In The Know: July 20, 2011

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 on In The Know, some lawmakers and educators are asking whether Superintendent Barresi has been given too much power. The Department of Corrections asked the parole board to include fewer stipulations requiring paroled inmates to complete education or rehabilitation programs before their release, in part because budget cuts have drastically reduced the number of available spots in these programs. With new leadership and total turnover in faculty, Gilcrease Elementary is undertaking some of the most dramatic reforms in Tulsa Public Schools.

Wages are up from the previous year in Oklahoma City but still lag behind national averages in 18 out of 22 major occupations. The OKC Council approved an expanded plan for the new streetcar system that will allow the city to pursue federal matching funds. A federal judge ruled that tribal sovereignty prevents the National Labor Relations Board from ruling on complaints that the Chickasaw Nation threatened casino employees who were trying to organize a union.

CapitolBeatOK spoke with OK Policy about a new report that identifies Oklahoma as one of eight states facing a serious shortage of primary care physicians. Sen. James Inhofe is criticizing fellow Republicans for an earmark ban that threatens development projects on the Arkansas River. State Sen. Jim Wilson argues in a NewsOK op-ed that the State Senate redistricting plan is unconstitutional. The OK Policy Blog features a video with a round-table discussion on the practice of Islam in Oklahoma.

In today’s Policy Note, USA Today looks at efforts within states to right wrongful convictions. If a proposed law passes in Massachusetts to establish a right to post-conviction DNA testing, Oklahoma will be the only state that does not have a law in this area. Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of persons killed in motorcycle crashes each year in Oklahoma who are not wearing a helmet.

In The News

Oklahoma State Superintendent criticized for having too much power

State Superintendent Janet Barresi has been heavily criticized since last month’s budget cuts. Since elected, Barresi has been given more power than any other state superintendent, thanks in part to her first board meeting. A very public power struggle prompted state lawmakers to strip the board of some of its power, and give it to Barresi. Then, for the second year in a row, legislative leaders approved only a generic education budget with no specific line items that had to be funded. That left Barresi in control of all funding decisions, which were then approved by the new board.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

DOC asks board to reduce stipulations on parole recommendations

The Department of Corrections has asked Pardon and Parole Board members to attach fewer stipulations requiring offenders to complete education or rehabilitation programs to their parole recommendations. Corrections officials maintain that such recommendations aren’t necessary because once inmates are paroled, a corrections officer completes a “level of service inventory” to determine what their post-release needs are in terms of substance-abuse treatment, education and work training. Also, state budget cuts have drastically reduced the number of spots available in certain DOC programs, leaving little space for the inmates recommended by the Pardon and Parole Board, he said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Big changes in store for new Gilcrease Elementary School

As a middle school, Gilcrease was in the midst of a metamorphosis when Tulsa Public Schools instituted a consolidation plan, closing 14 schools and converting nine others. New leadership and a sweeping turnover in the school’s faculty had been widely credited with the improvements since 2009 at the consistently low-performing middle school. Now it’s an elementary school – with new leadership and a total turnover in faculty. Some 320 students from the attendance areas of two former elementary schools could be arriving as early as Aug. 4.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Wages up in Oklahoma City, but still lag behind national average

Workers in the Oklahoma City area earned an average hourly wage of $18.83 in May 2010, a boost from the previous year but nearly 12 percent below the national average of $21.35, according to figures released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Oklahoma City’s average hourly wage of $18.83 figures to be an annual salary of $39,170. The previous survey found the average hourly wage in Oklahoma City was $17.59. Wages in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area were “measurably lower” than the national average in 18 of the 22 major occupational groups.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Plan will let Oklahoma City seek federal matching funds for streetcar

