In The Know: Federal employees filing unemployment; drug court participation down; Ethics Commission sues over unpaid late fees…
In The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.
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A chance to boost working families: Too many Oklahoma families are working hard but are still not getting ahead. We are among the top 10 states for workers in low-wage jobs – 28.7 percent – according to 2018 data from the policy think-tank Prosperity Now. More than one in five Oklahoma children live in poverty. The working poor struggle with a whole range of obstacles to financial stability, including unreliable access to food, health care, child care and transportation. Oklahoma’s elected officials have an opportunity this session to boost low-paid workers, and to reverse a regrettable policy choice of recent years, by restoring the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. [David Blatt / Journal Record]
In The News
State agency ‘swamped’ with federal employees seeking to file unemployment claims as government shutdown continues: As the partial government shutdown drags on, some federal employees in Oklahoma have started to feel the weight of upcoming missed paychecks, and more have started to file unemployment claims. [The Frontier] U.S. House votes to end furloughs at Monroney Center, but Senate action unlikely as government shutdown drags on. [NewsOK]
Prosecutors and court officials disagree on reason for downturn in drug court participation: People enrolled in the Oklahoma County Drug Court have to report to a lab for drug tests. Judge Kenneth Stoner tells more than a dozen men and women sitting on the hard wooden benches of his courtroom that if the lab is open, they have to go. Even if there’s a snow storm, he said. “Get snowshoes — find a dog sled team.” [StateImpact Oklahoma] OK Policy previously examined how misdemeanor drug courts can be one part of a needed increase in investment in substance abuse treatment.
Watchdog agency sues 14 former candidates for public office in Oklahoma: In a crackdown on political candidates who file campaign reports late or not at all, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for the first time has filed lawsuits over unpaid late fees. The watchdog agency on Thursday sued former state Sen. Anastasia Pittman and 13 other former candidates for public office. It also sued two lobbyists and two political action committees. [NewsOK 🔒]
Stitt begins inauguration journey in rural southwest Oklahoma: Wearing a blazer and blue jeans, Kevin Stitt worked the crowd inside a Lawton field house, shaking hands with supporters who had gathered to see Oklahoma’s next governor during his swing through southwest Oklahoma. [NewsOK]
Stitt ousts longtime Fallin aide Denise Northrup from key office: Denise Northrup, a longtime aide to outgoing Gov. Mary Fallin, has been ousted from her job as director of a key state agency as Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt’s incoming administration moves toward control of the executive branch. Northrup, who served as Fallin’s campaign manager and chief of staff, said in a letter to employees at the Office of Management and Enterprise Services that Friday would be her last day. [NewsOK]
Senator wants to create standalone IT agency: State Sen. Roger Thompson said he expects to hear quickly about a bill he filed Thursday that would split a major state agency in two. Senate Bill 227 would make the Information Services Division its own state agency instead of a department within the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. [NewsOK]
Bill would allow felons to have some occupational licenses: A state senator from northeast Oklahoma wants to change the eligibility for several occupational licenses, including those for architects. State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, filed Senate Bill 101, which would amend existing Oklahoma statutes to allow felons to have an occupational license reinstated 10 years after the conviction, unless that conviction continues to pose a threat to public safety. [Journal Record 🔒]
Legislation calls for added reporting for possible physician-assisted suicides: An Oklahoma lawmaker is reviving an attempt at legislation that would regulate death certificate listings when residents pursue physician-assisted suicides. Last year, about a dozen Republican members co-authored a bill that would require additional reporting on death certificates when the patient underwent a physician-assisted suicide. [Journal Record]
Oklahoma state senator files bill to increase spending for textbooks, instructional materials: An Oklahoma state senator is hoping her proposed bill would put more money in Oklahoma classrooms. Sen. Mary Boren filed Senate Bill 206, which would increase the per pupil amount for textbooks and other instructional materials, like e-books, software and other related materials. [KFOR]
Scrap flap: Bill aimed to detract copper theft: A Norman lawmaker is pitching legislation that would add new permitting requirements to copper sellers, but metal dealers say the proposal would do little to stem theft and illegal sales. Thieves that break into light fixtures or air conditioners to steal copper wiring continue to cause a major headache for taxpayers, cities, counties and the state, said state Rep. Merleyn Bell, D-Norman. [CHNI]
Department of Ag’s proposed poultry setback rules still alive, despite board punting issue to lawmakers: A set of proposed rules that would prohibit new or expanding large chicken farms from locating within certain distances of homes, schools and water wells is still alive, a month after the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry told the public that it would drop the rules and let the Legislature craft new setback regulations. [The Frontier]
State’s financial reserves among strongest in nation: Oklahoma’s financial reserve as a percentage of the state government’s total expenses has risen to sixth strongest in the nation, according to the latest economic outlook by the S&P Global ratings company. The difference between Oklahoma’s reserve-to-expenses comparison in fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019 is also notable, with only two other states showing greater percentage gains. [Journal Record 🔒]
Wayne Greene: If you’re poor in Tulsa, don’t get sick: The recently released Gallup-Tulsa Citivoice Index includes compelling data that should lead the state to reconsider Medicaid expansion. The survey is a fascinating look at how well Tulsans are doing in their day-to-day lives. It gauges everything from how we feel the Police Department treats us to whether we would recommend that a friend live here. [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World]
Start with teacher raises: We are encouraged that Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall vowed to prioritize public-school funding. “We have made great progress over the past year increasing teacher pay and funding for our schools, but our work is not done,” said McCall, R-Atoka on Tuesday. [Editorial Board / Muskogee Daily Phoenix]
Hamilton: An investment in a brighter future: There were so many holes in recent state budgets that even the mythical Little Dutch Boy wouldn’t have had enough fingers to plug them. Public schools, mental health care, roads and bridges, corrections and more – all key services starved by a perfect storm of recession and dunderheaded tax policy. [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record]
1-On-1 With Oklahoma’s First Democratic Congresswoman Kendra Horn: One week into her new job, Oklahoma Congresswoman Kendra Horn, D-5th District, may be glad that her orientation, as she recently described it, was like being “in the middle of a whirlwind, drinking from a firehose.” With pressure mounting for an end to the partial government shutdown, Rep. Horn, and the 110 other freshman members of the 116th Congress, have had to hit the ground running. [News9]
Tulsa City Council could decide next week whether to start investigation tied to Tulsa Equality Indicators: City councilors are expected to decide next week whether to move ahead with an investigation concerning racial disparities in arrests and police use of force revealed in a 2018 report. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Quote of the Day
“State policy has knowingly created an underclass of people — mostly employed in low-wage jobs — who can’t afford to get sick. They don’t earn enough for ‘Obamacare’ subsidies and they don’t qualify for Medicaid, which Oklahoma essentially reserves for children, pregnant women, the aged and the disabled. Thus, more than a third of your neighbors had to make the wrong medical choice last year because they just couldn’t afford to do anything else.”
-Tulsa World Editorial Editor Wayne Green, writing about how Oklahoma’s policy of denying coverage to the poor magnifies eventual health crises and costs [Source: Tulsa World]
Number of the Day
Percent of eligible Oklahoma four-year olds enrolled in the state’s universal pre-kindergarten program.
[Source: State Department of Education]
Despite Obamacare uncertainty after ruling, Medicaid Expansion likely to proceed: The three red states — Idaho, Nebraska and Utah — that bucked their own Republican legislatures last month and approved Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act are likely to proceed, despite Friday’s ruling by a federal judge in Texas that the entire federal health care law is unconstitutional. [Governing]
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