In The Know: March 11, 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.

Today on In The Know, Oklahoma community colleges are looking for new sources of funding as their state appropriations have decreased almost 9 percent while enrollment is up 34 percent over the last decade. The state House passed a bill that would require college students to repay state-funded scholarships if they drop or fail a class. The bill does not make exceptions for withdrawals due to a personal emergency or catastrophe.

The Oklahoma House also passed an Arizona-style immigration bill that would allow law enforcement to check immigration status at traffic stops and confiscate property associated with undocumented immigration. Puppy mill regulations put into law last year are facing an assault from breeders who do not want rules on how they can treat animals. A bill to disapprove the rules by Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, may be heard in the Senate next week. A bill to create a hospital provider fee that would bring in federal matching funds for Medicaid passed the House. Workers’ compensation reform was unanimously approved by the Senate and is headed to the House. The Senate also passed a bill to change the process for binding arbitration during negotiations between cities and their employees.

In the Tulsa World, former state senator and member of the Oklahoma State Board of Corrections Gerald Wright asks whether legislators will have the courage to make needed sentencing reforms. NewsOK weighs in on the never-ending battle to curb meth with more restrictions on cold medicine, and M. Scott Carter notes the problems that will remain after this legislative session. A new rule going into effect this year will require counselors who do substance abuse assessments to have a master’s degree or higher.

On the OK Policy Blog, we look at a recent AG opinion finding that several Oklahoma tax credits may be unconstitutional, and OK Policy Institute Director David Blatt spoke with KWGS about a proposal to lower the cap on property taxes.

Read on for these stories and more.

In The News

Oklahoma community colleges see large enrollment growth amid shrinking state appropriations

… In the only substantive public business of the morning session, Oklahoma Two-Year Colleges Chairman Dr. Paul Sechrist, the president of Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), said the state’s Community Colleges are going to have to more aggressively pursue funding beyond state appropriations. “We’ve done a lot with so little for so long, there are some people who think we can do just about everything with nothing,” Dr. Sechrist said. … From FY 2000 to 2010, research institutions in Oklahoma saw an 11% growth in enrollment, according to Sechrist’s report. Oklahoma’s Regional Institutions experienced 7% growth for the same period. Oklahoma Community Colleges’ enrollment growth was 34% in the past decade. At the same time, Community College funding from State Appropriations fell by 8.6% while appropriations for Regional Institutions rose 18% and Comprehensive Institutions rose 20.1%.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

See also: Higher ed regents ready to examine funding formula from OETA; Oklahoma bill changing state-funded scholarships advances from The Tulsa World

Okla. House passes Arizona-style immigration bill

The Oklahoma House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill patterned after a controversial new Arizona law that allows local law enforcement officers to inquire about people’s immigration status. The House voted 85-7 for the bill, despite concerns from some members it didn’t go far enough to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants. … The bill stiffens the penalties for human smuggling and allows law enforcement to seize property used to harbor or transport illegal immigrants. It also allows state and local law enforcement officers to inquire about an individual’s immigration status, but only if the officer has completed a federal training program.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Puppy mill bill faces another last-minute challenge

Many thought it was over, but in fact the dog fight rages on at the state Capitol. A year after anti-puppy mill legislation was passed, a new bill is circulating that would stop the new rules from going into effect. That bill is taking the fight into the eleventh hour. It’s nick-named the “Puppy Mill Bill” because advocates hope it will force inhumane breeding operations known as puppy mills to close. … The new law requires dogs to be kept in cages twice their length, plus six inches. They can be kept there for life. Commercial dog breeder, Gary Phillips, wants the cage size requirement to be smaller. He said he fought for the cage size requirement to be just the dog plus six inches.

