In The Know: Lawmakers want to end state funding of OETA

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 you should know that several lawmakers called for ending all state funding for OETA. Residents of a small Oklahoma town are suing twenty corporations involved with a coal ash dump site that they believe is causing serious health problems in their community. Delaware County will pay $13.5 million to settle a lawsuit by female inmates who say they were sexually abused by two jailers. In an interim study, lawmakers are looking at disallowing “no-fault” divorce in Oklahoma.

Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon will reimburse the company $12 million it paid to purchase his antique map collection as part of a settlement with shareholders angered by the transaction. The multi-billion dollar Tulsa energy firm, Samson Investment, may be sold to a New York equity firm. Two unions that represented City of Stillwater employees will no longer be recognized by the city government for negotiations due to the repeal of the Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act. Rep. Mike Christian testified that he was told to keep quiet by Rep. Randy Terrill and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich.

Oklahoma fourth- and eighth-grade students still lag significantly behind their peers in other states in both reading and math skills, according to the Nation’s Report Card released Tuesday. With a “65 percent” mandate going nowhere, a legislator is looking at privatizing  public school services as a way to increase the percentage of funds going to the classroom. The OK Policy Blog previously explained why playing musical chairs with education spending is unlikely to do much to improve schools. Lawmakers also studied privatizing the state lottery.

Medicaid payments are not reaching healthcare providers in Oklahoma due to the failure of a private company that was awarded a contract to handle the reimbursements. OK Policy Director David Blatt has in editorial in NewsOK on why the Affordable Care Act will benefit Oklahoma families at little cost to the state. The op-ed is based on a recent OK Policy Issue Brief about health reform and the state budget. The OK Policy Blog explores the critical role of affordable credit in helping Oklahomans maintain financial security.

The Number of the Day is the number of practicing nurses in Oklahoma in 2009. In today’s Policy Note, the Economix blog shows that since 2000, the typical American worker did not share much in the country’s growing wealth even when the economy was good.

In The News

Lawmakers want to end state funding of OETA

The state should stop funding Oklahoma’s public television system, a lawmaker said Tuesday, saying individuals and corporations should pay the bill to televise shows featuring Elmo and award-winning documentaries on the Civil War and baseball. Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, said she intends to introduce a bill next year to phase out OETA funding over the next five years. “As long as the public dollars are being put in there, there is no reason for the privates to step up,” she said. A couple legislators on a House of Representatives budget subcommittee on education tended to agree, saying they didn’t like the types of programs being shown. Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, complained the public TV station carried a national program on evolution and Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said the statewide newscast shows a bias against conservative issues. John McCarroll, OETA’s executive director, said he has not received a complaint on the newscast’s objectivity and that Oklahomans who donate to the system help select the programs that are televised.

Read more from NewsOK.

Small Oklahoma town files suit against global energy giant

Families in Bokoshe are hoping there really is strength in numbers as they file a class action lawsuit against a global energy giant. A mountain of coal combustion waste -or fly ash- towers over the tiny town of Bokoshe, Oklahoma. The ash comes from the local power plant, AES Shady Point, and is dumped here by the truckload. The plaintiffs claim the fly ash has poisoned them. Of the thirty households closest to the dumpsite, more than half have battled cancer. Many in town have fought respiratory illness. After battling state regulatory agencies for years, residents formed their own citizen group, advocating for themselves on a website and with videos about the lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit represent more than 500 people who live either in Bokoshe or within three miles of this site. The defendants are more than twenty companies and people involved with the dumpsite, including AES Corporation. The lawsuit claims those defendants were facilitating the release of hazardous materials into the community and engaged in a campaign of deception to mislead the community into believing that fly ash is not harmful.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Delaware County settles lawsuit over sexual abuse of female inmates

Delaware County commissioners voted on Wednesday to settle a lawsuit for $13.5 million that was brought against the sheriff by former female inmates who accused him of covering for jailers they said sexually molested them. Property taxes could be raised by 18 percent to pay claims to the 15 women who claimed abuse. The women who brought the suit claimed jailers would “bargain” with female inmates and asked them to expose their breasts in exchange for food, cigarettes, candy and personal items. Jail Administrator Lonnie Hunter and deputy Bill Sanders Sr., who is now deceased, were accused by the women of raping and groping inmates while driving them to doctor’s appointments, in the jail shower or in a prison cell. No criminal charges have been filed against Hunter. District Attorney Eddie Wyant said he is waiting for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to complete its criminal investigation. Hunter has been on paid administrative leave since April 19.