A plan approved Tuesday by Oklahoma City Council members will allow the city to seek federal matching funds for the proposed downtown streetcar included in MAPS 3. The plan includes a route identical to the one approved by council members in April along with a potential expansion to the Oklahoma Health Center. Building the entire route, including the expansion, would cost nearly $200 million, more than the $120 million included for the project in MAPS 3. Even without the federal funds, the core route approved in April could still be built.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Chickasaw Nation wins case against labor board over jurisdiction in union-organizing complaints

A federal judge in Oklahoma City has agreed with the Chickasaw Nation that tribal sovereignty prevents union-organizing complaints at the state’s largest casino from falling under the jurisdiction of a national labor board. U.S. District Judge Lee R. West stopped an August hearing by the National Labor Relations Board about employee complaints at the tribe’s WinStar World Casino in Thackerville. The complaints by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 886 said WinStar supervisors engaged in threats and surveillance of blackjack dealers participating in a union-organizing campaign last year.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma’s primary care physician shortage provokes contrasting analysis

Oklahoma faces significant health care challenges in almost any conceivable scenario. A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine has identified the Sooner State as one of eight where “the demand for care by newly insured patients could outstrip the supply of primary care providers in these states.” As the new health care law is implemented in 2014, roughly a quarter of a million more Oklahomans will qualify for Medicaid, The Oklahoman reported this week. CapitolBeatOK asked two health care policy analysts to reflect on the analysis in the journal.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Arkansas River plan imperiled by federal funding loss

Development along the Arkansas River, a long-held dream of many Tulsans, might have been dealt another blow recently with a federal agency’s refusal to fund a needed study. Sen. Jim Inhofe revealed last week that a Department of the Army civil works official indicated in a letter that the Arkansas River Corridor study was not included in the president’s budget for the next two years, and “therefore did not compete favorably for funding in the work plan.” Inhofe blamed the latest wrinkle on fellow Republicans who have targeted earmarks on local projects as a way of grandstanding on government spending.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Sen. Jim Wilson: Gerrymandering districts is the wrong approach

On July 7, I launched a legal challenge to the state Senate redistricting plan. The Oklahoma Constitution, in Article V Section 9A, defines the guidelines to be used in redistricting for the Oklahoma Senate districts. In addition to population distribution, consideration to the extent feasible must be given to compactness, area, preservation of political subdivisions, historical precedents, economic and political interests, and contiguous territory. Using these guidelines, it can be demonstrated that at least a dozen out of 48 districts were drawn in violation of the constitution.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Watch this: What is Sharia Law?

Oklahoma gained national attention last year with the passage of SQ 755, a ballot measure that amends the state constitution by preemptively barring state courts from considering ‘sharia law.’ Sharia literally means “path” in Arabic, and refers loosely to an evolving set of standards derived from religious texts, teachings, and community consensus that govern Islamic life. A federal judge has temporarily stopped the measure from going into effect pending the results of court challenges. Opponents of the sharia law ban cite the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, that government should “make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” If you want to learn more about the practice of Islam in Oklahoma, watch videos from a round-table discussion with prominent Muslim leaders, teachers, and scholars.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Quote of the Day

What we’ve done though is basically given our superintendent a blank check and then said we didn’t like the way you spent that check.
State Representative Ed Cannaday

Number of the Day

78 percent

Percentage of persons killed in motorcycle crashes each year in Oklahoma who are not wearing a helmet.

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

States look to right wrong convictions

Kenneth Kagonyera had been in the county jail for 13 months when he finally gave in. Prosecutors and investigators interrogated him repeatedly, he says, and told him he faced at least 25 years in prison for first-degree murder, with life or a death sentence possible. So he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. In September, he is scheduled to have a hearing before a three-judge panel that could free them, after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission in April found evidence including the confession of another man and DNA testing that points to other suspects. North Carolina is among a growing number of states taking steps to prevent and address wrongful convictions and grant greater access to biological evidence. Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering legislation that would establish a right to post-conviction DNA testing. If the bill passes, Oklahoma will be the only state that does not have a law in this area.

Read more from USA Today 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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