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 on In The Know, a House subcomittee unanimously approved sending a bill forward that would establish a hospital provider fee. Under this bill, hospitals would pay into a fund that would be used to bring in almost twice as much in federal matching dollars.
OK Policy reports on how Oklahoma is missing out on an opportunity to protect its citizens by not taking action on the $101M in federal money available to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Receiving the money would only require making a small technical change in the law, but so far neither lawmakers nor the state’s Employment Security Commission have taken any action to do so.
A study by the Maryland-based Center for the Support of Families claims that foster children in Oklahoma are experiencing high rates of abuse and neglect. A spokeswoman for Oklahoma DHS argued that the study’s methodology was suspect and their findings did not match other reviews done by the federal government. A House committee approved a bill to consolidate under the finance director 7 state agencies involved with personnel and central services. Other legislation seeks to improve the accuracy of school’s reporting of administrative costs by changing how superintendents’ salaries are categorized.
These stories and more below the jump.
In The News
Hospital assessment bill passes first hurdle in House
A measure designed to improve the financial plight of hospitals took its first step in the House on Thursday. A subcommittee voted 10-0 to send House Bill 1381 to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. HB 1381 by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, would allow hospitals to pay a 2 percent assessment on their net patient revenues into a fund that would be used to capture more federal dollars. It would apply to 77 hospitals and exempt 69 others, including specialty hospitals and state-owned hospitals such as the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. Hospitals would pay in about $123 million to the state fund. The assessment would generate federal matching funds in the amount of $228 million.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110218_16_A10_OKLAHO342192.
Oklahoma should act on opportunity to aid the long-term jobless
“There’s no excuse for states to let 100 percent federally funded jobless support just die on the vine,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. ”This is a no-brainer for states to help their workers, businesses and economies.” The no-brainer Owens refers to is an unemployment insurance extension known as Extended Benefits approved by Congress and waiting to be used by states. Oklahoma is one of 9 qualifying states – along with Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Utah and Wyoming —that has not taken advantage of the Extended Benefits provision that NELP estimates would provide 13 additional weeks of assistance for over 29,000 long-term unemployed Oklahomans and inject $101 million in federally-funded benefits to help support Oklahoma families and businesses.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/oklahoma-should-act-on-new-opportunities-to-aid-the-long-term-jobless/.
High abuse rates reported in study of Oklahoma foster care system
A new study of 374 Oklahoma foster care cases found nearly one in eight children suffered confirmed instances of abuse or neglect while in state DHS custody. Reviewers also found that Oklahoma foster care children were routinely shuttled from one placement to another, with nearly 55 percent of the children studied experiencing four or more different placements during their most recent stays in state custody. The study was done by the Maryland-based Center for the Support of Families and financed by Children’s Rights, a New York-based group that has joined with Oklahoma attorneys to sue the state for reform of Oklahoma’s foster care system.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/high-abuse-rates-reported-in-study-of-oklahoma-foster-care-system/article/3541846.
Oklahoma House bill would consolidate seven state agencies
Despite objections that the measure would create “a mini-dictator,” a House committee Thursday approved a bill that would consolidate seven state agencies into one. House Bill 2140 could produce annual savings of $22.1 million, said Rep. Jason Murphey, who worked on the measure and is chairman for the House of Representatives Government Modernization Committee. The measure passed 11-2. It now goes to the full House. HB 2140 would consolidate the Central Services Department, the Office of Personnel Management, the Merit Protection Commission, the Libraries Department, the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board and the State Employee Benefits Council with the state finance office. The state finance director would oversee the combined agency, said Murphey, R-Guthrie.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-bill-would-consolidate-seven-state-agencies/article/3541777.
Bill could boost reporting of school admin costs, advocates say
Legislation to provide greater transparency in the reporting of school administrative costs gained House subcommittee approval at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City on Thursday (February 17). House Bill 1372, by state Rep. Corey Holland, would require that the salaries of staff serving a superintendent, elementary superintendent or any assistant superintendent be calculated as administrative overhead. Under current law, only the superintendent’s staff salaries are included as an administrative expense. … Holland has also co-authored another bill that would improve reporting of school expenses. That measure, Senate Bill 664 (by state Sen. Eddie Fields), would allow schools to report up to 40 percent of a superintendent’s salary as non-administrative services if the administrator “spends part of the time” performing duties such as teaching in the classroom, serving as a principal, counselor, or library media specialist.
Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at http://capitolbeatok.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3832649.
See also: Why education reform is not like musical chairs on the OK Policy Blog
Shelley Cadamy: Spending on mental health services earns a substantial return on investment
During a Leadership Oklahoma City session several years ago, I had the opportunity to ask the Oklahoma City Police Chief and Oklahoma County Sheriff what one thing each would change if they could. The answer was clear and unanimous – expand care for the mentally ill. Regardless of one’s views on a government’s moral responsibility to its mentally ill citizens, the economic arguments for treating the mentally ill are staggering. According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), the greatest direct cost associated with untreated mental illness and addiction in Oklahoma is to the state Department of Corrections and the overall criminal justice system, which must bear the financial burden as increasing numbers of untreated mentally ill Oklahomans cause disturbances and become incarcerated.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at http://guest-blog-shelley-cadamy-spending-on-mental-health-services-earns-a-substantial-return-on-investment/.
James Scimeca: Senate bills protect wrongdoers
The Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed five bills to “protect Oklahomans, our doctors and our businesses from frivolous lawsuits.” Oh, if only it were true. But it’s not. None of the five bills, Senate Bills 862-866, addresses or even mentions “frivolous” claims. Instead, the five are directed at legitimate claims — claims an injured plaintiff wins. A lawsuit an injured Oklahoman wins is, by any definition, not frivolous. Instead of regulating frivolous claims, each of the bills simply reduces the accountability of one who has caused or inflicted harm.
Read more from this NewsOK editorial at http://newsok.com/senate-bills-protect-wrongdoers/article/3541693.
Ruth Steinburger: Case against repealing puppy mill regulations
Puppy mills in rural Oklahoma have worked hard to make themselves into a symbol of the struggle to “do what we want” and be left alone. This is a pretty odd twist, but diverting the puppy mill issue from solid facts can well serve an industry that relies on secrecy and misinformation to keep both dogs and consumers in the dark. The regulations that breeders want to forestall, and that state Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Durant, has railed against, are so meager that people are shocked when they learn, “this is what that’s all about.” Oklahoma puppy mills shown in news reports have operated in the absence of regulations and below the proposed rules Brecheen and friends want repealed.
Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=65&articleid=20110217_11_A17_CUTLIN585057.
State agency head gets $90k raise as power rates rise
The head of a powerful state agency is facing heightened scrutiny from Oklahoma’s most powerful elected leaders. The CEO of The Grand River Dam Authority recently received a $90,000 raise just months after raising the energy rates of the agency’s power customers. Some say he’s abused his power one too many times. Others, including the man himself, say he’s worth every penny. … As CEO of GRDA Easley’s employment contract shows he is now making $225,000 a year plus benefits. GRDA is a state agency that works like an electricity wholesaler, providing power to hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans through co-ops and municipalities across the state.
Read more from NewsOn6 at http://www.newson6.com/Global/story.asp?S=14054366.
Quote of the Day
“In many small rural schools, the superintendent teaches class and drives buses, but his entire salary is reported as administrative overhead. I believe schools’ financial reporting should account for the actual work performed, and this bill would make clear that part of a superintendent’s work may be for other duties.”
–Rep. Corey Hollard, R-Marlow, on his bill aimed at increasing the accuracy of how schools report administrative costs.
Number of the Day
Maximum income that a family of 3 can earn, to be eligible for subsidized child care in Oklahoma. This is equivalent to 76% of the state’s median income.
Wisconsin public versus private employee costs: Why compare apples to oranges?
Inaccurate comparisons of national and Wisconsin public employee compensation with private sector compensation are circulating in Wisconsin. These faulty comparisons, showing that public employees in Wisconsin are dramatically overpaid, seem to support legislative efforts to increase benefit contributions by public employees. These increased benefit contributions would subject them to a pay cut greater than 10% and eliminate their collective bargaining rights. But when we compare apples to apples, we find that Wisconsin public employees earn 4.8% less in total compensation than comparable private sector workers. The comparisons—controlling for education, experience, hours of work, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability—demonstrate that full-time state and local public employees earn lower wages and receive less in total compensation (including all benefits) than comparable private sector employees.
Read more from the Economic Policy Institute at http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6785/.