In The Know: March 10, 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.

About 800 firefighters rallied at the state Capitol yesterday to protect changes to their pensions. Oklahoma Watch examines how Oklahoma’s sentencing and probation laws lead to unusually high incarceration rates. NewsOn6 reports on Oklahoma students at risk of losing access to college due to cuts in federal Pell grants.

Dan Straughan, executive director of The Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City, writes about how fighting homelessness requires the cooperation of many agencies and programs. The House defeated a proposal to require at least 65 percent of education money go to direct instruction and put a 3-year moratorium on the Art in Public Places act that puts 1.5 percent of the cost of building renovation towards public art. The House also approved a bill banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Previously abortions were allowed up to the 24th week. The Senate passed a measure to make county sheriff elections nonpartisan. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center lists 3 Oklahoma lawmakers among a group of 12 that are “Attacking the Constitution” with harsh anti-immigration policies.

The Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, discusses how the insurance exchanges in the federal health care reform law can benefit Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog previously explained insurance exchanges here.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Firefighters flock to capitol to defend pensions

An estimated 800 firefighters from 60 fire departments across the state descended on the state Capitol on Wednesday to voice their displeasure and concerns about legislation that they fear would threaten their pension benefits. Part of their apprehension was allayed when the House passed a bill that calls for a task force to study six pension plans, including firefighters’. House Bill 1005 passed 91-2 and now goes go the Senate. Its passage effectively extinguishes HB 1221, which would have revamped the firefighters’ pension system, said Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, the author of HB 1005.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Confronting Oklahoma incarceration rates

Oklahoma leads the nation for the number of women in prison per capita with 132 out of every 100,000 women behind bars. “I don’t think the women in Oklahoma are any worse than the women in any other part of the country,” said Bob Ravitz, Oklahoma County Public Defender. Ravitz said it’s not the women who are the problem, it’s the state’s sentencing code that’s to blame. He said Oklahoma locks women up for crimes that other states only consider misdemeanors. Plus, he said the fines and rules regarding probation make it impossible for women to succeed.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch at

See also: GOP leaders must be willing to consider changes in corrections policy on NewsOK

Oklahoma college students at risk of losing financial aid

Administrators at Tulsa Community College are in Houston at the invitation of the Obama administration to discuss ways to get more students through college and into the work force. But with federal student aid threatened, students may be forced into finding other options to pay for school. National Pell Grants are under fire. If this funding is cut back, Green Country students at TCC could pay the price. … More than 25 percent of TCC students are here on federal Pell Grants. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $5.7 billion cut last month.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

In Oklahoma City, many agencies collaborating to help homeless

A recent story in The Oklahoman said the Government Accountability Office had found “20 different homeless programs at seven agencies, costing $2.9 billion (per) year.” That’s not news to the people who work with the homeless in our community. Homelessness is like a symptom that can have many causes; domestic violence, mental illness, addiction, lack of job skills. The list goes on. Often, several causes are present in a single individual or family. Just as a sick person may require several specialists for treatment, the homeless often need to access multiple services to overcome their barriers to housing.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Oklahoma House defeats school funding proposal

The state House defeated Wednesday a bill that would require 65 percent of state funds appropriated to public schools be spent on instructional purposes. Opponents said it would take away local control from school districts.

House Bill 1746 failed by a vote of 64-32. The bill’s author, Rep. Jason Nelson said he would try to bring up the bill up for another vote. Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said he wanted to make sure more of the $2.4 billion legislators appropriated to public schools this fiscal year go to the classroom.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Why education reform is not like musical chairs on the OK Policy Blog

House advances 3-year moratorium on public art

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted today (Wednesday, March 9) to temporarily end a state law that requires millions of tax dollars to go to art projects. … House Bill 1665, by Osborn, would eliminate the Arts in Public Places Act for the next three years. Under current law, anytime the state has a building project or renovation costing $250,000 or more, 1.5 percent of the cost must be dedicated to public art. The cost of that art can be as much as $500,000 per project. … H.B. 1665 was, however, another target for a band of conservatives who are working on certain votes with a unified Democratic caucus to deprive legislation of the “emergency clause” that would make a measure effective immediately after the chief executive’s signature.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Senate OKs measure for nonpartisan sheriff races

The Senate passed a measure Wednesday to make county sheriff elections nonpartisan. Senate Bill 327 by Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, heads to the House after the Senate approved it 29-17. A sheriff’s political party shouldn’t matter in enforcing the law, Johnson said. … Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said the bill fails the people of Oklahoma because it doesn’t provide information and isn’t transparent. Voters don’t understand the details and background behind a candidate, he said. “Party identification allows the average voter to understand a person’s basic values and affiliations,” Crain said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Law center reports says Oklahoma lawmakers ‘radical’

Three Oklahoma lawmakers who advocate stricter immigration controls are among a dozen U.S. legislators targeted by a Southern Poverty Law Center report for their “radical” beliefs. Two of the lawmakers responded that the real radicals are at the SPLC, which is attacking lawmakers because they support traditional values and the Constitution. Republican state Reps. Sally Kern and Charles Key of Oklahoma City and Randy Terrill of Moore are highlighted in “Attacking the Constitution: State Legislators for Legal Immigration & the Anti-Immigrant Movement.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: The full report at

Oklahoma House approves bill banning abortion after 20 weeks

The House overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. If the law wins approval in the Senate and is signed into law — both of which appear likely — Oklahoma would be the second state to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain. Abortions now are allowed up to 24 weeks. After that, they can be provided only because of serious health issues. House Bill 1888 passed by a vote of 94-2 without questions or debate.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

OCPA: Health insurance exchanges can be good for Oklahoma

… To be clear, health insurance exchanges are not the optimal health policy that will fundamentally change our broken healthcare system, but they are certainly an important tool in the toolkit. All of this, of course, assumes that HHS would grant Oklahoma’s (presumably free-market rather than Obamacare-styled) exchange a waiver once it was up and running, which is no sure thing. With that, here are four reasons why implementation of a health insurance exchange is not necessarily a bad thing.

Read more from the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs at

See also: Health Care Reform: Implementing Insurance Exchanges from the OK Policy Blog

Quote of the Day

I take a lot of classes at once because I’m not trying to waste my time, I’m trying to hurry up and get done, get out and work and be a part of society and not using anything.

Shalan Velez, a mother of five and full-time nursing student, whose access to education is threatened by proposed reductions in federal student aid.

Number of the Day


Borrowers with outstanding loans to a payday lending service in Oklahoma in June 2010.

Source: Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Public and private compensation both stagnate as productivity rises

For more than two decades, compensation in both the public and the private sector has lagged far behind productivity growth. The Figure charts the growth in state and local and private-sector compensation, against total growth in U.S. productivity since 1989. As it shows, from 1989 to 2010 both public-sector and private-sector compensation has seen comparably modest growth: up 20.5% in the state/local sector, up 17.9% in the private sector. In contrast, hourly productivity grew 62.5% over the 1989-2010 period, more than three times as fast as compensation grew in either the public or the private sector.

Read more from the Economic Policy Institute 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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