In The Know: Lawsuits flood courthouse ahead of new civil damages cap

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 lawsuit filings in the Oklahoma County courthouse more than tripled in October as filers rushed to get in before the cap on pain and suffering damages takes effect. Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office officials testified that they were pressured by Rep. Randy Terrill to hire former Sen. Debbe Leftwich as a transition coordinator. The OK Policy Blog interviewed business taxation expert Michael Mazerov on how Oklahoma can put an end to tax dodging by corporations in the state.

State Impact Oklahoma summarizes how the 187 new laws going into effect today will impact the state budget and surveys changes in the latest Oklahoma tax incentives guide released by the Department of Commerce. House Speaker Kris Steele spoke about what Oklahoma can learn from the success of corrections reform in Texas. Meanwhile, the Tulsa County District Attorney complained that he is not being given enough opportunities to object to reforms. A lobbying battle is growing between law enforcement and the pharmaceutical industry over requiring prescriptions for allergy tablets. Officials are still working to complete a registry to prevent people with meth convictions from buying pseudoephedrine, but new additions every day make it difficult to keep up.

A 20-something homeless man participating in the Occupy OKC protest was found dead in Kerr Park. See a video of the young man who died performing one of his poems here. For the first time, ex-smokers in Oklahoma outnumber smokers. EMSA has been transferring funds from its Tulsa division to subsidize OKC for at least seven years, with sums owed rising as high as $2 million. Rep. Jason Murphey said the next steps in agency consolidation will be pushing for more compliance with IT reforms and conducting audits of each state agency. The former chair of the DHS Commission defended the agency in a speech to Enid Rotarians.

The Number of the Day is the percentage growth in manufacturing employment in Oklahoma since the start of 2011. In Today’s Policy Note, Economix discusses a new report on the “unbanked,”  households don’t have a checking or savings account or rely on exploitative financial services like check cashing, payday loans and pawnshops. See a fact sheet here on financial fees and the unbanked in Oklahoma.

In The News

Lawsuits flood Oklahoma County courthouse ahead of new law

The rush started around lunchtime and picked up again about an hour before closing. In all, more than 400 lawsuits were filed in the Oklahoma County District Courthouse on Monday, the day before a new law that puts a $350,000 cap on pain and suffering damage awards in civil cases takes effect. On a typical day, Becker says between 50 and 70 personal injury lawsuits, mostly those of the automobile accident or medical negligence variety, are filed in her office. Becker said 1,600 lawsuits were filed in October. Between 300 to 500 civil filings is a normal month, with 700 being considered a “busy” month.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma M.E. officials testify Rep. Randy Terrill pushed for hiring of senator

Two key witnesses in a political bribery case testified Monday state Rep. Randy Terrill told them, “This is dead man’s talk,” before recommending Debbe Leftwich, then a state senator, for a state job. The testimony came on the first day of the preliminary hearing for Terrill, known for his strong stance against illegal immigration, and Leftwich. “I felt like we were being told we were going to have to do this whether it was the best thing for the agency or not,” said the first key witness, Cherokee Ballard, the legislative liaison and public information officer at the state medical examiner’s office. “I felt like we were being told what to do,” she said of the May 17, 2010, meeting at the state Capitol.

Read more from NewsOK.

Interview with Michael Mazerov: How Oklahoma can put an end to abusive corporate tax shelters

Michael Mazerov is a Senior Fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where he specializes in state and local taxation of businesses. David Blatt: What problem is combined reporting trying to address? Michael Mazerov: Most large multistate corporations are actually corporate groups, with a parent corporation that owns numerous subsidiary corporations. That structure allows members of the corporate group that are subject to Oklahoma’s corporate income tax to engage in artificial transactions at artificial prices with members of the group that aren’t in Oklahoma, in order to shift profits that are earned in Oklahoma beyond the taxing power of the state. The profits get shifted on paper onto the books of the out-of-state parent or subsidiaries that Oklahoma doesn’t have the legal authority to tax.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

How Oklahoma’s 187 new laws will affect the budget

Going into effect tomorrow are 187 laws that effect everything from redistricting and abortion to D.U.I. laws and livestock medical procedures. Among the 187 laws that go into effect tomorrow are several budget-related provisions that affect spending, fees, state property and taxes. HB 1044 – The Legislature must approve major administrative rules that establish or increase fees at state agencies, boards or commissions. HB 1438 – Requires the publication of a report detailing state-owned properties no late than Dec. 31 of each year. The report must list the 5 percent most underutilized properties, their value, the potential for purchase if offered for sale by the state and the impact on local taxes if the property is sold to a non-governmental entity.

Read more from State Impact Oklahoma.

See also: Updates to Oklahoma’s Official Tax Incentives Guide from State Impact Oklahoma

Speaker Kris Steele sketches Texas results, works to advance “justice reinvestment” model

Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele this week discussed in some detail what he described as criminal justice reforms in Texas that he said “have been impressive on several fronts. Over the past five years, Texas has saved $2 billion in incarceration costs and has its lowest violent crime rate in decades.” In Steele’s view, “perhaps the most important facet of their reforms is the fact that the Texas Legislature and the public took politics and emotions out of their debate and instead focused on the facts. By doing this, they came to the realization that there is a better way to approach criminal justice. Texas has long had a reputation as a tough-on-crime state, and it still has that reputation, but it is now achieving this distinction in a smarter, more effective way than it did in the past. Texas realized that some of the most important work in criminal justice occurs in the area of prevention, treatment and supervision of individuals known to be at risk of offending. In addition, they adjusted the state’s resources accordingly to address this issue. As a result, Texas is utilizing their resources effectively and producing better outcomes at the same time.”

Read more from CapitolBeatOK.

