In The Know: March 16, 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, about 1,000 teachers rallied at the capitol yesterday to protest rising class sizes and attempts to change teachers’ employment protections and pensions. The House defeated an amendment to a bill that would cap noneconomic damages in lawsuits, which caused leadership to withdraw the entire bill. They passed a prison reform measure aimed at reducing incarceration of non-violent offenders. Gov. Fallin is urging passage of IT consolidation and a state deal-closing fund before the deadline this Thursday. Tensions are increasing within the House GOP caucus as an Oklahoma Tea Party leader makes threats against several members.

The OK Policy Blog has our quick take on February’s revenue numbers, as well as an upcoming webinar on promoting savings for low-income Oklahomans. NewsOK editorializes on the serious toll budget cuts are taking from every state agency.

Data Watch warns that some language in the bill to ban texting while driving would make it harder to get open records from the Department of Public Safety. The Senate voted to increase the fee on reinstating a suspended drivers license, with proceeds going to the State Highway Patrol. They also voted to increase penalties for a DUI. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that families cannot exclude teen drivers from insurance policies.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Oklahoma teachers rally for smaller class sizes, protected rights

Educators rallying at the state Capitol on Tuesday told lawmakers they feel overworked because of overcrowded classrooms, underpaid in both salary and retirement, and under attack from politicians looking to weaken laws protecting tenured teachers. “It’s hard not to take things personal,” Matt Holtzen, a U.S. history teacher at Enid High School, said. “I think that the climate is teachers are under attack.” Holtzen was one of roughly 1,000 members of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, who spent a day of their spring break gathered on the south steps of the Capitol before heading in to talk to legislators.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Superintendent Janet Barresi announces details of new education agenda from NewsOK; Oklahoma City schools try structured recess program from NewsOK

House thwarts caps on noneconomic damages in lawsuits

Insurgent House Republicans, aided by their Democratic colleagues, derailed a key lawsuit-reform bill Tuesday by forcing it to be withdrawn from consideration. Thirty-nine of the House’s 70 Republicans joined with 29 of 31 Democrats to decisively vote down an amendment by Speaker Kris Steele to House Bill 2128, which would set caps on noneconomic damages, commonly known as pain and suffering. … Democrats, as they have for years, lambasted the caps as unfair to plaintiffs suffering lifelong injuries. On Tuesday, they were joined by Republicans who added the U.S. Constitution to the argument. “This is completely contrary to the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Tulsa.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma House approves prison reform bill targeting nonviolent offenders

Oklahoma took a step toward reforming the way it deals with nonviolent offenders on Tuesday, with the House of Representatives passing a corrections reform bill backed by fiscal conservatives and social reformers. House Bill 2131, which faces an unknown future in the Senate, would shorten the time “low-risk, nonviolent” offenders spend behind bars in favor of expanded use of electronic monitoring, treatment programs and other forms of supervised release. “With House Bill 2131, I believe we’ve laid the foundation for Oklahoma to consider how to do things differently,” House Speaker Kris Steele, author of the bill, said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also:National ‘Right On Crime’ campaign launches Oklahoma effort from CapitolBeatOK

Fallin urges passage of IT consolidation, closing fund

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin took time out from her vacation Tuesday to ask House members to pass two measures that are included in her executive budget for the 2012 fiscal year, warning that failure of a state government streamlining measure could result in steeper budget cuts. The Republican, who is on a family vacation in the Bahamas, asked the GOP-controlled House to pass House Bill 1304 before Thursday’s deadline. The bill would consolidate information technology services of all state agencies and would place them under the state finance office. … Fallin also asked the House to approve HB 1953, which would establish a closing fund that would allow withdrawal of money quickly to seal projects that would bring more jobs to the state.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Is a GOP House meltdown coming? Anger over caucus leak grows with Gerhart threats

Six Republican House members have been singled out for threats by the Sooner Tea Party’s Al Gerhart for remarks made in the privacy of their Caucus, leading some to conclude that the collegiality of the Caucus is being violated. The realization that Gerhart has “inside” information from the Caucus has some members looking over their shoulders and others ready to quit going to Caucus meetings, it appears. The growing conflict between conservative and moderate members and the “arch” conservative Republican members has turned into open warfare, warfare that threatens Speaker Kris Steele’s leadership.

