In The Know: Legislators look to add more felonies

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that momentum to reduce Oklahoma’s exceptionally high incarceration rate is fizzling out, and legislators are considering about 10 bills that would increase prison time or create new felonies. The Senate unanimously passed a bill to increase fees on almost everyone convicted of a crime.

Wayne Greene reports that Oklahoma’s Commission on School Safety has scaled back its recommendations without any explanation for the change in public meetings. A bill to allow denied Open Records Act requests to be appealed to the Ethics Commission is making its way through the state Legislature. Gov. Mary Fallin’s invention of an “executive privilege” found nowhere in state law to hide records from the public earned her FOI Oklahoma’s annual Black Hole Award. 

The Tulsa World writes that the question of whether Oklahoma will extend Medicaid is not quite as settled as some would like to believe. House Minority Leader Scott Inman said Governor Fallin’s decision not to extend Medicaid was based on politics instead of what’s best for the state. Republican business leader Larry Mocha wrote an op-ed on why opting out of the Medicaid expansion hurts business. Find more on this issue at OK Policy’s Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act page.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority board is considering no longer allowing family members of children who require private-duty nursing to serve as a paid employee taking care of those children. Tulsa officials are considering including some of the airport facility renovations that were part of the failed Vision2 sales tax proposal in another ballot question that is being prepared for voters this November. Tulsa’s collaboration between Head Start, child-care providers and public schools to expand high-quality early childhood education is being looked at as a national model.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of nursing home residents in Oklahoma that have their care paid for through Medicaid. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times examines how high taxes on the poor in Southern and Western states are exacerbating poverty and reducing social mobility.

In The News

Legislators look to add more felonies

The recent momentum to reduce Oklahoma’s exceptionally high incarceration rate has fizzled out, officials said this week. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin last May, aimed to encourage rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders, lessen the emphasis on prison time and supervise prisoners after release, among other provisions. Last week, less than a year after signing the bipartisan law, Gov. Mary Fallin rejected federal funding to implement the program. Additionally, a grant program from the attorney general to local law enforcement hasn’t been implemented and legislators are considering about 10 bills that would increase prison time or create new felonies.

Read more from the Woodward News.

Bill would add fines for anyone convicted of a crime

Breaking some laws in Oklahoma could get a little more expensive. The Senate last week unanimously approved a measure intended to generate funds to investigate and prosecute crimes committed on the Internet against children, such as child pornography. Sen. Dan Newberry’s (R-Tulsa) legislation would impose an additional $10 fee on any person convicted of a crime that is punishable by a fine of $25 or more, or by incarceration. The fee is in addition to many other fees that criminal defendants must pay. And therein lies the problem, according to some.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Commission on school safety turns opaque

The Oklahoma Commission on School Safety was the model for transparency in state government – until nearly the very end. The commission announced its final meeting would be held at the Capitol at 1:30 p.m. last Tuesday. What followed wasn’t a meeting, so much as it was a press conference. Whether that’s a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act isn’t really as important as the fact that it colors a process that had been so assiduously open otherwise. But we do know that the commission’s aims seemed to get gradually smaller and smaller as it went along without any explanation for that change in the public meetings, and that narrowing was especially noticeable in the final recommendations.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Bill would allow appeal of denied Open Records Act requests

A bill to provide an administrative appeal of denied Open Records Act requests is making its way through the state Legislature. House Bill 1450 by Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, advanced from committee by an 11-1 vote late last month and now awaits a vote in the full House. The bill would permit a denial of a records request by a public body or official to be appealed to the state Ethics Commission. The measure calls for the Ethics Commission to order the immediate release of records when it finds the original request to be “meritorious.”

Read more from the Tulsa World.

FOI Oklahoma’s Black Hole Award goes to Gov. Fallin

Gov. Mary Fallin’s unprecedented use of “executive privilege” to hide records from the public earned her FOI Oklahoma’s annual Black Hole Award, the organization announced Saturday. Fallin has claimed that her communications with her 14 Cabinet members are protected by executive and deliberative process privileges under the state Constitution. Their claims are unprecedented for an Oklahoma governor. Our state courts have not recognized these privileges. Likewise, the state Open Records Act doesn’t screen the governor’s records from public scrutiny. Some of the records could shed light on why Fallin refused to create a state health insurance exchange. Others are related to implementing reforms to the corrections system.

Read more from FOI Oklahoma.

