In The Know: Feb 7, 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

Oklahoma Watch examines why Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate in the U.S., finding a combination of unusually harsh sentencing laws and sexual and physical abuse that leads women to drugs and crime. The legislature will look at providing $9 million in supplemental funding to prevent furloughs in the Department of Corrections, where there is currently only one correctional officer per 57 inmates. The Tulsa World reports on underweight babies in Oklahoma, which have increased 10 percent since the 1990s and are at higher risk of birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Governor Fallin announced that her budget will include cuts of 3 percent to public safety, education and health and human services, and an average of 5 percent to all other state agencies to cover the state’s $600 million budget shortfall. OK Policy looks at cuts to the Health Department and dilemma between suffocating and amputating state services. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs and a State Senator are calling for further tax cuts.

The legislative session begins today with a State of the State address from Governor Fallin.  Check out OK Policy’s 2011 Legislative Overview for a primer on what will happen. These stories and others below the jump.

In The News

Social factors, sentencing laws spur high female incarceration rates

Poverty, unwed and teen mothers, sexual and physical abuse, drug use and several other social factors combine to help produce the highest per capita incarceration rate of women in the United States, researchers said. Oklahoma currently imprisons 135 women for every 100,000 Oklahomans, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The national average is 67 incarcerated women per 100,000 people. …
“We’re one of the poorest states, we have one the highest teen pregnancy rates, we have a high child abuse rate and all of that together—probably the abuse more than anything—leads to drug use,” said Dr. Susan Sharp, a sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma and editor of the book “The Incarcerated Woman.” “The rest of the story, however, is that we lock up people for crimes that other states would not put them in prison for,” Sharp said. “So, it’s also our laws and our application of our laws.”

Read more from this Oklahoma Watch article at

See also: Oklahoma problem areas and female inmates on NewsOK

Oklahoma lawmakers must do balancing act to address corrections

One of the first things the 2011 Oklahoma Legislature will have to deal with after convening this week is whether to approve $9 million in supplemental funding for the Department of Corrections. This is hardly unusual. In fact for the past many years, it has been routine for the DOC to come before lawmakers and ask for enough money to get through the fiscal year, which ends June 30. Agency Director Justin Jones originally had a $35 million request in hand, but says $9 million would at least keep employee furloughs from happening. Prospects for the $35 million supplemental are remote, given that Oklahoma faces potentially a $600 million budget deficit. Even getting the $9 million might be a long shot; Republican House Speaker Kris Steele says it will be a priority, and Minority Leader Scott Inman says it “has to be done.” But Senate leader Brian Bingman says he isn’t sure the money is available, and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has been noncommittal about the request.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Thousands of Oklahoma babies born underweight each year

When several days of bed rest failed to prevent it, Ashley Mallory went into labor after a mere 24 weeks of pregnancy. The labor took only 40 minutes, a breathtaking pace that was helped along by the infant’s tiny size. Born June 4, Paislee Mallory weighed only 1 pound, 10 ounces, small enough to fit head-to-toe on a sheet of notebook paper, as if it was a blanket. After one open-heart surgery and three months in intensive care at Hillcrest Medical Center, Paislee went home Sept. 18, still weeks shy of her original due date. “Now,” her mother said, “she’s pretty much a normal 7-month-old – sitting up, rolling over, cooing and doing everything she’s supposed to do.” Statistically, however, as a low-birth-weight baby, Paislee will face some tough odds in her life – odds that she will share with an increasing number of other Oklahoma children.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma governor to call for at least 3 percent cuts to state agencies

Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday she will use cuts of at least 3 percent to all agencies and a “forward-looking plan” of developing cost efficiencies in state government to deal with an anticipated budget hole of $600 million for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor said she wants to shield her priorities — public safety, education and health and human services — by dealing those areas cuts of 3 percent. All other agencies would take about an average 5 percent cut, Fallin told a meeting of the Oklahoma Press Association.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Pick your poison: suffocating or amputating state services?

As we discussed in this recent blog post, the State Department of Health has been among the state agencies hit hardest by successive rounds of budget cuts the past two years. State appropriations have been reduced by $11.3 million, or 15 percent, since 2009. The agency has some 250 fewer staff today than at the beginning of FY ’10 as a result of attrition and two rounds of voluntary buy-outs. It has cut dental health programs, tobacco prevention programs, services for children with developmental delays, jail inspections, and other services. According to a summary of actions prepared by the Department, which is led by Commissioner Terry Cline, the cumulative effect of the cuts has been to put the state’s core public health infrastructure in critical danger.

Read more from the OK Policy blog at

OCPA unveils budget proposal to lower spending, cut income tax rate

The Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs has unveiled a budget proposal that would take state government spending slightly below $6 billion, allowing acceleration of income tax rate reductions from 5.25 percent for this year to 4.25 percent next January. While state agencies have requested significant increases in spending, the OCPA budget would fashion a 10.28% cut, from $6,691,837,225 in Fiscal Year 2011 to $5,991,239,999 in FY 2012.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

See also: Sen. David Holt: Now is the time to schedule more tax cuts on NewsOK.

