In The Know: July 6, 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, the Sand Springs school board is considering suing the state Board of Education to force full of funding of health insurance premiums for school employees. With two members absent, the Oklahoma City Council voted 4-3 to approve a MAPS 3 timeline that moves construction of a convention center ahead 30 months and pushes back quality of life projects. The chairman of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission has submitted his resignation, and incumbent Principal Chief Chad Smith is petitioning the Cheroke Supreme Court for a new election.

The state revenue report for June shows gross collections up 15.5 percent from last year. The Grand River Dam Authority plants to continue daily testing of Grand Lake for toxins from a blue-green algae outbreak for the foreseeable future. A Ten Commandments monument intended for the state capitol is built and waiting in a Kansas City warehouse while money is raised for its installation. Robyn Hilger writes in NewsOK about other ways the state might support board certified teachers after budget cuts eliminated their $5,000 annual bonus.

In today’s Policy Note, Stateline covers state efforts to stem the increase of health insurance premiums. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how the Oklahoma Insurance Department is failing to provide that oversight. Read on for more.

In The News

Sand Springs considers suing Board of Education to force full funding of teacher health insurance

The school board took a step Tuesday toward suing the state Board of Education to force full funding of health insurance premiums for school employees. The board voted unanimously to begin “prelitigation services” to gather more information and retain lawyers for an initial cost not to exceed $10,000. The state school board this month approved a fiscal year 2012 activities budget that cut $34 million from the budget for health benefit payments, also known as the flexible benefit allowance. Last month, some 200 school boards across Oklahoma adopted a resolution asking the state board and Superintendent Janet Barresi to fund the program fully, which they say is mandated by law.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma City Council approves MAPS 3 timeline

A short-handed Oklahoma City Council approved a modified MAPS 3 implementation timeline Tuesday that moves up construction on a new convention center by 30 months. Mayor Mick Cornett voted in favor of the measure along with council members Gary Marrs, Larry McAtee and Pat Ryan. Council members Pete White, David Greenwell and Skip Kelly voted against it. Ed Shadid and Meg Salyer were absent from the meeting. White had motioned for the vote to be delayed two weeks until the next council meeting because Shadid and Salyer were unable to attend. Shadid, who had problems with a connection on an international flight while returning from vacation, had called White asking for the delay. But only White and Kelly voted in favor of it, setting the stage for a contentious debate and a thin approval margin for a council accustomed to approving measures unanimously.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Cherokee Nation Election Commission chairman resigns

Cherokee Nation Election Commission chairman Roger Johnson filed a resignation letter early Tuesday morning. No action has been taken yet on the filed letter. “My honor, character and integrity have been unreasonably damaged,” he wrote, citing inaccurate media reports in the election’s aftermath. Despite Johnson’s resignation letter, both candidates in the Cherokee Nation’s principal chief’s race are continuing with their respective plans. “This election is not over,” Principal Chief Chad Smith said. “I want to make sure every vote is counted.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Roger Johnson’s Resignation Statement from The Tulsa World; Chad Smith petitions Cherokee Court for new election from The Tulsa World

Miller touts positive signs in state revenues for June

Despite cautious words about national political tensions, and the possibility that the debt ceiling stalemate could trigger bad economic news for Oklahoma, state Treasurer Ken Miller was generally upbeat about Oklahoma’s government revenue trends and overall economic trends. Treasurer Miller pointed to two recent reports that underscore the positive revenue trend on the outlook for the state economy. The state’s unemployment rate dropped again in May to 5.3 percent. One year ago, state unemployment stood at 7.1 percent. National unemployment in May was 9.1 percent. The revenue report for June shows gross collections topped $1 billion – $1.001 billion, up $134.53 million or 15.5 percent from June of last year.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

GRDA plans testing of Grand Lake indefinitely

Grand River Dam Authority officials said Tuesday that daily testing of Grand Lake for toxins from a blue-green algae outbreak will continue for the foreseeable future. A warning to avoid direct contact with water from the lake also remains in effect. Officials said about a dozen individuals had contacted the GRDA saying they had reacted in some way to contact with lake water. Most reactions involved rashes or eye irritation. Earlier, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said he believed he contracted an upper respiratory illness from swimming in Grand Lake.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Ten Commandments monument intended for capitol waiting in Kansas City warehouse

A Ten Commandments monument planned for the lawn of the state Capitol in Oklahoma City has been a reality for the past several months. It’s just that it hasn’t been put in place yet, says the lawmaker responsible for its creation. State Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, who co-authored the bill authorizing the creation of the monument and its placement at the Capitol in 2009, said work on the piece was finished several months ago by a Kansas City-based contractor. Since that time, the monument, which was paid for by Ritze’s family, has been stored in a warehouse in Kansas City, where it will remain until it is ready to be put in place at the Capitol. But Ritze doesn’t know when that will happen. He said Friends of the Capitol, a tax-exempt corporation devoted to providing private funds to maintain and improve the beauty of the Capitol and its works of art, is soliciting funds to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support the monument, including lighting, paving and the foundation.

Read more from this Urban Tulsa Weekly article at

Robyn Hilger: Rewarding the best teachers

I never intended to be a National Board Certified Teacher, but the promise of a $5,000 annual bonus was tough to ignore. Little did I know the National Board process would be the most challenging and rewarding professional experience of my career. The decision by the state Department of Education to end financial support for National Board certification has a twofold impact that may keep future teachers from sharing in a similar experience. The department’s budget eliminates scholarships to help teachers pursue certification and the $5,000 annual bonus awarded upon receiving certification. Though disappointing, it also provides an opportunity to consider whether there’s a better way to support nationally certified teachers.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

You, your company, shoved everything else aside and figured out a way to make that happen. I guess you know who’s writing your paycheck.

OKC Councilmember Pete White, speaking to Mike Mize of the design firm that designed a timeline moving the MAPS 3 convention center ahead of quality of life projects.

Number of the Day


Amount Oklahomans on Medicare have saved on prescription drugs since the Affordable Care Act implemented new discounts at the start of the year; $398.66 savings per beneficiary on average.


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Will health insurance ever get cheaper?

Ask any small business owner whether the new national health law has made a dent in employer insurance bills, and the answer will likely be “No.” It’s the correct answer. In fact, insurance premiums nationally have gone up more than 16 percent since the law was enacted a little more than a year ago. In some parts of the country, increases have been as much as 30 percent. This year, states will start cracking down on double-digit rate hikes with the hope of containing premiums by 2014, when nearly everyone will be required to purchase insurance. But some experts question whether the new push will work. The Affordable Care Act actually gives the federal government little power to guarantee that health insurance is affordable. Instead, the job is left up to states. But for the most part, they aren’t doing it. Almost half of them lack legal authority to reject an insurance company’s rates, and many that have the authority fail to use it.

Read more from this Stateline article at

Previously: Oklahoma declines to protect consumers from excessive rate hikes from the OK Policy Blog

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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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