Officials considering airport renovations as part of funding package

City officials are considering including a portion of Vision2’s airport facility renovations in the five-year capital improvements package that is being prepared for voters this November. Tulsa Airports Director Jeff Mulder recently told the City Council that $37.45 million in projects has been requested for city-owned facilities at the Tulsa International Airport. That accounts for what facility tenants and Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s office agreed are the most needed of the $122 million in renovations that were proposed in Vision2, Mulder told the Tulsa World. The capital improvements package would renew funding behind the 2008 Fix Our Streets initiative with an eye for streets and other capital needs between fiscal years 2015 and 2019.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Tulsa’s preschool programs seen as national model

From the Wall Street Journal to comedian Jon Stewart’s ”Daily Show,” national attention is on early childhood education, and Tulsa is ground zero. President Barack Obama has proposed sending more federal money to states to create or bolster preschool programs. He mentioned Oklahoma in the State of the Union address for having one of the best. For nearly two months, local early education teachers, advocates and researchers have been answering national calls about Tulsa’s role in this evolution.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Medicaid debate: It’s not over till it’s over

If the Medicaid expansion issue is settled in Oklahoma, then why are there just as many articles, columns, blog posts and reports as ever devoted to the subject? Maybe it’s not quite as settled as some would like to believe. Several recent developments do suggest the health-insurance issue is still in a state of flux in Oklahoma, as in some other states. Add to the growing list of analyses on Oklahoma’s situation “Medicaid Proves Its Worth in Oklahoma,” by Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: Medicaid proves its worth in Oklahoma from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Fallin’s Medicaid decision based on politics, says Inman

Oklahoma’s political calculus does not work out to an expansion of Medicaid, regardless of the financial or health implications, state House of Representatives Minority Leader Scott Inman told the Tulsa County Democratic Party luncheon Friday. “(Gov.) Mary Fallin is more afraid of a Tom Coburn or a Randy Brogdon-type candidate running in the next election against her than she is (any Democrat),” Inman said. “I think if we were in her second term, she would have done what the eight Republican governors did who at one point said they were opposed to Medicaid expansion and then flip-flopped.” Inman said the argument that Oklahoma can’t afford the roughly $700 million over 10 years for the Medicaid expansion that is part of the Affordable Care Act doesn’t add up using either supply-side or standard economics. In one case, he said, Fallin is saying the state can’t afford $700 million but is proposing a $1.4 billion tax cut over the same period of time.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Medicaid expansion opt-out hurts business

Much has been written about that decision and the pros and cons of accepting Medicaid expansion, but what is being overlooked in this debate is the bind that many of our employers will find themselves in because of this decision. Employers in low-wage industries such as hospitality and retail will be particularly hard hit. Currently, without the expansion, employers with more than 50 employees in Oklahoma will be required to pay for health insurance for those employees making between 100 percent and 133 percent of the poverty level, – employees who would have been covered by the expansion – or face stiff penalties. Either way, it is an increase in the cost of doing business which is a de facto tax increase on business. This is exactly what the New Mexico Human Services director said in recommending to their governor that she accept federal dollars (which she ultimately did).

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Possible Medicaid rule change has mother worried

Thursday, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board could vote to no longer allow family members of children who require private-duty nursing to serve as a paid employee taking care of those children. Health care authority officials argue that the rule change is to ensure objective care is being delivered and that Oklahoma is among a minority of states who allow parents or other relatives to serve as private-duty nurses and be reimbursed. Of the 203 Oklahoma Medicaid members who receive these private-duty nursing services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s rule change would affect 14 of them, he said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Many sources have shown that the actual costs to the state of expanding coverage to low-wage workers are minimal. In fact, jobs will be created from the billions of dollars coming into the state and Oklahoma will save money on current medical costs. If costs are minimal, employers have even more reasons to favor expansion. Health coverage for more workers will mean a healthier, more productive workforce, which in turn will mean more economic growth.

Larry Mocha, president and CEO of APSCO, Inc. in Tulsa

Number of the Day

67 percent

Percentage of nursing home residents in Oklahoma that have their care paid for through Medicaid.

Source: OHCA via Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

In the South and West, a tax on being poor

Debates over the fairness of the tax code are as old as the federal income tax itself. A cornerstone of the tax — established a century ago, by the 16th Amendment — has been the principle that those who make more should pay more, while lower tax rates help the poor to support their families and depend less on government benefits. That social compact shifted into high gear during the Nixon administration, which tried to incentivize work by rewarding low-income households with a tax break that became the nation’s most successful antipoverty tool ever: the earned-income tax credit. Politicians of both parties have embraced the credit, making it more progressive three times since it was enacted in 1975. While the federal government has largely stuck by the principle of progressive taxation, the states have gone their own ways: tax policy is particularly regressive in the South and West, and more progressive in the Northeast and Midwest.

Read more from the New York Times.

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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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