Read more from The McCarville Report blog at

Quick Take: February revenue collections show continued growth but full recovery remains far off

Yesterday, State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger announced state General Revenue (GR) collections for February.  The news was generally positive. February’s collections came in 12.0 percent higher than one year ago; this was the eleventh straight month that monthly GR collections were up compared to the prior year. However, February’s growth was not quite as robust as that seen in January, when collections rose by 19.5 percent.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Texting while driving bill would require fees to inspect DPS records

In the interests of public safety, there’s been legislation filed at the Capitol this year to ban texting while driving for commercial drivers. Whatever your personal feelings on that issue, the bill also makes some big changes to public records held by the Department of Public Safety. … Essentially, those changes mean you could not go to the DPS and take notes from a record without buying a copy of it first. So much for the “try-before-you-buy” concept in sales.

Read more from the Data Watch blog at .

Senate OKs fee increase to fund trooper academy

The Senate passed measures Tuesday that would raise some fees to pay for an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper academy. Senate Bill 953 by Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, would raise the fee for reinstatement of a driver’s license to $50 from $25. The fee increase would be effective from this July 1 through June 30, 2013, and then would return to $25. People who have had their licenses suspended for violations such as driving under the influence would pay the fee, Nichols said. The money raised would pay for an academy. Any additional funds would be used for operational expenses of the Highway Patrol.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Tougher penalties for DUI offenders approved by Oklahoma Senate from NewsOK; Insurance excluding teen drivers violates public policy, court holds from The Journal Record

Upcoming Event: Webinar on promoting savings in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Assets will host a 60-minute webinar on promoting savings in Oklahoma on Thursday, March 24 from 2:00 to 3:00pm CDT.  The presentation, ‘Taking it to the Bank: Promoting Savings in Oklahoma,’ features expert speakers via conference call and on-line content exploring policies and programs that promote savings for low-income individuals and families.  Register for the webinar here. This event is the first in a series of webinars produced by Oklahoma Assets, a coalition that aims to identify and strengthen programs and policies that help Oklahoma residents achieve economic security.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

NewsOK: Mental health agency among many now hurting

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services makes a compelling case for the need for lawmakers to use extreme caution in further cutting the agency’s budget. Cuts imposed in recent years have reduced the number of people receiving care, which has affected patients, their families, law enforcement and other parts of society. Anadarko Police Chief Everett Hart told The Oklahoman’s Sonya Colberg that cuts to mental health agencies “are killing us” because they have left him and his officers spending more time and money transporting mentally ill to hospitals or mental health agencies.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

I’m going to share with you some of the things that make me see red. I see red when I see the number of students increasing while the number of teachers decreases. I see red when support personnel don’t make a living wage. I see red when I see the budget deficit being filled on the back of the teacher retirement system.

Linda Hampton, incoming president of the Oklahoma Education Association, speaking at a rally of teachers yesterday at the capitol.

Number of the Day


Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation reported in Oklahoma in 2009.

Source: FBI Hate Crime Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

States put their own spin on Obama health care law

Rancor over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has largely overshadowed some states’ efforts to use the law to help them move as fast as possible to insure more people and increase control over insurance companies. Minnesota, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., have leveraged more federal dollars to expand coverage of childless adults. Vermont is exploring a single-payer health care system that would phase out most private insurance, a strategy rejected by Congress as too radical for the rest of the nation. Oregon is focusing on preventive care and providing proven treatments. Time will tell whether these and other leader states see economic benefits from stabilized insurance markets and expanded health care coverage, or if they’re haunted by their strides should the law be weakened by congressional challenges or overturned by litigation making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read more from this Associated Press article 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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