Andrew Rice: Moving Oklahoma forward from the middle

In the lead-up to November’s election, which saw historic gains for the GOP in Oklahoma, I was intrigued by one question I saw on a political poll in the gubernatorial race. It asked: “If Oklahoma elects a Republican as the next governor, would you prefer she be a governor like Brad Henry and Henry Bellmon, politically moderate and willing to compromise, or someone who is very conservative and unwilling to compromise?” The respondents answered: politically moderate, 60 percent; conservative-not compromise, 32 percent, and not sure, 9 percent.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

See also: Brittany Novotny: Is Oklahoma City really so conservative? on

Consultants suggest Bricktown top spot for $10M transit hub

A convergence of improvements to public transportation — some real, some only hoped for — have planners circling downtown Oklahoma City trying to pinpoint the best site for an intermodal transit station. The MAPS 3 ballot approved by voters in 2009 includes an estimated $10 million for a transit hub to serve a new $120 million streetcar system. Consultants working with the city and the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments say the metro area has one shot at picking a spot that could spur economic development throughout the region.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Former state Superintendent Sandy Garrett denies ordering e-mail deleted

Former state Superintendent Sandy Garrett said Saturday she didn’t tell an Oklahoma Department of Education employee to delete her e-mail account and said she’s positive the deleted e-mails can be retrieved. “I think history is well-preserved through my years, and I’m proud of that,” Garrett told The Associated Press. Garrett’s comments came after two state records custodians told the AP on Friday the longtime schools superintendent ordered the deletion of her account, a violation of state policy. Deleting the account also wiped out all correspondence attached to it.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Legislators look to strip power from Oklahoma Education Board

Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they will unveil a bill Monday to strip power from the state Board of Education. House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman said Friday the bill would transfer authority to run the Department of Education from the board to the state schools superintendent. The bill follows a contentious meeting last week between the board and new Republican state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, in which the board refused to approve several of Barresi’s staff recommendations.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Director urges caution in state school board ‘fixes’ on NewsOK; Time to give governor the power to lead in The Edmond Sun

Quote of the Day

They say there are no atheists in fox holes, which may be true, but from where I’m standing it looks like there are precious few libertarians in snow storms.

Wayne Greene, Tulsa World editorial writer

Number of the Day

Bills introduced in both houses of the 2011 Oklahoma State Legislature.
Source: OK Policy Institute, 2011 Oklahoma Legislative Overview

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Many Governors Making Unwise Choices in Budget Proposals

It’s not easy being a governor these days.  Revenues remain seriously depressed, human needs are rising, reserve funds are largely exhausted, and Congress plans to let its temporary federal aid expire. The basic problem remains the economy:  With state tax revenues still in a deep slump due to high unemployment and weak consumer spending, states face an estimated $125 billion budget gap for the upcoming year that they have to close. Even so, governors could be making much smarter choices.  We’ve released an analysis today that shows that many governors are proposing budgets for next year that are unnecessarily damaging.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 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 7, 2011

  1. I’m worried about two new education bills (SB 393 and SB 394), sponsored by Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequa) that target home educators. As a strong proponent of fair and effective state government, I wonder why lawmakers would choose to apply a heavy-handed “fix” to something that doesn’t need fixing. Oklahoma is teetering on the edge of a fiscal chasm. Legislation that will be shot down in the courts costs all of us money that we can’t afford to squander.

    Certainly legislators are aware that families who choose to homeschool their children have a better track record than any public school in this state when it comes to producing well-educated and well-prepared young citizens who are ready to tackle life’s challenges. Surely they are also aware that the best and most effective forms of learning are typically not workbook-and-pencil endeavors that occur only between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm.

    Sometimes my kids are on the streets during school hours — for instance, when my then-14-year-old son caught the bus twice a week to spend time with researchers at the OU Health Sciences Center. A police officer who saw him standing on the corner at midday might have thought him a truant and hauled him off to the juvenile center had your bill been law at that time. Someone may have likewise spotted my 8-year-old daughter on our front porch last week with a book in hand, trying to win a bet with her big brother that she couldn’t read 1000 pages in a week. She may have looked a little sleepy — she was up stargazing much of the night before (she is proud to identify a lot of constellations now.)

    As a home educator I have committed to spending a lot of time and resources to educate my children without assistance from the public school system. I have ample reasons to do so: In my neighborhood virtually the entire student body of the local elementary school scored below the 50th percentile in reading and math. There are three homeschooling families on my one little block (10 homes total) in Oklahoma City. The reason? Sending our kids to the local school is more like a prison sentence than a method of providing them with an effective education.

    Indeed, upwards of 90% of the children who attend our local school have one or more parents who is or has been entangled in the criminal justice system. That’s the all too frequent fate of young people in my community. I am fortunate to be able to provide an alternative for my children. I pity those who lack my family’s resources and must rely upon the public education system.

    Now you want me to effectively ask the permission of my local school board to educate my children at home, rather than to subject them to a school system that has been proven ineffective at best and which is frequently harmful to students? And you want to additionally make my children subject to arrest (and me subject to official censure) if my kids are caught outside during “school hours?”

    Thanks but no thanks, Senator Wilson. We’re doing just fine as we are. In fact, if you want to improve public education in Oklahoma, you might want to sit down with some home educator families and find out how they manage to produce such well-educated children on a shoestring budget. At the very least, don’t waste our scarce dollars chasing homeschool bogeymen when our schools are in such dire condition and desperately need the money you would spend on these ill-advised and useless laws.


    Camille Landry
    Oklahoma City

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