.8 percent of their income in taxes, according to The Tax Foundation, which puts the national average at 9.7 percent. Meanwhile, according to the organization, residents here enjoy some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation.
Read more from the Okie Funk blog at http://www.okiefunk.com/node/874.
Northeastern Oklahoma’s bitter blast colder than South Pole
At the same time Bartlesville was experiencing minus 28 degree weather Thursday morning, the South Pole was only 23 degrees below zero. Of course, the South Pole is in its summer season, said Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather based in State College, Pa. “They’re having a bit of a warm spell down there, getting as high as minus 14 degrees on Feb. 5,” Sosnowski said. Nearby Nowata was even colder. The Oklahoma Mesonet recorded a minus 31 degree temperature at about 7:40 a.m. It was so cold in Nowata that a relay switch on a transmission line froze in place, leaving many in the area without electricity four about four hours, said Ed Bettinger, a spokesman for Public Service Company of Oklahoma-American Electric Power.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=490&articleid=20110210_11_0_Nearin713416.
Quote of the Day
If we are serious about identifying and helping single parents with drug addictions, the current approach of using a proven screening tool as part of the initial application is much more likely to meet our goals. The “test first, ask questions later” approach is likely to deter people from seeking assistance in the first place for fear of testing positive. This would only serve to keep people in need of substance abuse services from being identified, and would increase the financial hardship on the children of potential applicants, who could lose their only source of family income.
–David Blatt, writing on a bill from 2009 to require drug testing of state aid recipients. A similar bill has been filed in the state House this year.
Number of the Day
Female legislators in the Oklahoma Legislature, out of 149 total.
Source: Oklahoma Women’s Network
For federal government, a taste of market discipline with social impact bonds
Wouldn’t it be nice if taxpayers could somehow get a refund for government programs that didn’t work? Instead, the opposite tends to happen. Programs that fail to make a difference — like many of those that train workers for new jobs — endure indefinitely. … But there is some good news on this front. Lately, both American and British policy makers have been thinking about how to bring some of the competitive discipline of the market to government programs, and they have hit on an intriguing idea. David Cameron’s Conservative government in Britain is already testing it, at a prison 75 miles north of London. The Bloomberg administration in New York is also considering the idea, as is the State of Massachusetts. Perhaps most notably, President Obama next week will propose setting aside $100 million for seven such pilot programs, according to an administration official. The idea goes by one of two names: pay for success bonds or social impact bonds. Either way, nonprofit groups like foundations pay the initial money for a new program and also oversee it, with government approval. The government will reimburse them several years later, possibly with a bonus — but only if agreed-upon benchmarks show that the program is working.
Read more from the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/business/economy/09leonhardt.html.
See also: Social Impact Bonds: A promising new financing model to accelerate social innovation and improve government performance from the Center for American Progress