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 lawmakers are concerned over additional costs for water quality monitoring and are looking for ways to pay for the $81 billion needed to maintain the state’s water infrastructure over the next 50 years. DHS Director Howard Hendrick spoke with NewsOn6 about the impact the death of ten day old Maggie May in a Bartlesville washing machine had on the agency. The newly appointed DHS Commission chair is preparing for the challenge of reforming the embattled agency.
The OK Policy Blog gives five reasons why it’s a bad idea to replace the income tax with higher consumption taxes. NewsOK spoke with labor and employment lawyer Charlie Plumb about how the weakening of Oklahoma’s anti-discrimination law is leading workplace to seek compensation for abuse in the workplace through different types of claims. A state board has recommended that judges in Oklahoma should get a 6 percent cost-of-living pay increase. Oklahoma spent $84k to send state officials to an air show in Paris to promote Oklahoma’s aviation industry.
Oklahoma Magazine profiled the director of the Women Behind Bars documentary on female incarceration in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog previously interviewed Director Amina Benalioulhaj in June. The Tulsa World points out that despite state revenue increases, other economic indicators for Oklahoma remain worrisome.
Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage increase in the urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for groceries over the past twelve months. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that Oklahoma is spending 18.7 percent less per K-12 pupil than before the recession, the fifth deepest cuts in the nation.
In The News
Additional costs for Oklahoma water planning concern legislative leader
Forming regional planning groups to discuss water issues that could cost the state $3 million to $20 million a year to operate seems like a wasted cost and an added layer of bureaucracy, the co-chairman of a legislative water study committee said Wednesday. Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he would have a hard time justifying that cost with the steep cuts some core state agencies have had to take the past three years because of the downturn in the state’s economy. Crain said it would seem more practical to reorganize the membership of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board so that members bring viewpoints of the public to the agency. J.D. Strong, the agency’s executive director, said legislators will be asked to increase state funding by at least $3.75 million annually to the Water Resources Board. The money would be spent among other things to assess the quality and quantity of the state’s water resources and to monitor the state’s water supplies.
See also: Oklahoma water infrastructure needs: How to pay that $80 billion-plus invoice from 23rd and Lincoln
DHS director speaks about how Fiddler case impacted agency
The Lyndsey Fiddler case made national headlines and put Oklahoma’s child welfare agency under the microscope. The head of DHS says it’s an example of caseworkers doing all they could and still not avoiding a tragedy. DHS Director Howard Hendrick said caseworkers can do their jobs, follow procedures, and bad things still can happen. The death of a ten day old Maggie May in a Bartlesville washing machine haunted a community. The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth [OCCY] found that nine different reports were made to the agency about Maggie May, her siblings, and her mother, Lyndsey Fiddler. DHS caseworkers checked on the family three times by the time Maggie May was born. “We had a safety plan in place. There were two other adults in the home. There were two verbally capable children in the home. The mother who committed the crime hadn’t done that with her other two children,” Hendrick said. OCCY’s report says caseworkers did note “red flags” twice about Fiddler’s drug abuse, but her children were always found to be safe.
Read more from NewsOn6 at http://www.newson6.com/story/15628283/dhs-director-speaks-on-how-fiddler-case-impacted-agency.
See also: Oklahoma DHS panel chairman sees challenges ahead from The Tulsa World
Easier to shop in Kansas than move to Texas: Why replacing income tax with consumption tax is bad for Oklahoma’s economy
Many state political and business leaders are clamoring to do away with Oklahoma’s personal income tax, the state’s single largest revenue source, while acknowledging the need to maintain sufficient tax revenue to fund basic services. One influential participant in the tax debate, House Revenue and Taxation Committee chairman David Dank, has made clear that he would support raising the state sales tax in order to eliminate the income tax. However, if the point of tax reform is to boost Oklahoma’s economy, our leaders should be wary of raising the state sales tax. Scrapping the income tax in favor of higher sales taxes would do many things, but none will be good for our economy.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/easier-to-shop-in-kansas-than-move-to-texas-why-replacing-income-tax-with-consumption-tax-is-bad-for-oklahomas-economy/.
Q&A with labor and employment lawyer Charlie Plumb
Q: The Oklahoma Legislature approved substantial revisions to the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (OADA) last session that will substantially restrict an individual’s ability to sue a former employer for wrongful discharge personal injury arising after Nov. 1. Is this likely to shape the future of employment litigation in Oklahoma? A: That remains to be seen. While the revisions to the OADA have been warmly welcomed by employers, they may have a chilling effect on employees who feel they have a valid claim. It may simply prompt employees and their lawyers to pursue different types of claims. Q: Are there any recent court cases that point in this direction? A: Yes. Earlier this year, a teenager filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming his former employer, a fast-food restaurant, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Oklahoma’s assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress laws when his store manager refused his repeated requests to allow him to take anti-seizure prescription medication and then called him a derogatory name.
