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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that Republican Senator Harry Coates has filed legislation to create a state guest worker program for immigrants. The OK Policy Blog warns about purported tax cut ideas that would shift more costs onto low and moderate-income Oklahomans. OK Policy analyst Kate Richey appeared on Dr. Bruce Prescott’s “Religious Talk” radio show to speak about the need for Affordable Credit in Oklahoma and problems with payday lending.
The new House Ethics Committee held its first meeting Monday to discuss developing a code of conduct and procedures for enforcement. An Oklahoma County judge ruled that Representative Randy Terrill and and former state senator Debbe Leftwich will not face conspiracy charges on top of their felony bribery charges. The Attorney General’s office warned public employees that e-communications such as texting, email and Facebook have the most potential to lead to violations of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
The US Postal Service is asking for permission to eliminate overnight First Class delivery and close 250 sorting and processing centers – including Tulsa’s – which could mean the loss of nearly 600 jobs at the Tulsa sorting facility. The number of dropouts in Tulsa Public Schools increased by more than 75 percent last year, though administrators attribute the spike to increased efforts to reenroll students who have dropped out previously in alternative education programs.
NewsOK writes that discipline problems among Oklahoma corrections workers are related to low pay, long hours, and poor working conditions created by budget cuts. The Number of the Day is how many Oklahoma children are living in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives. In today’s Policy Note, The Center for Children and Families projects that under full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 3.2 million children will gain health care coverage, cutting the number of uninsured children in the US by 40 percent.
In The News
GOP lawmaker files bill to allow undocumented guest workers
A Republican lawmaker on Monday filed proposed legislation to create a state guest worker program for illegal immigrants. Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, said Senate Bill 995 is designed to re-attract workers who may have left the state following the passage of House Bill 1804, the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007. “Since the passage of House Bill 1804, we’ve seen a mass exodus of undocumented immigrants who have taken up residence in Texas and other surrounding states where they pump millions of dollars into those economies,” Coates said. “House Bill 1804 did little more than put Oklahoma companies at a disadvantage by sending dedicated, knowledgeable workers to competing companies in other states. Losing that workforce has been devastating for many of Oklahoma’s industries, including agriculture, energy and construction.”
Beware the tax shift
An idea floating around in the tax reform debate has been to swap tax credits for a reduction in the top income tax rate. That’s one of the motivations behind the tax credit task force, which has looked at reigning in a number of business and economic development tax credits. Oklahoma also provides another kind of credit, directed not to favored industries, but to all taxpayers below a certain income level. Some lawmakers seem tempted to eliminate these as well. They should think again.
Podcast: Kate Richey interview on affordable credit and payday lending
Dr. Bruce Prescott’s 12-4-2011 “Religious Talk” radio interview with Kate Richey, policy analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. We talk about the work of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, about Kate’s report on the need for Affordable Credit in Oklahoma, and about payday lending in Oklahoma.
New House ethics panel holds first meeting
A newly formed House panel was told Monday that its job would be to preserve institutional integrity. The House Ethics Committee held its first meeting to discuss developing a code of conduct and procedures for enforcement. The committee was created by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, based on a recommendation by a special investigatory panel that looked into alleged improper behavior by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore. Ashley Kemp, House general counsel, told the panel that it has a wide variety of options at its disposal, including setting standards for public reprimands, loss of certain privileges, and censure and expulsion. Expulsion takes a two-thirds vote of the House, she said.
Terrill and Leftwich won’t face conspiracy charge
An Oklahoma County judge Monday denied a prosecutor’s request to authorize conspiracy charges against a state representative and a former state senator who already face felony bribery charges. District Judge Ray Elliott handed down the ruling in the case against Republican Rep. Randy Terrill of Moore and former Democratic Sen. Debbe Leftwich of Oklahoma City. Prosecutors claim Terrill and Leftwich were part of a scheme to set Leftwich up in an $80,000-a-year state job so a Republican colleague of Terrill’s could run for her open seat. Both deny the allegations but face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Assistant District Attorney Gayland Geiger said he will probably appeal Elliott’s decision to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
State workers warned e-communications could be open meeting violations
The first assistant attorney general warned public employees that they should not deal with anything that could be perceived as business over electronic communication. First Assistant Attorney General Rob Hudson said that situations involving electronic communication between public employees have the most potential to lead to violations of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, referring to texting, email and Facebook as “the petri dish of bacterial breeding of violations.” Hudson spoke Monday afternoon at the fifth seminar in a series on the state’s open meeting and records acts presented by the Attorney General’s Office, the Oklahoma Press Association and the Oklahoma Newspaper Foundation. About 100 attendees that included municipal, county and Oklahoma State Department of Education employees attended the three-hour training session held at Tulsa Technology Center’s Riverside Campus.
