In The Know: Legislature poised to limit access to mammograms, immunizations & more

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 the legislature is poised to pass a law that would effectively suspend all minimum coverage requirements for health insurance. The Senate voted to extend the life of OETA, but they created a new sunset date in 2014. Fortune explains why Chesapeake Energy is in a race against time to escape huge debts.

About 225 Tulsa-area business leaders visited the Capitol to push for increased state funding of roads, education, and other priorities. Rep. Earl Sears told Tulsa parents that getting more money for education depends on what happens with tax cuts. The Senate passed Gov. Mary Fallin’s tax-cut proposal, which would cost almost $1 billion in the first full year and create tax cliffs that disincentivize work.

In his latest Journal Record column, OK Policy Director David Blatt explains the many false claims in the Laffer report being used to justify tax cuts. Dozens of Oklahoma drug and mental health court graduates came to the Capitol to tell lawmakers about how the programs have helped turn their lives around. A spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics said a measure intended to combat methamphetamine manufacturing by tracking sales of pseudoephedrine was “a step backward.”

An initiative petition seeking to allow wine sales in grocery stores has drawn two protests. The American Lung Association gave Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties an “F” for the number of high-ozone days.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the rate at which newly hired state employees lose or leave their jobs. In today’s Policy Note, Atlantic Cities maps out some of the invisible borders that define American culture.

In The News

Legislature poised to limit access to mammograms, prostate screenings, immunizations & more

While the new federal health law has expanded consumer guarantees for minimum health benefits, Oklahoma is poised to move in the opposite direction. Embedded in an ‘interstate compact’ bill to allow out-of-state insurers to sell policies in Oklahoma is a provision that could nullify several of the state’s existing consumer protections. Language in SB 1059 appears to exempt both out-of-state and in-state insurers from state laws regarding minimum coverage and benefits offered by health insurance policies. This bill would turn back the clock on our health care system and deprive Oklahomans of essential medical care that they rely on their insurance to provide.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Senate gives OETA two-year extension on sunset

Oklahoma’s public broadcast network likely won’t be eliminated in June, as some had feared, although the Senate on Wednesday only extended the life of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority by two years. The bill extending the sunset date of OETA — the statewide broadcaster of national programs like “Sesame Street” and “Nova” — passed the Senate 38-7, but an amendment to the bill set the next sunset date in 2014 instead of 2016. “I’m not trying to kill OETA,” said Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City. “I’m trying to decide whether or not they should still be an arm of government.” About 41 percent of OETA’s budget comes from state funds. Last year the state agency received $3.8 million in state appropriations. But the bill debated Wednesday was not a funding bill. Rather, OETA is the only state agency that has a sunset date — a date by which the agency would cease to exist without reauthorization from lawmakers.

Read more from NewsOK.

How Chesapeake Energy went from darling to dud

Chesapeake Energy is almost out of rope. Investors have punished the company in recent days, sending its shares down as much as 25%, following reports that Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s co-founder and chief executive, engaged in some questionable transactions with the company. But while accusations of sweetheart deals are troublesome, they are really the least of Chesapeake’s worries. The company is drowning in debt and can no longer rely on hedging to shield itself from low natural gas prices. Chesapeake and its embattled chief executive are now in a race against time to diversify the company’s production away from natural gas to oil, so they can prove to investors that they can make money the old fashioned way – by actually earning it through the drillbit.

Read more from Fortune.

Tulsa Metro Chamber members lobby for increased state funding

About 225 Tulsa-area business leaders worked the halls of the state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, pushing for better roads, more money for schools and other priorities of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Gov. Mary Fallin, state Treasurer Ken Miller, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, spoke to the group before it fanned out on the chamber’s annual lobbying blitz. The chamber urged a six-item agenda: increased state funding for education, state bond funding for a popular culture museum in downtown Tulsa, funding for a quick-action closing fund to attract employers, protecting key tax credits and incentive programs, transportation funding and more funding for physician training programs. Fallin spent some of her time with the group talking about the importance of a substantial cut in the state income tax, but chamber President Mike Neal said essential government services have to be paid for first, and all of the items on the chamber’s agenda are essential.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Tulsa parents lobby for education at Capitol

Several Parents from Tulsa Public Schools were in Oklahoma City Wednesday, lobbying legislators for more education funding. They were part of a Tulsa Chamber of Commerce group at the Capitol. The Chamber has included Increased education funding as one of their top six priorities for lobbying. Stephanie Coates, PTA president for Eliot Elementary, said it was the first time she’s ever tried to sway a lawmaker. “Watching the budget be cut three years in a row, watching my child’s class sizes increase, and finally this year, with one of our most favorite teachers being cut, I just decided to see what I could do,” Coates said. Republican Representative Earl Sears of Bartlesville chairs the budget committee and he’s not sure. “If the money is not there, I just can’t get there,” Representative Sears said. “And what money we have, I’m trying to get some to education,” Sears says as much as $50 million could go into education, but that depends on negotiations over spending for other needs – and tax cuts.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Gov. Fallin’s tax cut proposal passed by Senate

The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday passed Gov. Mary Fallin’s tax-cut proposal. The measure is expected to wind up in a conference committee with several other tax-cut proposals. Under the measure, individuals earning less than $15,000 a year and couples earning $30,000 or less would pay no state income tax. Individuals earning at least $15,000 but less than $35,000 and couples earning at least $30,000 but less than $70,000 would pay 2.25 percent on all income. Individuals earning more than $35,000 and couples earning more than $70,000 would pay 3.5 percent on all income. The current proposal would cost nearly $383 million in fiscal year 2013, up from $113 million in the original plan, Mazzei said. For fiscal year 2014, the impact would be slightly more than $980 million, up from $300 million, Mazzei said. The Senate on Wednesday amended the measure to keep in place Oklahoma’s exemption for tax-free interest on municipal bonds and state bonds, Mazzei said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Previously: Fallin’ off a cliff from the OK Policy Blog

