In The Know is a daily synopsis of the latest 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 items to include to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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In The News
Oklahoma Health Care Authority needs $15 million to make up for tossed fee
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority will be asking legislators to appropriate an additional $15 million this fiscal year so it can receive about three times that amount in federal Medicaid funds, the agency’s director told a House budget panel Monday. The additional state appropriation is needed to offset the loss of money expected to have been generated from a proposed 1 percent fee on health insurance claims, Mike Fogarty, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, told members of the House of Representatives budget subcommittee on public health and social services. The fee, proposed last year, was considered a tax and ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court after legislators adjourned for the year. It would have raised nearly $80 million this fiscal year.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-health-care-authority-needs-15-million-to-make-up-for-tossed-fee/article/3537118.
Republican lawmakers shifting tough-on-crime stance as state budget problems multiply
When Harry Coates campaigned for the Oklahoma state Senate in 2002, he had one approach to crime: “Lock ’em up and throw away the key.” Now, Coates is looking for that key. He and other tough-on-crime lawmakers across the country, faced with steep budget shortfalls, are searching anxiously for ways to let inmates out of prison faster and keep more offenders on the street. Oklahoma’s preferred answer for crime has collided head-on with a budget deficit estimated at $600 million, and prison costs that have increased more than 30 percent in the last decade.
Read more from this Associated Press article at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-us-broken-budgets-prison-problems,0,2779184.story.
Oklahoma’s Lack Of Resources Means Few Autopsies
Lack of resources has forced Oklahoma to engage in a risky brand of triage. The state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has been without its top doctor for nearly a year. Three of its nine slots for forensic pathologists are empty. Its remaining six doctors handle overwhelming caseloads. Most did between 300 and 400 autopsies last year, said Timothy Dwyer, the state’s chief investigator. One did more than 500—double the maximum number recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners. Because of the grueling pace, the state has had to impose limits on the types of cases it investigates: Oklahoma typically does not autopsy possible suicides or alleged murder-suicides. In most instances, it does not autopsy people age 40 or older who die of unexplained causes.
Read more from this NPR article at http://www.npr.org/2011/02/01/133348440/oklahomas-lack-of-resources-means-few-autopsies.
Legislation Would Change Agency Rule Process
Certain Oklahoma agency rules would not take effect without the express approval of the Legislature under a measure filed by state Rep. George Faught. House Bill 1044 would strike language under current law that gives the Legislature the opportunity only to disapprove rules, and replace it with language that would make major rules void without legislative approval. … “There are numerous examples of agencies raising fees to address budget cuts,” Faught said. “This backdoor form of taxing citizens is highly inappropriate and should at minimum be subject to legislative approval.”
Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at http://capitolbeatok.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3813138.
State tea party activists focus on Oklahoma City Council elections
Two incumbent Oklahoma City Council members will face election challenges from candidates receiving tea party backing — support opponents worry will inject partisanship into a nonpartisan race. “I can’t think of a better way to shake up the politicians than to wrest control of the biggest city in the state from the progressive’s and liberals’ hands,” wrote Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart in the January newsletter posted on the group’s website.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/state-tea-party-focusing-on-okc-council-election/article/3537124.
Oklahoma Gov. Fallin taps Terry Cline as secretary for health, human services
Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday named Terry Cline as her Cabinet secretary of Health and Human Services. Cline will stay on as commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. He will serve as the governor’s liaison to health and human services agencies in Oklahoma, succeeding Howard Hendrick, who is the secretary of Human Services, and Terri White, who is the secretary of Health. Hendrick still will lead the Department of Human Services and White the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110201_16_A12_CUTLIN526767.
Illinois food company to pay penalty for pollution of NE Oklahoma river
An Illinois food processing firm has agreed to pay a $390,000 civil penalty to settle allegations linked to pollution of the Spring River in northeastern Oklahoma and Kansas, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday. Orval Kent Food Co. of Wheeling, Ill., also must spend at least $32,500 to restock fish in the Spring River watershed. The Justice Department said the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma was consulted on that project.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110201_16_A14_WASHIN584868.
Norman City Manager to testify before U.S. Senate on chromium-6 in drinking water
City Manager Steve Lewis will address chromium-6 in Norman’s drinking water before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday morning in Washington D.C. Lewis will be on a panel that includes representatives from water supplies in Virginia and Wisconsin and a public health professor from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. In December 2010, the Environmental Working Group released a study that showed Norman had the highest levels of chromium-6 in its drinking water compared with 34 other cities.
Read more from this Norman Transcript article at http://normantranscript.com/local/x753358788/City-manager-headed-to-Washington-D-C.
Programs offer tax help to low, middle-income families
There are several assistance programs for local residents to use during this year’s tax season. The Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency and Retired Senior Volunteer Program are now administering the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, a free service for individuals or families who earn less than $49,000 gross income per year. The service is available Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., until April 16. The program will be held at the Community Services Building, 1125 E. Main St. To use the services of VITA, organizers request that an appointment be made by calling 701-2126 or 701-2133.
Read more from this Norman Transcript article at http://normantranscript.com/local/x753358838/Programs-offer-tax-help-to-low-middle-income-families.
Oklahoma liquor law changes proposed
Legislators have proposed sweeping reforms to Oklahoma alcohol laws they say will modernize the laws and bring a larger variety of alcohol products to more locations statewide. “There’s enough people that want the change that we’re going to have a change,” said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. … Among the ideas are allowing wine and strong beer sales in grocery and convenience stores, products other than alcohol to be sold in liquor stores and direct shipments of wine to consumers.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-liquor-law-changes-proposed/article/3536947.
Quote of the Day
“It’s difficult for people to spend money on medical examiner system. They see it often as wasting money on the dead, without realizing that everything that is done in a medical examiner office, or a coroner office, is truly done for the living. We try to protect society. We look for deaths that are premature, or that should not have happened, so that we can go forth and correct those errors in society.”
–Dr. Victor Weedn, Maryland assistant medical examiner
Number of the Day
Tons of sand or sand-salt mixtures the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has in stock in preparation for today’s storm.
Source: ODOT (via NewsOn6.com)
“States Most Likely to Go Bankrupt”? None of Them
The Daily Beast’s new list of states “most likely to go bankrupt,” the latest example of the widespread misunderstanding of state budget problems, reflects three big problems that we addressed in a recent report. As we explained: States’ budget shortfalls for next year shouldn’t be lumped together with their longer-term budget issues. States are required to balance their budgets each year. Over the past three years they’ve done so despite a plunge in revenues due to the recession, and next year (fiscal year 2012) could be states’ toughest yet. But these are cyclical deficits that will diminish as the economy improves. They are distinct from the longer-term issues — states’ bond indebtedness, pension obligations, and health insurance costs for retirees — that some observers see as evidence of imminent fiscal disaster.
Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at http://www.offthechartsblog.org/%E2%80%9Cstates-most-likely-to-go-bankrupt%E2%80%9D-none-of-them/.