USPS seeks permission to eliminate first class delivery, close Tulsa sorting site
Of all the checks that have been “in the mail” to Jan Bennett over the years, the Tulsa property manager remembers only one that actually was. She’s afraid that might change if new delivery standards proposed by the U.S. Postal Service go into effect. On Monday, USPS formally announced it will ask the Postal Regulatory Commission for permission to essentially downgrade First Class delivery standards. By eliminating overnight First Class delivery, the USPS says it can eliminate about 250 sorting and processing centers – including Tulsa’s – and save about $3 billion a year. For Tulsans, the change means having their mail trucked to Oklahoma City for sorting and an additional one to two days for local delivery. It would also mean the loss of nearly 600 jobs at the Tulsa sorting facility and endanger a dozen or so direct mail-related businesses. The Postal Service – which, despite being a federal agency, functions as a private corporation – says it must take drastic action to avoid bankruptcy. With First Class mail volume plummeting over the past five years, it is in danger of running out of cash next year.
Tulsa Public School dropout rates spike
The number of dropouts in Tulsa Public Schools increased by more than 75 percent last year, a spike administrators attribute almost solely to a new virtual education program. Most traditional high schools posted increases of 20-30 dropouts during the 2010-11 academic year. The lone exceptions were East Central, which saw its total dropout count decrease by 18 to 39 total and Booker T. Washington, which had zero dropouts, compared to just two the previous year. Of the 355 additional dropouts TPS recorded last year over 2010, 163, or about 46 percent, were counted at the district’s two main alternative education programs for students in grades 6-12. Since those programs primarily serve students who are at-risk of dropping out and those who have dropped out previously, their dropout numbers tend to be higher and more volatile from year to year, Kenny Rodrequez, the director of alternative education programs, explained.
NewsOK: Low pay, long hours, tough work setting a recipe for discipline problems among Oklahoma corrections workers
WHAT happens when you combine low pay with long hours in a tough job? You wind up with the sort of disciplinary actions the Department of Corrections has had to take against prison guards in recent years. A Tulsa World review found that during a 2½-year stretch ending in mid-2011, the DOC had taken more than 130 disciplinary actions against workers at its men’s prisons. The large majority of those resulted in brief suspensions without pay; about 40 led to firings. Consider that the starting monthly salary for a correctional officer is $2,050. That’s $24,600 per year to work in the far reaches of Oklahoma and watch over dangerous people — and a lot of them. Budget cuts have left inmate-to-guard ratios at precarious levels the past several years. Those cuts also resulted in furloughs.
Quote of the Day
It’s hard to recruit somebody when you tell them, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to get two days off each month unpaid.”
–Oklahoma Department of Corrections Spokesman Jerry Massie
Number of the Day
Number of Oklahoma children living in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives in 2010, 10.8 percent of the children in the state.
Source: U.S. Census via AARP
Health reform could cut the uninsured rate for children by 40 percent
With generous support from the Atlantic Philanthropies’ KidsWell project, we recently were able to pair up with Genevieve Kenney and Matthew Buettgens at the Urban Institute to take a first look at what health reform means for children. The results were released today in a Health Affairs article, and we encourage you to take a look, especially if you are in need of some good news. We found that under full implementation of the ACA, an estimated 3.2 million children can be expected to gain health care coverage, cutting the number of uninsured children in the US by 40%. As a result, 95% of all children will have coverage. Not quite as impressive as our friends in Massachusetts, but some very heartening news for those of us who are focused on making sure that our nation’s children have health care coverage. As importantly, the gains predicted for parents are even greater, as we could see a decline of almost 50% in the number of uninsured parents. After the ACA is implemented, an estimated 90% of parents will be covered.
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