In The Know: House sends death penalty changes to governor

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

Today you should know that the Legislature approved a bill to make the death penalty only be an option if it is sought by the state, potentially limiting the number of executions. A federal judge in has approved the proposed American Airlines’ merger with US Airways. He delayed ruling on a $20 million severance for outgoing American CEO Tom Horton, which may violate federal bankruptcy law that prohibits large payouts to company executives. The Center for Nonprofits said most Oklahoma nonprofits already report rapidly increasing demand, and that will increase as federal budget cuts continue. StateImpact Oklahoma examined what happens when water systems go under in Oklahoma.

Schools are scrambling to prepare writing tests for fifth- and eighth-graders that arrived with little more than a week before testing is to take place. The Department of Education is considering exempting students who have been accepted to community colleges from ACE graduation testing requirements. Students accepted to four-year universities are already exempt. Conservative groups rallied at the capitol against common core standards for school curriculum set to take effect next year. OK Policy released a new report examining the past 30 years of education reform efforts in Oklahoma. Read the full report here.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how the federal government is showing new flexibility in finding ways to extend health care coverage to low-income adults. Tulsa’s OSU Medical Center is seeking an $18.25 million state appropriation as the future of the city’s only public hospital could be on the line. The Tulsa Initiative Blog examines what it would take to afford rental housing on minimum wage. The Tulsa League of Women Voters President has an op-ed on Oklahoma’s education funding crisis. NewsOK writes that the Oklahoma City school district needs a regular bond issue plan.

The Number of the Day is the percentage increase in the number of murders committed in Oklahoma from 2010 to 2011. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses how Fortune 500 companies are seeking to reduce their health care costs by acting like Medicare.

In The News

House sends death penalty changes to governor

Lawmakers on Tuesday sent Gov. Mary Fallin proposed changes to how Oklahoma courts apply the death penalty in first-degree murder cases, a measure sponsored by a freshman representative and former county prosecutor. Under the proposal from Republican Rep. Scott Biggs of Chickasha, a former Grady County prosecutor, the death penalty would only be an option in first-degree murder cases if it is sought by the state, potentially limiting the number of executions. Current law tells judges to consider the penalty without specifying whether the state must ask for it as a possible punishment.

Read more from the Shawnee News-Star.

American Airline merger plan approved by bankruptcy judge

A federal judge in American Airlines’ bankruptcy has approved the proposed merger with US Airways, calling it a “terrific result” for the case. However, he delayed ruling on a severance of nearly $20 million for outgoing American CEO Tom Horton, clouding the proceedings going forward. Horton’s severance package became the only major point of contention in the case after U.S. Trustee Tracy Hope Davis said it violated federal bankruptcy law that prohibits large payouts to company executives. In the end, Lane decided he needed more time to consider the severance and approved the rest of the merger without Horton’s payout.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Nonprofit Center discusses effects of federal budget cuts

The effects of federal budget cuts will be one of the topics discussed April 5 at an educational session for area nonprofit agencies. Center for Nonprofits spokesperson Julie Rogers said most nonprofits already report rapidly increasing demand, and that will increase as the federal cutbacks continue. Among the programs that will be affected is the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Cuts in the WIC program will have a ripple effect, she said. As people deal with cuts, they will turn more to nonprofits for services. In addition, Rogers said, $298,000 statewide will be cut from senior meals, and 12,000 unemployed Oklahomans will no longer receive assistance.

Read more from the Enid News & Eagle.

What happens when water systems go under in Oklahoma

Oklahoma faces an estimated $43 billion in much needed repairs and upgrades to aging water systems across the state. As Water Resources Board Executive Director J.D. Strong puts it: “A lot of things were sort of overbuilt to meet long-term water needs.” Ratepayers in small towns and rural water districts are hit the hardest when new pipelines and treatment plants have to be built. There is help in the form of grants and low-interest loans, but sometimes even that isn’t enough and another, often final option comes into play: Consolidation, merging two or more water systems into one.

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

Writing tests for fifth-, eighth-graders arrive with little time to spare

Writing tests for fifth- and eighth-graders that had already been pushed forward to the busy April testing window have reached schools with little more than a week before testing is to take place. That has left school counselors, teachers and other staffers scrambling to unpackage, label, sort and distribute the tests to the districts’ school sites before testing kicks off April 3. Last October, the Oklahoma State Department of Education notified district superintendents that the entire $8.5 million contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill for the writing exams had to be rebid because of clerical errors in the processing of the contract. That meant the writing tests that usually are administered in February were pushed forward to the April testing window when students are taking other state-mandated tests.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

State college entrance test rules change proposed

In addition to four-year selective universities, acceptance to accredited two-year community colleges should also be allowed to exempt Oklahoma high school students from graduation requirements under the Achieving Classroom Excellence law, state Board of Education member Joy Hofmeister said at a special board meeting Wednesday. Limiting the exception to four-year universities is unfairly biased against economically disadvantaged students who can’t afford to attend a four-year university, she said. Last May, the board voted to grant students an automatic waiver if they have been admitted to a four-year selective college or university. A selective college or university refers to institutions that have a criteria-based admissions process.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma City rally questions common core standards for public schools

Oklahoma lawmakers were urged Wednesday to reject proposed nationwide academic standards that were adopted three years ago by the state Board of Education and set to take effect next year. Speakers at a rally that attracted about 150 in front of the old Supreme Court chambers in the state Capitol also warned about an overreaching federal government, a familiar foe of conservatives in the statehouse. Contacted later, Joel Robison, chief of staff for the state Education Department, said the only link the common core state standards has with the federal government is that federal election officials encouraged states to include implementation of the standards during the Race to the Top competition three years ago.

