In The Know: July 15, 2011

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

Forty-five counties in western and south-central Oklahoma are under an outdoor burning ban issued by Governor Fallin.  The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows exceptional-to-extreme drought now covering 58 percent of the state and Craig County residents have been without water for two weeks.

The head of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says loss of federal funds makes it nearly impossible for the state to stay on track with its eight-year road and bridge building repair plan.  A legal challenge to the state’s decision to divert $101.7 million in highway and bridge money for other purposes was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court yesterday.  Official estimates of the impact of an early summer storm in Norman reveal damages to infrastructure totaled $10 million.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says budget constraints will prevent them from filling vacant staff positions, which may slow the office’s efforts to regain national accreditation.  Ruben Navarrette writes about the major role of immigrants in our agricultural system and the care, effort and skill it takes to get food out of the fields and onto our tables.  Oklahoma legislators are the highest paid in the region, with a base pay nearly $7,000 more than the starting pay of teachers in the state.

The OK Policy blog covers the toll of budget cuts on programs promoting high-quality teaching and schools.  In today’s Policy Note, the Georgetown Health Policy Institute released a paper detailing Medicaid’s role in caring for children with special health needs.  Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans who do not think crime is a problem in their community.  These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Oklahoma Governor Issues 45-County Burn Ban

Forty-five Oklahoma counties are under an outdoor burning ban issued by the Governor.  Mary Fallin issued an executive proclamation Thursday after getting a recommendation from the state Forestry Services.  The agency pushed for the ban because of continuing drought conditions over the western portion of Oklahoma.  The burn ban covers 45 counties in western and south-central Oklahoma.  “The number of wildfires we have had over the last few months is extremely tough on our state firefighters,” Fallin said.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

Report: More than 40 percent of Oklahoma suffering exceptional drought

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows more than 40 percent of Oklahoma, including the entire western third of the state, is now considered to be in an exceptional drought — the worst category.  Exceptional-to-extreme drought now covers 58 percent of the state, according to the report, which was released Thursday. That’s up 14 percent from the previous week. Plus, extreme and severe drought will continue an eastward march as the heat withers vegetation and dissipates the remaining soil moisture, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Read more from NewsOK at

Water Crisis In Craig County

They’ve been without water for more than two weeks, and now people in Craig County want answers.  They turned out for a meeting tonight at the water management board.  However, they didn’t find the answers they were looking for.  The board says the reasons the water has dried up are due to over-use, a failing water gauge on one of the towers, over-use of water from nearby chicken farms and water leaks.  All of these problems and not enough people to manage them — are contributing to the problem.  Water problems are plaguing Vinita, Timber and Bunker Hill with the worst issues in Centralia.

Read more from Fox23 at

Cuts in highway funds would really hurt Oklahoma

When federal stimulus money is removed from the equation, the proposed bill would reduce federal transportation spending by about one-third. For Oklahoma that would mean a cut of about $200 million per year in federal funds.  That, in turn, would make it nearly impossible for the state to stay on track with its current eight-year road and bridge building and repair plan, Ridley told his commissioners this week. He added: “When you talk about those kind of numbers, everything is at risk.”  That includes the Crosstown Expressway. The longer it takes to complete that badly needed new stretch of highway, the longer motorists will have to endure the current, and often dangerous, I-40 Crosstown, which carries nearly 50,000 more vehicles per day than it was designed to handle.

Read more from NewsOK at

Attorney questions legality of state highway bill, petitions high court

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is being asked for the second time in a month to decide whether a bill dealing with state highway and bridge money is constitutional.  A legal challenge that was filed with the high court Thursday contests a bill that deals with future appropriations to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and transfers $101.7 million that will be spent on other purposes this fiscal year.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

Official: Storm caused $10M in damage

The downburst that tore through parts of Norman on June 14 caused an estimated $10 million in damage to local residences and businesses, a city official says.  The June 14 downburst ripped air conditioning units off commercial buildings, leveled fences and street signs and knocked over dozens of utility poles around the city. Thousands of residents lost power that night and the Norman City Council meeting, under way at the time, was canceled.

Read more from the Norman Transcript at

Medicolegal board discusses budget, new policies

The Oklahoma Board of Medicolegal Investigations heard an update from the state’s chief medical examiner Thursday about the effect budget constraints are having on the operations of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The board also reviewed proposed rules for employees and office activities.  Under the current budget, it does not appear that the office will be able to fill all 13 vacant positions, Chief Medical Examiner Eric Pfeifer told the board. This may affect the timeline for the office regaining national accreditation.  Pfeifer also presented the board with proposed employee rules and office policies, which the board plans to address at its August meeting.

Read more from OETA at

Ruben Navarrette: Food for thought on immigration

Even in a nation that got its start as an agrarian society, and where the agricultural industry generates more than $280 billion a year in trade and economic activity, something happens when people move off the farm and into the city: We forget how tough and specialized farm work really is, and we begin to believe that anyone can do it.  Not true. Getting fruits and vegetables out of the fields and into our kitchens takes a lot of care, effort and skill. And for the industry, it takes a reliance on what many in agribusiness now candidly admit is the labor of illegal immigrants.  “We’re quite certain that more than 50 percent of our workers are using forged or illegally procured documents,” Larson said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Do Oklahoma Legislators Make Too Much Money?

They’re the highest paid legislators in the region, their salaries are the 15th highest in the country and that has some of you questioning why Oklahoma legislators’ base pay is $38,400. After all, they’re in session for only four months a year.  “I think they’re overpaid,” said Brett Bryan, Edmond resident and taxpayer. “Makes me want to go into the legislature, so I can have a cushy job and easy money.”  “It’s quite a bit of pay for what they do, really,” said David Gray, taxpayer.  While their base pay is nearly $7,000 more than the starting pay of teachers, many take home much more.

Read more from NewsOn6 at

The toll of budget cuts: Programs promoting high-quality teaching and schools under the axe

If Oklahoma is to have any chance of improving our students’ educational performance, we need to support excellence in our teachers and administrators. In recent years, Oklahoma has made such a commitment by investing in research-based professional development programs for teachers and school leaders. Unfortunately, three such successful programs – Literacy First, Great Expectations, and A+ Schools – have fallen victim to the budget axe and are set to lose all state funding in the upcoming budget year.

Read more from OK Policy at

Quote of the Day

“We were the first ones without it and that was the 3rd of July, and it was about six days before we got just a bit of water,”

Lindy Davenport, Craig County resident on water shortages

Number of the Day

54 percent

Percentage of Oklahomans who do not think crime is a problem in their community, 2010

Source: Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Medicaid and its Role for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN): A Family Perspective

The nation’s children have a lot at stake in the ongoing federal and state level debates over Medicaid’s role in deficit reduction efforts. Children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) are most vulnerable to Medicaid cuts because so many rely on it. Approximately 14% (10.2 million) of children meet the criteria of having a special health care need. Of these children, 36% rely on Medicaid for all or part of their health coverage.  In this issue-brief, CCF researchers review the current data on CYSHCN and Medicaid, summarize the routes to Medicaid coverage for CYSHCN, and outline state-level policy options that would increase CYSHCN accessibility to Medicaid. Throughout the paper, family stories convey the reality of what CYSHCN and their families experience and how vital Medicaid is to their survival.

Read more from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute at

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