In The Know: June 17, 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, with several Oklahoma towns that are requiring prescriptions for the tablet form of pseudoephedrine, the gel caps being mentioned as an alternative are not commercially available in Oklahoma. The Tulsa World warns that the new restrictions are short-sighted public policy that is unlikely to have a long-term impact on meth manufacturing. The Tulsa City Council is hosting a statewide summit on fighting meth today at the Tulsa Convention Center. College governing boards are meeting this week and next to approve tuition rates for next year, with most contemplating increases of 5 to 8 percent.

The OK Polcy Blog examines DHS cuts to child-care subsidies that will threaten access to quality child care for low-income families. The president of the group that pulled the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office’s accreditation two years ago said after touring the facility again that none of the problems have changed. Though staffing remains at 67 percent, the Department of Corrections is ending the year with a small budget surplus. A new program aims to reduce recidivism among those convicted of firearms offenses. Four DHS employees have been suspended pending the investigation into the death of a child who died of a head injury within a month of being sent to live with her father. The state will request more money from FEMA to subsidize storm shelters.

Landowners and environmentalists are raising concerns about a proposed crude oil pipeline through Oklahoma operated by a Canadian company whose other pipeline has a history of leaks. The Tulsa City Council may holds its own election without the involvement of the County Election Board because of a dispute over which district boundaries to use. In today’s Policy Note, Health Beat gives an overview of growing threats to Medicaid that could deny benefits to the youngest, poorest, most disabled and oldest Americans.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Oklahoma-sold gel caps don’t contain pure pseudoephedrine, pharmacists say

Pharmacists say pseudoephedrine gel caps – the nonprescription alternative under some cities’ recently enacted restrictions on the allergy drug used to make methamphetamine – are not commercially available in Oklahoma. When it was available, gel cap pseudoephedrine was more expensive and didn’t sell as well as the tablet form of the drug. Jim Spoon, owner of five pharmacies in Tulsa and Sand Springs, checked with the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler and couldn’t find any gel cap pseudoephedrine available. He said the liquid forms of the drug – the only other exemption under the ordinances – are made only in children’s strengths.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Public debate needed on meth, pseudoephedrine issue from The Tulsa World; Tulsa City Council hosting state meth summit Friday from NewsOn6

Oklahoma college governing boards discuss tuition increases

Undergraduate in-state students at Oklahoma State University could face a tuition and fee increase of 4.85 percent next year, which is at the low end of tuition increases college administrators are proposing this week. That would mean an increase of $328.50 for students who take 30 credit hours. Many college presidents are recommending tuition and mandatory fee increases that range between 5 and 8 percent. Governing boards are meeting this week and next to approve rates for next year.

Read more from this NewsOK article

Child care cuts deal a blow to low-income working families and kids

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services this week approved changes to the state’s child care subsidy program that will increase hardships for struggling low-income working families, threaten access to quality child care, and harm child care providers who serve low-income children. DHS’ actions were precipitated by budget shortfalls for the upcoming year exceeding $30 million. The Legislature reduced state appropriations to DHS  for FY ’12 by a modest $6.0 million, or 1.1 percent, compared to FY ’11. However, the agency also faces the loss of one-time funding in this year’s budget, expected increases in program utilization, and higher employee benefit costs. To balance its budget, DHS proposed a series of  measures, which included voluntary buyouts of 231 positions, mostly within its field operations division for children and family services, and cuts in contracts for various social services. However, the largest program cuts are concentrated on the child care subsidy program.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Accreditation official says Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office needs work

The president of the group that pulled the Oklahoma Medical Examiner office’s accreditation two years ago said Thursday it will be impossible for the state to get accredited again without more staff and a bigger building. Dr. Mary Ann Sens, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, toured the medical examiner’s office Thursday. The national group pulled the state’s accreditation two years ago because of problems with it’s staffing and facilities. Among the things that stuck out during Sens’ tour was a lab where poor air circulation is causing brand new equipment to deteriorate because of toxic fumes, which are also breathed in by workers. The Oklahoma Legislature has approved a proposal to move the state medical examiner’s office to Edmond but has not provided the funding for this plan.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Corrections has surplus at close of budget year