Read more from NewsOK.

New report examines 30 years of education reform efforts in Oklahoma

The drive to improve education that began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983 has continued for three decades. Education in Oklahoma schools in 2013 is far different than it was thirty years ago. Broad changes have been instituted in curriculum, assessment, teacher credentialing, school administration, and funding. The degree of local control of schools has changed dramatically as the Oklahoma Legislature instituted state standards for what is taught, by whom, and the ways in which effectiveness is measured. A new report conducted by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center for Oklahoma Policy Institute describes Oklahoma’s educational reform efforts since 1980 and the impact of those reforms.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

See the full report by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center.

Prosperity Policy: Many sizes fit all

A key component of the Affordable Care Act is the extension of Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, the decision of whether to extend Medicaid was left to each state. The ACA gives states a huge financial incentive to extend Medicaid by committing the federal government to paying 100 percent of the cost of newly insured individuals for three years and 90 percent from 2020 onward. Still, many governors, including Oklahoma’s, have come out against accepting federal funds to extend Medicaid or expressed strong concerns. Now the federal administration is showing new flexibility in finding ways to extend health care coverage to low-income adults. Most notably, the Obama administration has given Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe support in principle for a proposal to use Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance.

Read more from the Journal Record.

OSU Medical Center asks state for $13 million increase in appropriations

Tulsa’s OSU Medical Center is seeking an $18.25 million state appropriation as the future of the city’s only public hospital could be on the line, OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett said Wednesday. The downtown Tulsa hospital treats 45,000 emergency room patients a year and trains doctors for the entire state. But without sufficient public funding, closing or a sharp reduction in services is a possibility, Barnett said. Giving the hospital less than the amount needed could lead to “death by a thousand cuts” as the facility reduces areas of service, the number of people treated and the number of doctors trained to avoid running out of cash, he said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Affordability or rental housing: A quick update for 2013

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) recommends households spend no more than 30% of their income on housing. In 2011, the NLIHC stated the annual income needed to afford a 2 bedroom unit at fair market rent in Tulsa was $28,440. For 2013, the NLIHC lists that figure at $28,840, an increase of $400 annually. This means households in the Tulsa Metro Area require either a single renter earning at least $13.87 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at FMR, or basically 2 adults working full-time at minimum wage. In Oklahoma, if only one person in a household works, he or she must earn $13.18 an hour to afford fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment and stay within 30% of their budget.

Read more from the Tulsa Initiative Blog.

Oklahoma’s education funding crisis

As our political leaders work through the annual appropriations and legislative process in Oklahoma City, economic development and the importance of making Oklahoma “business-friendly” is the perennial justification for many of their proposals, from tax cuts to workers comp reform. What’s missing is the acknowledgement that Oklahoma will have a hard time luring high-quality employers unless we have a strong, and fully funded, public education system. While Oklahoma fared better than some states during the Great Recession that began in 2008, we did endure five tough years of belt-tightening. Nothing in the state budget took a harder hit than public education. In fact, as public school enrollment increased, Oklahoma made some of the largest funding cuts in the nation.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma City school district needs regular bond issue plan

All over the Oklahoma City metropolitan area in the past few years, voters have consented to school bond issues. Already this year, voters in Edmond and Putnam City approved bond issues for land, construction and technology. That’s no surprise. In Oklahoma, school bond issues aren’t just a way of life. They’re critical for school districts of all sizes to upgrade infrastructure or even afford maintenance items such as roof replacements or heating and air system improvements. So it’s concerning that more than a decade after the passage of MAPS for Kids, Oklahoma City Public Schools has yet to establish a routine of asking voters to approve bond issues.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Businesses that provide high-quality jobs rely on an increasingly skilled labor force. They won’t relocate to a state or add jobs where they can’t count on finding the qualified work force they need now – and will need in the future. And what kind of businesses will be eager to move into a state where its employees’ children will be forced to attend under-funded, sub-par schools?

Heather Hope-Hernandez, president of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa

Number of the Day

14.7 percent

Percentage increase in the number of murders committed in Oklahoma from 2010 to 2011

Source: Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Fortune 500 companies plan to cut health costs: Act like Medicare

As General Electric’s director of health services, Robert Galvin was the guy responsible for managing the health insurance costs of about 150,000 employees. “I looked through all our contracts and the data, where we were spending $1.5 billion on health care,” Galvin, now CEO of Equity Healthcare, remembers. “One percent of those payments were based on value. The rest was just pure volume.” The problem Galvin ran up against is one that is endemic to health care. For as long as we’ve had a health-care system, insurers have paid doctors and hospitals a fee for every service they provide. GE could go to insurers and demand they change their payment models. It is, after all, the country’s sixth-largest company. That’s not a contract that a health plan wants to lose, but it still doesn’t have the clout of large government programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, which cover millions of Americans. Because of that, both have been able to launch more aggressive programs that require doctors’ performance to factor into their paychecks.

Read more from Wonkblog.

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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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