In The Know: Feb 21, 2011

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

Today on In The Know, Rep. Dank considers forming a task force to examine Oklahoma state tax credits in light of an Attorney General opinion that several credits are unconstitutional.Oklahoma Watch covers the severe shortage of drug treatment and education programs for women in prison and tells the story of an Oklahoma woman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling $31 of marijuana.

NewsOK finds that Oklahoma paid out $1 billion in unemployment insurance last year, and the unemployment trust fund is at its lowest level in years, meaning higher taxes for business and worse benefits for the unemployed. Last week on the OK Policy Blog we discussed the millions in unemployment funds that state is missing out on because lawmakers have failed to take action on making a minor technical change to the law.

Lawsuit reform is dividing Republicans, as some conservatives see the limits on noneconomic damages as corporate welfare and an infringement of our right to trial by jury under the Seventh Amendment.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

State lawmakers scrutinize tax credits

With a renewed interest in creating jobs, Oklahoma lawmakers are placing new emphasis on an economic development tool designed to lure businesses to the state that some believe is broken — tax credits. Oklahoma gives away more than $5 billion in tax credits, exemptions and other incentives each year. And lawmakers looking for a way to fill a budget hole of up to $600 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 are questioning whether some of the credits serve a valid public purpose or are merely a giveaway of taxpayer dollars. “There’s just too much abuse going on in the system,” said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, chairman of a House budget subcommittee on revenue and taxation that is considering creating a task force to review the effectiveness of state tax credits and ways to make them more accountable to taxpayers.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Limited resources prevent women in Oklahoma prisons from treatment, education programs

More than 60 percent of the women in Oklahoma’s prisons have been identified as needing substance abuse treatment, but few can access a program, according to a 2010 state report about female incarceration. Education courses are more difficult for the same reasons — space limitation, time required and funding cuts, state officials say. Of the 2,760 women in prison last year, 1,744, or 63 percent, were identified as needing substance abuse treatment. The state Department of Corrections has 188 beds for treating women for substance addictions.

Read more from this Oklahoma Watch article at

Mom’s case typifies sentencing challenge

For $31 of marijuana, Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow will serve 10 years in prison, will live without her four young children and husband and will no longer work in nursing homes. Three days before Christmas, Spottedcrow, also known as inmate No. 622641, started her stint at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center. … On Dec. 31, 2009, Spottedcrow and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana to a police informant from Starr’s home in Kingfisher, according to court records. Starr handled the transaction and asked her 9-year-old grandson—Spottedcrow’s son—for some dollar bills so she could make change for the $11 sale. On Jan. 14, 2010, the same informant returned and bought $20 worth of marijuana from Spottedcrow. The two were arrested and charged with distribution of a controlled substance. Because Spottedcrow’s children were in the home, the charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor was added.

Read more from this Oklahoma Watch article at

See also: Family copes after mom’s incarceration from Oklahoma Watch.

Oklahoma unemployment trust fund depleted to lowest level in years

Total payments for unemployment compensation hit more than $1 billion last year in Oklahoma, and that’s pinching both employers and the unemployed. … Oklahoma’s system is designed to rapidly refill the trust fund when it gets low, said Mike Seney, senior vice president for policy analysis and strategic planning for business association of The State Chamber. That means higher taxes for businesses and lower benefit payments to the unemployed. Oklahoma went from “no factor” in 2010 to the worst conditional factor for 2011. Maximum weekly benefits have fallen to $358 in 2011, down from $430 a week in 2010. Likewise, the base amount of wages that employers pay unemployment taxes on rose to $18,600 in 2011, up from $14,900 in 2010.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Oklahoma should act on new opportunities to aid the long-term jobless on the OK Policy Blog.

Tulsa World: Military division of property bill should be scrapped

Senate Bill 528 seeks to limit when people seeking divorces can claim part of their spouses’ military pensions and benefits. This questionable legislation, essentially a re-write of a similar bill that went nowhere last legislative session, really has nothing to do with support of the military, although supporters might try to sell it that way. Instead, passage of SB 528 could make Oklahoma, already a divorce mecca, into a national divorce haven for members of the military by offering overly permissive terms for property division. Oklahoma would be the only state to adopt such legislation. Its backers say the bill establishes criteria for equitable distribution of marital property and for termination of payments under certain circumstances. That’s not the full story.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

See also: Will Oklahoma be first to discriminate against military spouses in divorce? from the OK Policy Blog.

Some Republicans critical of lawsuit reform

A plan to limit so-called pain and suffering damages has some Republicans raising an alarm. Lawsuit reform has long been a chief goal for the GOP, which now controls the Legislature and Governor’s Office. But critics say Senate Bill 863 by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, violates the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The measure would limit noneconomic damages for pain and suffering to $250,000, with some exceptions for gross negligence and malice. It does not limit monetary recovery for medical bills and lost income. Critics say noneconomic damages should be decided by juries, not politicians who take donations from those who stand to gain financially from the measure.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Putting a price on pain and suffering from The Tulsa World.