Read more and watch the video from NewsOn6 at

Oklahoma House passes bill to create program to receive federal Medicaid funds

The House approved a bill Thursday to create a fund to allow the financially strapped state to continue to receive federal Medicaid dollars. House Bill 1381 would allow hospitals to pay a 2 percent assessment on their net patient revenues into a fund that would be used to get more federal dollars. It passed 76-22, but a parliamentary procedure prevented it from moving immediately to the Senate. Rep. Doug Cox, the bill’s author, said the assessment would apply to 77 hospitals and exempt 69 others, including specialty hospitals and state-owned hospitals such as the OU Medical Center.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Workers compensation reform heads to House; doctors complain about caps on what they can charge

Critics of a highly touted Republican-sponsored measure billed as workers compensation reform say it could reduce injured workers’ access to medical care. Senate Bill 878 passed the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 44-0 with no debate. It heads to the House. It would reduce what doctors are paid to treat injured workers by tying rates to 120 percent of Medicare. … Medicare doesn’t really cover the cost of treatment, said Dr. William Gillock, who practices occupational medicine in Tulsa. “We are concerned it would eliminate access to care and affect the quality of care we can provide,” he said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Bill changing collective bargaining process in Oklahoma passes state Senate

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would make changes to how work contract disputes are settled between cities and labor unions. Senate Bill 826, by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, passed 25-16. The bill is one of several Republican proposals in the Legislature this year to change how public employee compensation is handled as the state and cities look to tighten budgets and address various funding shortfalls. At issue in SB 826 is a collective bargaining process called binding arbitration that occurs when contract negotiations fail between a local government and police or firefighter labor union.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Gerald Wright: Will lawmakers have the guts to tackle corrections crisis?

The leaders in our Legislature just don’t get it. We could just as well have Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat setting policy for our prison system. Our Legislature reminds me of horses with blinders in a race and the only finish is re-election – none of them is seeing the crisis that looms in our Department of Corrections. How did we get in this situation? After several decades of legislators “getting tough on crime” and now facing a budget crisis, all the increased felony crimes with increased punishment have come home to roost. … Achieving corrections reform is not rocket science. The solutions are easy to recognize, but it is much harder for the policymakers to have the intestinal fortitude (guts) to take action. We must put fewer nonviolent people in prison, put them in for less time, let more out on parole – or a combination of all three.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

See also: State in never-ending battle to curb meth from NewsOK; M. Scott Carter: When session’s over, problems remain from The Journal Record

More education to be required for Oklahoma substance abuse counselors

A permanent rule requiring counselors who do substance abuse assessments to have a master’s degree or higher could become effective July 1 following action taken Thursday by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Former Gov. Brad Henry signed House Bill 2999 into law last June and it went into effect Nov. 1. The bill brings Oklahoma in line with new federal standards and preserves the Medicaid reimbursements the state receives to pay for certified alcohol and drug counselor treatment services. The Health Care Authority rule change would bring the agency in line with the new state law.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

The three-part test for tax credits — and the fourth part we should be asking

When we discuss government budgets, direct spending receives the most attention by far. Less noticed is the substantial expenditure on tax credits and incentives, what some have called the “submerged state.” That inattention may have allowed several unconstitutional measures to sneak through in Oklahoma. At the end of 2010, outgoing Attorney General Drew Edmondson issued an opinion on the constitutionality of Oklahoma tax credits. The opinion was requested by Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation subcommittee. An AG opinion does not have force of law–only a court can legally determine constitutionality–but it can provide guidance to lawmakers and the courts.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at–and-the-4th-part-we-should-be-asking/.

KWGS interviews OK Policy Institute Director David Blatt on property taxes

Each year your home’s value is assessed. The state legislature wants to cap increases at three percent. Currently the cap is at five percent. The head of the Oklahoma Policy Institute says the proposal is not well thought out. David Blatt says the plan could hurt more than it could help. He says school districts, health departments, libraries and technology centers could lose millions of dollars if the proposal is passed.

Listen to the full interview at

See also: Should Oklahoma expand its property tax caps and exemptions? on the OK Policy Blog

Quote of the Day

We’ve done a lot with so little for so long, there are some people who think we can do just about everything with nothing.

Dr. Paul Sechrist, the president of Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), on the situation of Oklahoma community colleges who have had their state appropriations cut even as enrolled increased by 34 percent.

Number of the Day

53 percent

Percentage of all domestic violence homicides that were committed using a firearm in Oklahoma between 1998-2008.

Source: Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How did 50+ workers fair in 2010?

Unemployment rates remained high for the 47.5 million workers age 50 and older in 2010. More than half of unemployed workers this age were out of work for more than six months, and nearly a third were out of work for more than a year. Workers age 50 to 61—too young to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits—have fared worse than those age 62 and older since the Great Recession began in December 2007. This data brief shows recent trends in unemployment, employment, labor force participation, earnings, and unemployment duration.

Read more from The Urban 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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