Read more from NewsOK at http://newsok.com/business-qa-with-charlie-plumb-a-labor-and-employment-lawyer/article/3610614.
6 percent pay raise recommended for Oklahoma judges
Judges in Oklahoma should get a 6 percent cost-of-living increase, according to a board that reviews judicial pay. Unless the governor or the Legislature strikes them, the raises will take effect July 1, the start of the next fiscal year. The last pay raise for judges was three years ago. The Board of Judicial Compensation, created by the Legislature in 2004 to review compensation in odd years, last approved pay raises for judges in 2007. It then approved a 5 percent pay raise, putting the Supreme Court chief justice’s salary at $147,000 and the salary of special judges — the lowest paid judges — at $105,053. They said the 6 percent raise was to cover the increased cost of living resulting from inflation since July 2008, the last time judges received a pay increase. The estimated fiscal impact of a 6 percent raise plus benefits is about $2.5 million a year, said Mike Evans, administrative director of the courts.
Read more from NewsOK at http://newsok.com/6-percent-pay-raise-recommended-for-oklahomas-judges/article/3610636.
Oklahoma spends $84k on Paris Air Show
As Oklahoma wrapped up a fiscal year that saw deep budget cuts, four state officials were sent to the Paris Air Show for a week this summer to promote Oklahoma’s aviation industry — and it cost taxpayers $84,000, records show. Oklahoma taxpayers footed the bill for $400-a-night hotel rooms at a luxury Paris hotel, $188 daily meal per diems and more than $3,000 in air fare, according to a review of receipts obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. Oklahoma was one of at least 14 states represented at the show, which was promoted as the world’s premier event for the aerospace industry. Gov. Mary Fallin did not attend the show but defended Oklahoma’s participation, calling it a “legitimate investment” because of the state’s burgeoning aerospace industry and the associated potential for economic development.
Read more from the Associated Press at http://www.kjrh.com/dpp/news/state/okla.-spends-%2484k-on-paris-air-show.
Young documentarian explores Oklahoma’s female incarceration epidemic
Amina Benalioulhaj is obsessed with the intersection of women and prisons. These are the stars of the 21-year-old University of Oklahoma student’s documentary, Women Behind Bars, which focuses attention on Oklahoma’s failure to address the nation’s highest female incarceration rate. Benalioulhaj says she was shocked into action when she learned of the state’s overcrowded women’s institutions. “I decided I needed to do something to inform my peers and Oklahomans at large,” says Benalioulhaj. Women are incarcerated at twice the national average in Oklahoma, including many for non-violent crimes, usually drug-related. Possession of small amounts of marijuana, for instance, could land a woman in jail in Oklahoma for a long time. In most states, it’s a minor offense.
Read more from Oklahoma Magazine at http://www.okmag.com/October-2011/A-Filmmakers-Foray/.
Previously: An interview with Amina Benalioulhaj, director of “Women Behind Bars” documentary from the OK Policy Blog
State revenues rebound, but other indicators still worrisome
News about the state’s revenues continues to be good. State Treasurer Ken Miller reported this week that the state’s gross revenue collections for the month of September were 7.1 percent above the prior year. That rise marked the 18th straight month that collections have been higher than the same month in the prior year. Although these reports are certainly encouraging, the news about the economy isn’t all good. The Department of Human Services continues to see record high levels of food stamp applicants, a trend that typically is indicative of economic conditions. And although the jobless rate has fallen recently, the numbers also do not reflect people who left the workforce years ago and are no longer looking for work. And one recent local survey showed both a drop in unemployment and total employment. As state revenues continue to rebound, the calls for cutting taxes will continue to grow louder. Our hope is lawmakers resist that temptation, because we’ve seen what the consequences of ill-advised cuts can be.
Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=61&articleid=20111006_11_A16_Newsab219504.
Quote of the Day
I absolutely believe that the Waters Resources Board needs this additional money. We need more money for monitoring and to gather data. … The problem is we also need more money for health insurance for our teachers; we need more money for our mental health system in order to provide some alternatives to incarceration; we need more money for our roads and bridges.
–Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa
Number of the Day
Percentage increase in the urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for groceries over the past twelve months, August 2011
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
State K-12 funding cuts are deep and widespread; Oklahoma made fifth deepest cuts in the nation
Thirty of the 46 states for which data are available are spending less per pupil on K-12 education (after inflation) than they did before the recession, according to a report we’ll issue tomorrow. In 17 of those states, funding is more than 10 percent below the 2008 level, adjusted for inflation; in 4 of the states, funding is off by more than 20 percent. Oklahoma had the fifth deepest cuts at 18.7 percent.
Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at http://www.offthechartsblog.org/state-k-12-funding-cuts-are-deep-and-widespread/.
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