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, 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 http://normantranscript.com/local/x1644854739/State-lawmakers-scrutinize-tax-credits.
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 http://newsok.com/limited-resources-prevent-women-in-oklahoma-prisons-from-treatment-education-programs/article/3542647.
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 http://www.oklahomawatch.org/story.php?sid=28.
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 http://newsok.com/oklahoma-unemployment-checks-totaled-1-billion-last-year/article/3542379.
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 http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=61&articleid=20110221_61_A11_Senate937859.
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 http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110221_16_A4_OKLAHO400334.
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 http://normantranscript.com/local/x1644854532/Pension-changes-worry-state-workers.
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 http://newsok.com/norman-housing-authority-stops-taking-applications-for-assistance/article/3542605.
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
Percentage of people in Oklahoma who described themselves as Hispanic or Latino in 2010.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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 recovery.gov. 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 USAspending.gov(created thanks to a bill championed by then-Senator Obama).
Read more from Good Jobs First at http://clawback.org/2011/02/18/the-recovery-act-the-transparency-gift-that-keeps-on-giving/.