Read more from NewsOK.

Lawmakers study repeal of state’s “no-fault” divorce laws

Though Oklahoma family laws continue to evolve, some state lawmakers say not enough is being done to protect children – including those in state custody – while legal experts worry that too many changes will make parts of the system even worse. With legislators still seeking answers about the deaths of several children in state custody, some lawmakers believe part of the problem is Oklahoma’s no-fault divorce. The issue was part of an interim study by state lawmakers that was conducted this month. “The current divorce laws are perverse and they are destroying children and our society,” said Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “If the best interests of children were actually taken into consideration, the divorce rate would be considerably less.” But legal experts counter that too many changes could make the state’s divorce system even more acrimonious for those couples who don’t want to be together. Oklahoma City family law attorney Kenneth Tillotson said the vast majority of divorces in Oklahoma are for incompatibility. “I think most people would agree that in some instances a divorce is necessary,” he said.

Read more from The Journal Record.

Chesapeake CEO to pay back $12 million for map sale after shareholders sue

Chesapeake Energy Corp CEO Aubrey McClendon plans to reimburse the company $12 million it paid to purchase his antique map collection in 2008 as part of a settlement with shareholders angered by the transaction. The preliminary settlement, filed in Oklahoma state court on Tuesday, also places restrictions on senior management’s right to hold company stock in a margin account or make speculative trades with Chesapeake shares. McClendon was forced to sell 94 percent of his Chesapeake shares in 2008, amounting to 6 percent of the company’s outstanding stock, to meet margin calls. That same year, the company’s board awarded a $75 million bonus to McClendon in a year when its stock fell 60 percent. The sale of his map collection to the company in 2008 also netted McClendon a $4 million profit.

Read more from Reuters.

Major Tulsa energy firm in talks with potential NYC buyer

Samson Investment Co. is in exclusive talks with a New York equity firm interested in buying the Tulsa-based oil and gas producer, Samson’s top officer confirmed Tuesday. However, as Samson CEO Stacy Schusterman pointed out in an internal memo released to the Tulsa World, no deal structure or definitive agreement has been reached with the firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co. LP. KKR bought numerous oil and gas properties in recent years and sold them to Marathon Oil Corp. for a sizable profit. At the same time, Dollarhide believes the equity firm will take time strengthening Samson’s position before selling it or taking it public. Some analysts have estimated that a Samson deal might be worth up to $10 billion. Samson employs 700 people in Tulsa and 1,200 companywide.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Stillwater municipal employees lose union representation

Two unions that represented City of Stillwater employees will no longer be recognized by the city government for negotiations. The Oklahoma Legislature passed HB 1593 last spring, repealing a recent law that required cities with populations above 35,000 to recognize union representation of their non-uniformed municipal employees. Uniformed employees like police officers and fire fighters have had union representation for many years and won’t be affected by the change. City of Stillwater workers were members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America.

Read more fromThe Payne County Journal.

Rep. Christian testifies he was told to keep quiet

A state representative testified Tuesday he was told to keep quiet after he drank too much at a party and talked about rumors a senator was getting a state job. The witness, Rep. Mike Christian, told a judge that Terrill and then Leftwich spoke to him at the Capitol in May 2010 — a day or so after the party — about being quiet. Christian quoted Terrill, R-Moore, as saying, “Hey, Senator Leftwich wanted me to relay a message: You need to be quiet. … Pipe down.” He testified that he asked if he needed to apologize and that Terrill said, “No.” He testified Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, later came up to him, hugged his neck and said, “You need to be quiet. You’re going to get me in trouble.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma lags behind nation in reading and math

Oklahoma fourth- and eighth-grade students still lag behind their peers in other states significantly in both reading and math skills, according to the Nation’s Report Card released Tuesday. Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, eighth-graders in Oklahoma on average performed worse on the reading exam than students in 39 states and better than students in 11 states. Only 27 percent of Oklahoma eighth-graders scored at or above proficient on the reading exam, and only 2 percent of those students scored advanced. The highest achieving state in the nation — Massachusetts — had 46 percent of its eighth-grade students score at or above proficient on reading and 6 percent of those score advanced.

Read more from NewsOK.