Pension changes worry state workers

Oklahomas firefighters, teachers and other public employees are growing restless as Republican lawmakers who vowed to shrink the size and cost of Oklahomas government are also taking aim at the states pension system. Firefighters packed the hallways of the state Capitol last week urging lawmakers to resist the temptation to tinker with their systems, which pay monthly benefits to retirees. A group of public employees are expected to descend on the Capitol on Monday. We just think everyone needs to take a breath, said Sterling Zearley, who heads the 10,000-member strong state workers union, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. These changes are going to affect a huge number of individuals, and I think we need to slow down and look at all the pension systems and study this.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Norman Housing Authority stops taking applications for assistance

The Norman Housing Authority has stopped taking applications for housing assistance because its waiting list is so long. “We don’t want to give anyone false hope,” Executive Director Karen Canavan said. About 660 individuals and families are on the list now and most of them are looking at a six-month wait at minimum, Canavan said. The agency receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist 1,186 clients a month. Most of those are on one-year leases, renewable if necessary, Canavan said.

Clients pay a portion of the rent based on income and their ability to pay, Canavan said. … Norman is not the only housing assistance agency with a long, or frozen, waiting list. The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency closed its waiting list Dec. 1. The Housing Authority of Tulsa froze its list in November. The Oklahoma City Housing Authority has more than 11,000 people on its waiting list, although the list is not frozen. However, the wait is usually more than a year, sometimes longer.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Quote of the Day

The Constitution doesn’t stop at the Second Amendment.

David Tackett, founder of the conservative group Oklahomans for Liberty, who is among several conservatives arguing that the lawsuit reform being pushed by Oklahoma Republican leaders infringes our right to a jury trial.

Number of the Day

7.1 percent
Percentage of people in Oklahoma who described themselves as Hispanic or Latino in 2010.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Recovery Act: The transparency gift that keeps on giving

Largely lost in the partisan bickering over the stimulus has been the law’s enormous positive impact on improving government transparency. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is not just the most transparent federal spending bill in U.S. history—the changes it pioneered will endure even after the stimulus winds down. By now, many curious Americans have explored spending and job-creation on ARRA projects in their communities at About 35 percent of ARRA funding is revealed there: every grant, loan and contract. And the reporting extends beyond the primary recipient one level down to sub-recipients. But few people noticed that the Office of Management and Budget applied that extended reporting to the main federal disclosure website thanks to a bill championed by then-Senator Obama).

Read more from Good Jobs First at


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.

One thought on “In The Know: Feb 21, 2011

  1. I have personally seen some of our Vets get the short end of the stick here in the State Court System. It goes something like this.

    G.I Jane has been in the military 17 years, and she has been married for 8 years, she gets deployed for six months and while on deployment gets seriously hurt when an IED went off and maimed her. She returns home from being overseas and finds out that her non-military spouse has taken all the household effects, stopped paying all the bills and moved in with his girlfriend who is now with child. The bank accounts are emptied and the credit cards are max’ed out, the checking account has been emptied and bad checks have been written all over the base and letters of indebtness have been written to her commanding officer, which by military regulations she is responsible to pay. SHE IS NOW BEING THREATENED WITH MILITARY COURT ACTION. (She has to too stop the military legal actions taken against her.) She calls relatives and friends, they loan her enough money to pay back on the checks that bounced all over base on what her ex-husband has spent on his new girlfriend.
    After talking with her non-military spouse she decides that there can be no getting back together. She obtains a lawyer and files for divorce only to find out he is going to fight her tooth and nail and he claims that his lawyer knows every loophole in the USFSPA. She is made to pay off all bills, and including credit card bills that have both their names on them. This is so she can keep her government secret security clearances.
    After all the court actions the final divorce is completed after +10 years of marriage and she is told by her lawyer that the judge has ordered that she will have to start paying immediately 50% of her base pay at 20 years in the military and when she transfers to the reserves she has to pay 50% of her retainer pay for the rest of her life. Plus she will Also she will have to give 50% of her disability payments to him due to the injuries she received while on active duty. (Remember the IED that exploded and maimed her), She is beyond words when her ex-non-military husband and his new wife are laughing and joking about the extra spending money they will have for the rest of her life (military vets.)
    This is a very short and too the point of what happens to our Vets here in the Court System, does this sound right to you?

    Your VETS have been fighting to have FAIR laws for our Military Vets. BUT family law lawyers who are licensed to practice in the State, who are Senators and Represenitive have been blocking this for years because the military is a cash cow for them. They know that the divorce rate would go WAY DOWN if bills like where passed. (THIS HAS BEEN HEARD OUT OF THERE OWN MOUTHS.)

    The U.S. Constitution clearly states, that all laws must be dealt with in a uniform manner and that rulings based on our laws, must be uniform and consistent. It is very clear, the State Courts of our great nation are not treating this law in a uniform or consistent manner. There are outrageous tragedies created by various State Court rulings affecting our fellow brother and sister veterans. Rank, gender, race, time of rank while in service, ability or disability are to have no regard in divorce court rulings. There is today total disparity across the board; this law is unfair.

    The issue described above is clear – the USFSPA is not only unjust, it is unfair and unconstitutional and needs to be repealed.

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