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections will finish the budget year with a funding surplus for the first time in recent history, the Board of Corrections was told Thursday. The department, normally in financial trouble, has an overall surplus of $2.8 million, said Greg Sawyer, the DOC’s chief of departmental services. The agency has a budget of about $450 million and expects to have a carryover of less than half a percent. DOC Director Justin Jones said the surplus is due in part to a voluntary staff buyout program, a reduction in offenders, controls on medical spending and legislative approval to tap a revolving fund. The department hopes to add more correctional officers to the payroll, Jones said, adding that the staffing rate for those posts is 67 percent of what is authorized.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Program aims to reduce the number of repeat firearm offenders

About 150 people on parole and probation listened Thursday night at the Oklahoma County District Courthouse as officials explained the consequences of getting caught with a firearm. Almost all were men between the ages of 20 and 40. Those in attendance hope to stay out of jail, but that’s easier said than done. With that in mind, local, state and federal agencies have begun working to reduce the rate of recidivism among those convicted of firearms offenses through the Probation and Parole Reentry Program (PPREP). Each participant will be required to attend a one-hour session on the third Thursday of each month. The program’s primary goal is to educate participants on the consequences of being a felon and the laws related to possessing a firearm or ammunition after a conviction

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma Department of Human Services workers suspended over death of child

Four child welfare workers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a state Department of Human Services investigation surrounding the beating death of a 5-year-old girl. Serenity Anne Deal died of a severe head injury less than a month after she moved in with her father, Sean Devon Brooks, 31. He is charged in Oklahoma County District Court in connection with her June 4 death. Child welfare workers in Pottawatomie County recommended she live with her father. She had been taken away from her mother, who is accused of sexually assaulting another child.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

State seeking more FEMA money for storm shelters

If you called a local or state government recently asking about Federal Emergency Management Agency money to install a storm shelter, you probably were told there was none. But that could change as soon as late summer or fall. FEMA offers Hazard Mitigation Grants to state and local governments after natural disasters to prevent future loss of lives or property. One method is to reimburse people up to $2,000 for 75 percent of the cost of a new, FEMA-approved storm shelter. The Oklahoma communities who had such money after disasters in recent years have already allocated theirs, but officials are exploring a plan to apply for FEMA money to be administered by the state through local governments. That process could be completed in a few months.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

More concerns raised about proposed crude oil pipeline through Oklahoma

Fears over TransCanada’s Keystone XL crude oil pipeline are on the rise for some Oklahoma landowners and environmentalists. TransCanada wants to expand its Keystone pipeline that currently ends in Cushing all the way to the Gulf Coast. The company’s fighting some Oklahoma landowners in court, using eminent domain to gain access to an easement, for the pipeline, on their land. At the same time, environmentalists question the company, the impact and the safety of the pipeline. Twelve oil spills have occurred so far on the company’s current pipeline, Keystone, that started operating a year ago; 400 barrels leaked in North Dakota. Smaller failures happened in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

Tulsa election showdown brewing

A majority of Tulsa city councilors took action Thursday that could cause a chain of events resulting in the city conducting its own municipal election and hand-counting paper ballots. Under that scenario, the Tulsa County Election Board would not be involved in the election and the newly adopted City Council district boundaries would not be used. Despite warnings by Assistant City Attorney Patrick Boulden, the council voted 7-2 to approve a resolution submitted by Councilor John Eagleton calling for Sept. 13 primary and Nov. 8 general elections. Eagleton’s resolution states that if anyone files for a judicial review of the new council district boundaries by July 10, the city would use the 2001 district boundaries instead of the newly adopted boundaries. Boulden said the City Charter states that the new boundaries supersede the old ones.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

You need a lot more room and better equipment. It’s time to take it from the 1990s into the new century.

Dr. Mary Ann Sens, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, who said it will be impossible for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office to be restored accreditation without more staff and a bigger building.

Number of the Day

5.6 percent

Oklahoma’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April 2011; 6th lowest in the country.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Medicaid heads to the chopping blog; Again…

It’s starting to look like a sure thing: Medicaid will be a sacrificial cow in the battle to hammer out a bipartisan budget deal. The joint federal-state program that provides medical coverage for 69.5 million of the youngest, poorest, most disabled and oldest Americans—hardly a sign-toting, well-connected or politically important portion of our society—is on the chopping block yet again. Worse, the program, which already makes second-class citizens of recipients in most states by providing limited benefits and reimbursing doctors at such a low rate that many refuse to even see Medicaid patients, is denying benefits to the ever-increasing victims of our country’s struggling economy.

Read more from Health Beat 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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