Lawmaker wants to shuffle education spending

With “the 65 percent solution” going nowhere, a legislator Tuesday challenged lawmakers to look at other ways to get more state dollars actually being spent to teach public school students. House staff presented information during a legislative interim study on getting more dollars to the classroom that showed about 54.5 percent of the state money given to the public schools the past three years goes to instructional expenditures. Only about 14 of the state’s 522 public school districts spent at least 65 percent in the classroom. Brumbaugh told members of a budget subcommittee on education that legislators should encourage public school districts to privatize food services as well as medical services and janitorial services. Contracting out transportation services also could be considered. Rep. Ann Coody, a subcommittee member and chairman of the House Common Education Committee, said one of the school districts in her area tried to privatize janitorial services. “It was a disaster,” said Coody, R-Lawton. “It was not effective at all.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: Why education reform is not like musical chairs from the OK Policy Blog

Lawmakers consider privatizing lottery

Lawmakers must decide whether the government should be in the business of running a lottery, a Senate panel was told Tuesday. The Senate Finance Committee during an interim study heard the pros about privatizing the state’s lottery, which was approved by voters in 2004 to generate revenue for education. By legalizing and taxing it, states can generate revenues, said Tim Lowry, an attorney who specializes in gambling and lotteries. Since privatizing its lottery, Illinois has seen an uptick in revenue, Lowry said. Oklahoma law requires 35 percent of lottery sales revenue to go to the state, reducing the amount of money available for prizes. Lottery officials for years have argued that the percentage needs to be reduced to generate larger prizes and more interest in the lottery, an idea lawmakers have rebuffed.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Medicaid payments not reaching mental healthcare providers

Therapists in our state are going out of business or are being forced to turn away patients with depression or other mental health issues. Jennifer Bryant manages a group of therapists and says many of them have not received Medicaid reimbursements. In turn, patients are going without treatment. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is aware of the problem but blames a company it hired. OptumHealth was awarded a contract to handle behavioral health reimbursements for the state. Carter Kimble, OHCA Public Affairs Information Representative, said the company was given one month to have its system up and running by October 1st. That didn’t happen.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Federal health plan will reduce strain on Oklahoma families

Under the new national health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one major strategy for providing health insurance coverage to the 50 million Americans who are currently uninsured is an expansion of Medicaid, the shared state-federal program that provides health insurance coverage for more than one in five Oklahomans. We don’t yet have a comprehensive, independent study of the projected costs and savings of the Affordable Care Act for Oklahoma’s state budget. However, most studies of the new law have concluded that increases to state Medicaid budgets will be modest. By significantly reducing the number of Oklahomans without health insurance, ACA will reduce the strains that uncompensated care places on health care providers across the state and will provide better health care and greater financial security to Oklahoma families.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: Health Care Reform and the State Budget from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Financial security for Oklahomans: The critical role of affordable credit

Access to credit has become a necessity for modern American living, touching virtually every aspect of our lives. Many consumers need credit to buy a house or a car, get an education, pay for medical expenses, or start a business. ‘Credit’ is a generic term for an array of financial products and services that involve the borrowing of money and ‘affordable’ means terms of credit proportionate to a borrower’s ability to repay. This post explores the critical role of credit in helping Oklahomans maintain financial security and build assets for a prosperous future, based on a newly released paper from Oklahoma Assets. Oklahoma Assets advocates for policies and programs that can help create a more inclusive economy – one in which financial security and economic opportunity is available, not just to some, but to all Oklahomans.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

If ‘everyone is so morally outraged by the lottery,’ the state should get rid of it and ‘see if the world is still a beautiful place.’
Sen. John Sparks

Number of the Day

27, 340

Number of practicing nurses in Oklahoma in 2009 – that’s 742 nurses for every 100,000 Oklahomans.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Growing economies, stagnant wages

In the midst of the Occupy protests, the income gains going to the top 1 percent have gotten a lot of attention. Another way to understand the economic frustrations of the Occupiers is to look at how much middle-class living standards have changed, and how much the overall economy has grown. A new report from the Resolution Foundation, a British research organization that focuses on workers with low income, has done just that. Of the 10 countries analyzed, Finland showed the closest relationship between the living standards of the typical worker and improvements in the overall economy. The United States was on the lower end. From 2000 to 2007, median pay increased at a quarter of the pace of output per capita. In other words, the typical American worker did not share much in the country’s growing wealth even when the economy was good.

Read more from Economix.

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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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