See also: Tulsa County District Attorney objecting to corrections reform from The Tulsa World

Proposal to make allergy tablets prescription only sets up clash between police, drug-lobby

Oklahoma authorities have been at the forefront of the nation’s battle against methamphetamine, but they will soon have a tough new opponent: a politically connected, well-heeled pharmaceutical industry. At issue is a proposal to require a prescription for certain cold and allergy tablets containing pseudoephedrine. Police and prosecutors say the measure is essential for curbing an out-of-control meth trade. Drug companies and their lobbyists are eager to keep pills such as Claritin-D and Advil Cold and Sinus on store shelves. The brewing legislative fight poses some tricky politics for lawmakers in this conservative state, squeezing them between big business’ opposition to increased regulation and law enforcement’s urgent pleas to curb the meth trade.

Read more from The Associated Press.

See also: Safeguarding pseudoephedrine from shady buyers a difficult task for pharmacies from The Tulsa World

Occupy OKC participant found dead at Kerr Park

A man thought to be a protester was found dead Monday inside a tent at Kerr Park, police said. The man’s name has not been released by police, but he was thought to be in his 20s, Oklahoma City police Capt. The man is part of Occupy OKC, a group of protesters who have been camping since Oct. 10 in Kerr Park near Robinson and Broadway avenues. Organizers refer to the man as “Street Poet,” a homeless man provided with food, clothing and shelter by others involved in Occupy OKC, according to a news release written by Mark Faulk, who referred to himself as a moderator for the group. It appears the man died of natural causes, but the medical examiner will determine cause of death, Lt. Kevin Barnes said. Because the body was unattended at the time of death and because of the man’s age, the homicide unit is investigating.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Video of a performance by the young man who died at Occupy OKC

For the first time, Oklahoma’s ex-smokers outnumber smokers

Oklahoma public health officials announced today that for the first time, Oklahoma now has more former smokers than current smokers. Analysis of 2010 adult smoking data indicates Oklahoma has dropped to a new historic low. In 2001, the adult smoking rate in the state was 28.7 percent, dropping to a new low of 23.7 percent in 2010. The overall decrease from 2001 to 2010 is considered a statistically significant decline and represents 100,000 fewer Oklahomans who smoke in 2010. Oklahoma has also noted a decrease in the number of cigarette packs sold, from 108 packs per person in 2001, to 71 packs per person in 2010.

Read more from The Shawnee News-Star.

EMSA transfer debt between regions as high as $2M

EMSA has been transferring funds from its Tulsa division to subsidize operations in Oklahoma City for at least seven years with amounts owed as high as $2 million, records show. The Emergency Medical Services Authority is a government agency that manages ambulance services for more than 1 million people in Tulsa, Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby, as well as Oklahoma City and numerous suburbs in that area. The agency receives about $4.8 million a year from a monthly utility bill fee paid by Tulsans. It also receives revenues from a utility bill fee in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City officials were rankled last week after learning the agency’s western division owed $800,000 to the eastern division, requiring interest payments. Officials in Tulsa have also expressed concern about the transfers, saying they do not want tax money from Tulsa subsidizing operations in Oklahoma City.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

State agency consolidation continues

The Government Modernization Committee will meet on Nov. 10 to study the progress of the state’s agency consolidation process. House Bill 2140 consolidated five agencies, including the Department of Central Services, the Office of Personnel Management, Benefits Council, and the State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, into the Office of State Finance. State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, also plans to list state agencies that fail to be compliance with the law and determine how much money is being saved. In September, Murphey pointed out that more than 50 state agencies had yet to comply with the state’s information technology (IT) effort as required by House Bill 1304. Murphey said the next reform step after consolidation will be allowing the state auditor to begin performance audits of each agency.

Read more from The Edmond Sun.

Former DHS Commission chairman defends agency

The former chairman of the Department of Human Services Commission says overall, he is satisfied with the system as it has been set up in regard to handling child welfare cases; however, in several high-profile cases, “the people didn’t work.” Retired Enid dentist Richard DeVaughn recently stepped down as chairman, but he continues to serve on the commission. DeVaughn said there have been numerous allegations in the press regarding DHS and child deaths, and many of them are erroneous. He commented specifically on one legislator’s recent accusation 50 children a year died of abuse and neglect in DHS custody. “Over the last 10 years, 129 children died in Oklahoma that were in foster care,” DeVaughn said. “Fifty-four died of natural causes, 37 came in from abuse or neglect of biological parents or other adults that died soon after from the abuse and neglect they received from their biological parents. Seven children died from abuse and neglect in a resource home — that’s seven a year, which is still too many.” DeVaughn said $120 million in cuts to the DHS budget and the loss of nearly 1,000 experienced workers in the past four years have strapped the agency.

Read more from Enid News.

Quote of the Day

What’s frustrating for me as a former legislator is that they were around when the Steele bill was passed. It wasn’t a secret; it was in broad daylight. To bring this up like we’re going to let a bunch of violent people out, it’s incredible to me.
Gerald Wright, a former state senator and a state Board of Corrections member, who is frustrated by scare tactics on the part of several district attorneys.

Number of the Day

8.1 percent

Percentage growth in manufacturing employment in Oklahoma since the start of 2011; the state has added 10,800 manufacturing jobs to the economy.

Source: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Unbanked America

Lately you’ve probably heard a lot about bankers. What what about the bankees? According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, across the country 7.7 percent of households don’t have a checking or savings account (that is, they are “unbanked”). Another 17.9 percent have checking or savings accounts, but they still rely on alternative financial services like check cashing, payday loans and pawnshops, which typically have very unfavorable terms for borrowers. The Pew Charitable Trusts has put together state-by-state information on what share of people use the traditional banking system.

Read more from Economix.

See also: Fees and the Unbanked: A profile of Oklahoma from Pew Health Group

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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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