In The Know: Governor could oust Education Board members

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 You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to oust four members to the state Education Board today after a new law takes effect allowing her to replace board members “at will.” Two fights erupting within a week at the Tecumseh juvenile correctional center have prompted a special meeting to discuss allowing use of armed security personnel, Tasers, pepper spray and increased mechanical restraints on juveniles. More than $150 million has been spent so far and millions more are needed to clean up the Tar Creek Superfund site, which has been blamed for dumping lead and other dangerous pollutants in the Grand Lake watershed.

With state leaders pushing to eliminate the state’s income tax, the OK Policy Blog presents three alternative reforms that modernize the tax system and do a better job of making Oklahoma prosperous and competitive with other states. Following a study to examine state obligations, Rep. Joe Dorman expressed concern that legislators do not understand the full extent of state debts and obligations [Journal Record subscriber only link] to make sure they are paid. A federal judge found the Cherokee Nation in contempt of court for missing a deadline to notify freedmen descendants that they could vote in a special election for the Principal Chief.

House Speaker Kris Steele has named Rep. Charles Ortega as co-chairman of the Joint Immigration Reform Committee. Ortega replaces Rep. George Faught who stepped down to run for U.S. Rep. Dan Boren’s Congressional seat. Despite Texas’s decision to end the practice, Oklahoma will continue offering last meals to death row inmates. OETA’s Oklahoma Forum featured a half-hour discussion of tax incentives with Rep. David Dank and two journalists who have covered the issue.

Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of ACT-tested high school graduates in Oklahoma who were prepared for college-level course work in math in 2010. In today’s Policy Note, KWGS interviews Dr. John E. McDonough, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, to separate myths from the facts about the new health care law.

In The News

Gov. Fallin could oust members of Education Board

Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to appoint up to four members to the state Education Board on Tuesday after a new law took effect allowing her to replace board members “at will.” The appointments could oust the four remaining board members who opposed some or all the changes state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi attempted to make upon taking office in January. Former board member Gayle Miles-Scott said she was informed in writing after the last board meeting that she would no longer be on the board. Senate Bill 435, changed state law allowing Fallin, beginning this month, to replace board members at her will. Expecting to be replaced are board members Gail Foresee, Betsy Mabry and Miles-Scott. Their names had been removed from the state Education Department’s website Monday. Another seat has been vacant since former board member Herb Rozell resigned in July, and it also could be filled Tuesday.

Read more from NewsOK at

Fight at Tecumseh juvenile center prompts call for increased force

Two major violent outbreaks within the span of a week at a Tecumseh juvenile correctional center have prompted the state Office of Juvenile Affairs to call a special meeting Thursday to discuss allowing use of armed security personnel, Tasers, pepper spray and increased mechanical restraints. The latest melee occurred Friday evening and involved about 15 juveniles fighting with each other and staff in the gymnasium at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh. A Tecumseh officer shot one of the juveniles with a Taser in an attempt to subdue him, but the Taser failed to penetrate the thick sweatshirt and shirts the boy was wearing, Tecumseh Assistant Police Chief J.R. Kidney said. The boy grabbed the strap on a rifle an officer was carrying, and the officer responded by hitting him with the butt of the rifle to get it free.

Read more from NewsOK at

Tar Creek Superfund site requires much more clean-up, money

Even though more than $150 million has been spent to clean up the Tar Creek Superfund site and to relocate families, millions more are needed to protect children from lead poisoning and to restore the land to usefulness, government officials said. More than a decade has passed since some of the first homes were remediated to clean up lead-contaminated yards in an attempt to decrease high blood-lead levels in Picher and Cardin, two towns at the center of the Tar Creek Superfund site. Meanwhile, the underground mines are leaking water heavy with lead, zinc and cadmium into Tar Creek, which runs along the west side of Picher. The metals turn the water a rusty orange. While the relocation of Picher and Cardin families is essentially complete including demolition, the Superfund site still exists and is being blamed for dumping heavy metal into the Grand Lake watershed. In 2008, state officials issued a warning to fishermen, cautioning them to limit the amount of fish eaten from Grand Lake due to lead levels.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Three reforms to modernize Oklahoma’s income tax

At the first meeting of the legislature’s tax reform task force, both chairmen expressed support for making top-down cuts to Oklahoma’s income tax or eliminating it entirely. In a previous post, we explained why that’s a bad idea. In this post, we present three alternative reforms that would modernize the income tax and genuinely improve Oklahoma’s competitiveness and economy. They would ensure that we have the revenue to invest in education, transportation, public safety and other necessities that will keep Oklahoma competitive and create jobs. Alternatives, like eliminating the state income tax, would take Oklahoma backwards – damaging our economy and shifting costs of public services to those already struggling the most to get by. That’s not the way to build a prosperous future for Oklahoma.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Dorman: Lawmakers need to understand extent of financial obligations