Blatt: No ‘Laffing’ matter

The strong push to eliminate Oklahoma’s personal income tax relies heavily on a report by economist Arthur Laffer. In it he said that states without an income tax are doing better economically, eliminating the income tax will be a boon for Oklahoma’s economy, and previous income tax cuts have actually boosted state revenue collections. Yet, on closer scrutiny, all these claims turn out to be misleading or false. Take the claim that states without an income tax have enjoyed stronger economic growth than states with the highest income tax rates. Laffer jerry-rigged the analysis by picking measures of economic success all tied to population growth. More people in a state means a higher total economic output and number of jobs, but it does not mean individual families within the state are doing any better. Once you control for population, the results are very different than what Laffer presents.

Read more from The Journal Record.

Drug and mental health courts lauded for cutting prison costs and battling addictions

Dozens of Oklahoma drug and mental health court graduates crowded into the state Capitol Wednesday to tell lawmakers about how the programs have helped turn their lives around. Representatives of some of Oklahoma’s drug and mental health courts set up informational booths that lauded the success of the programs, including low recidivism rates and high employment rates for graduates of the alternative sentencing programs. “Recovery happens every day in Oklahoma,” Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White said to applause and cheers from court workers and graduates. “Because of you, we have avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal justice costs.” White said drug and mental health courts are considered some of the most successful alternatives to incarcerating non-violent offenders with mental or addictive disorders. White said it costs $5,000 a year to adjudicate an offender in drug court but $19,000 a year to incarcerate the offender.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Okla. anti-meth bill criticized as ‘step backward’

A measure intended to reduce methamphetamine manufacturing in Oklahoma by tracking sales of a key ingredient in the stimulant is like “a step backward,” a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics said. And OBN Director Darrell Weaver said Wednesday that the bill’s further limiting of the amount of the ingredient, pseudoephedrine, that a customer is allowed to purchase would do little to stop people from buying medicine containing it, then selling it to meth cooks, a practice known as “smurfing.” Pseudoephedrine is a common component is some cold and allergy pills. The bill calling for an electronic system to connect Oklahoma with other states that use the system track sales of drugs that contain pseudoephedrine has passed the state House on an 82-5 vote and Senate by a 46-1 margin. It is awaiting final approval in the House before being sent to Gov. Mary Fallin.

Read more from Businessweek.

Protests filed against wine-in-grocery stores ballot language

An initiative petition seeking to give certain grocery stores the opportunity to sell unrefrigerated wine has drawn two protests. The protests were filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier in the week, although only one of them is on file with the Secretary of State’s office. Both protests focus on the ballot language itself because it doesn’t address a single topic, which is required of initiative petitions under state law. Each protest also claims the proposed ballot language violates the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution because it only allows certain stores to sell wine. Court records show that Yousef Javadzadeh, who owns several convenience stores in the Oklahoma City area, has filed his protest with both the Supreme Court and the secretary of state. Two groups, the Oklahoma Prevention Policy Alliance and Fighting Addiction Through Education, filed the other protest with the state’s highest court.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma, Tulsa Counties get ‘F’ in American Lung Association report for ozone

The American Lung Association is out with a new State of the Air report today ranking air quality for metro areas across the county. Generally, Oklahoma fares well in comparison, but both Oklahoma and Tulsa received an “F” for the number of ozone days from 2008 to 2010. Ozone alerts peak in the summer in Oklahoma. That’s when the nitrous oxide and volatile organic compound emissions from power plants and vehicles combine with heat and the sun to create ozone. High ozone levels can make it harder to breathe for people already susceptible to asthma or other lung diseases. Air quality organizations say ozone can be curtailed by not filling up vehicles and not mowing yards during ozone alert days. The latest State of the Air report showed some improvements in Oklahoma. A previous report, ranking counties from 2005 to 2007, gave an “F” to nine Oklahoma counties.

Read more from Power Play.

Quote of the Day

There seems to be an irrational political pressure to further erode Oklahoma’s tax base when we have no way to even begin to address all of the needs and obligations we’re currently facing. Reality doesn’t seem to figure into this discussion at all.
Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally for the rate at which newly hired state employees lose or leave their jobs, 2008

Source: Pew Center on the States

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The invisible borders that define American culture

When we think about borders, we tend to think of administrative boundaries. Those demarcating lines, often grown out of rivers and mountain ranges or diplomatic quirks, govern our daily lives, and that’s doubly so if we live near a neighboring country or state. We know that these boundaries are on some level unnatural. Driving around Kansas City, where I live, makes this abundantly clear. Gas price differences aside, it can be difficult to tell which state you’re in, Missouri or Kansas, and the small street of State Line Road does nothing to make it clearer. But are there more organic borders, brought to life by our own actions and activities? I recently set out, along with a team from MIT and AT&T, to see if I could find an answer. Previously, members of our group had collaborated to use mobile phone call and text message records to determine how tightly connected different counties are to each other. But communication is far from the only way in which we are connected or separated. We can be connected based on where we move, how we speak, and even what sports teams we root for.

Read more from Atlantic Cities.

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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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