Even though its revenue is showing signs of improvement, Oklahoma has yet to come to terms with its debt and obligations, a state lawmaker said this week. Following Wednesday’s study to examine state obligations, Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman said legislators need to understand the full extent of state debts and obligations to make sure they are paid. But while some officials say the debt ratio is low, many lawmakers have expressed concerns about some state debts that have remained unpaid for several years. Records show the state had about $1.2 billion in outstanding debt for various revenue bonds and about $188 million outstanding debt in a general obligations bond series for fiscal year 2010. In addition, the state also has an outstanding debt of nearly $247 million in notes payable and other long-term liabilities including pension obligations and capital leases. Dorman said the state’s obligation to fund a portion of emergency management efforts is estimated at $34.5 million and another $44.3 million is owed to county governments.

Read more from The Journal Record [subscriber only] at

Cherokees miss election pact deadline

A federal judge on Monday found the Cherokee Nation in contempt of court for missing a deadline to notify roughly 1,200 descendants of black slaves once owned by the Oklahoma tribe’s members that they could vote in a special election for their chief. U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy already allowed attorneys for the tribe and the black descendants, known as freedmen, to hatch a deal in Washington D.C. last week to extend balloting for Saturday’s special election until Oct. 8 so that those qualified to vote can be notified and participate. But on Monday, Jon Velie, an attorney for the freedmen, explained to the judge that the tribe not only missed Thursday’s deadline to notify the 1,200 registered freedmen voters, it also missed a Saturday deadline to get absentee ballots to roughly 350 freedmen voters who had requested them. The election began Saturday and ends Oct. 8. Susan Plumb, the chairwoman of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, said a mechanical problem during printing delayed the mailing and that all of the letters were sent by Thursday.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Steele names Ortega to immigration reform panel

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, today appointed Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, as co-chairman of the Joint Immigration Reform Committee. Ortega, who has been serving on the committee, replaces Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, as co-chairman. Faught stepped down from the committee for time commitment reasons. Rep. Corey Holland, R-Marlow, will fill the open spot on the committee. The committee is comprised of four representatives, four senators and the attorney general.

Read more from The McCarville Report at

Oklahoma to continue last meal tradition for condemned inmates

Despite a high-profile move by Texas prison officials to end the long-standing tradition, Oklahoma will continue to grant last meal requests to death row inmates before they’re executed. Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Oklahoma Corrections Department, said he hasn’t heard from any angry lawmakers since the news broke in Texas. He said the state has strict guidelines concerning last meal requests that protect against inmates wasting huge quantities of food. “The meal isn’t prepared here at the prison,” Massie said. “There’s a $15 limit and all the food must be obtained locally, in McAlester.” Since a federal ban on capital punishment was lifted in the 1970s, Oklahoma has executed 96 inmates, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Only Texas, with 475, has executed more prisoners.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma Forum: Economic tax incentive spending

We discuss the work of the Task Force for the Study of State Tax Credits and Economic Incentives, and possible changes in Oklahoma’s tax code with: State Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City; Warren Vieth, Reporter, Oklahoma Watch; and Joe Wertz, Online Reporter, StateImpact Oklahoma.

Watch the 27 minute video from OETA at

Quote of the Day

Just removing the chat piles alone could take 30 years if you could move out 100 train car loads each day.
Tyler Powell, office director for the Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment, on the Tar Creek Superfund site which still needs millions of dollars more in cleanup efforts to get rid of dangerous lead pollution.

Number of the Day

34 percent

Percentage of ACT-tested high school graduates in Oklahoma who were prepared for college-level course work in math in 2010, compared to 43 percent nationally.

Source: Alliance for Excellent Education

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Inside national health reform

Everyone has an opinion on the Affordable Care Act — or, if you prefer, everyone has a complaint or two when it comes to Obamacare — but how much is commonly known about the landmark health care legislation that the president signed into law last year? And how much of what’s being said of the law these days is, in fact, rumor or falsehood? On today’s show, we speak with Dr. John E. McDonough, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who’s just published a book (with the University of California Press) called “Inside National Health Reform.” Between 2008 and 2010, Dr. McDonough worked as a Senior Advisor on National Health Reform to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions — and he also played a major role in the 2006 Massachusetts health reform law.

Listen to the 29 minute interview from KWGS at

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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.

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