In The Know: March 21, 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, with the deadline for bills being heard in their house of origin passing last week, the Tulsa World gives an overview of what’s still alive and what’s dead for this session. Republicans are pushing a number of bills this session that would consolidate power under the governor and away from appointed commissions and other statewide elected officials. Speaking at the annual Sunshine Week conference, State Auditor Gary Jones endorsed the establishment of an agency to ensure that Oklahoma’s open government laws are enforced.

The Tulsa World and NewsOK both look at growing rifts in the GOP caucus. House Speaker Kris Steele launched the ‘Right On Crime’ push for corrections reform at a press conference last week. Oklahoma is among nearly half of all states that have not provided adequate information to the federal program that screens gun buyers for mental illness.

NewsOK warns against changing the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship that helps low-income Oklahomans attend college. A bill is moving forward to allow Oklahoma bars to offer happy hours, though critics argue it could increase drunken driving. In today’s Policy Note, the Associated Press looks at increasing efforts by states to collect taxes on online sales. OK Policy previously discussed this issue in our brief on fixing the sales tax.

More below the jump.

In The News

Dead or alive: legislature’s first stab at new laws

The Oklahoma Legislature finished its first lap last week, when bills not heard in the house of origin died. Big business, right-to-life advocates and the office of governor are among the early leaders in the race to adjournment. School superintendents, personal injury plaintiffs and defenders of reproductive rights are bringing up the rear. Strung out in between: gun rights, immigration, public school teachers, tea partiers and public employees. Republican leadership promised to be “business-friendly” when it took control of state government in January, and so far the Legislature has largely delivered. The Senate and House of Representatives have advanced lawsuit reform, tax breaks for the energy and aerospace industries and the creation of a so-called “closing fund” – a discretionary economic development fund to be controlled by the governor and the state Department of Commerce.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

At ‘Right On Crime’ unveiling, Steele says time is right for reform, predicts broad support

With a leading politician and a respected policy analyst at his side during the “Right on Crime” press conference in the state Capitol Blue Room last week, Michael Carnuccio of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the state group advocating for the national initiative, reflected, “Public safety is the core principle of government. When we spend money on corrections and criminal justice policy, we need to ask ourselves what programs actually work.” … Speaker of the House Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican, has for several years been on his own journey toward corrections reform – and reorientation of at least some criminal justice policies toward an active search for alternatives to incarceration.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

See also: Kris Steele leading courageous prison reform effort from The Tulsa World

Oklahoma’s governor would get more power under GOP proposals

Fresh off winning total control of state government, Republicans are pushing on several fronts to give more authority to the state’s top politicians. Most of the proposals focus on giving the governor more power to appoint judges, statewide officials and key members of state boards and commissions. In a state with deep roots in populism, the proposals have drawn criticism from some — mostly Democrats — who fear placing power with few rather than among many weakens the public’s voice in government. … Republicans see the opposite and say the proposals ensure elected officials, particularly the governor, are effective.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Politics for architects, or how fewer elections can be good for democracy from the OK Policy Blog

Pressure in House puts cracks in GOP caucus

Some of the most conservative members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives say the GOP caucus is dysfunctional and disintegrating into chaos. “The speaker and the leadership team have declared war on the conservative side of the House,” said state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Oklahoma City. “There is blood and body parts of our members on that floor that has been spilt in the last week.” But the Republican leadership says the caucus is strong – despite the small number of troublemakers in its ranks. “People are completely fed up with their stalling and obstructionist tactics,” said Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, the House majority floor leader. “Our caucus, because of their behavior, is actually more united and more cohesive.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Stormy session so far for House Republicans from NewsOK

State auditor endorses idea of creating agency to help Oklahomans when public officials violate open government laws

State Auditor Gary Jones recently endorsed the idea of empowering a state agency to help Oklahomans when state and local officials wrongly refuse access to government records or disobey the Open Meeting Act. “I think that’s something we ought to do. Perhaps that’s something we can do in this office,” Jones told FOI Oklahoma’s fourth annual Sunshine Week Conference on March 12. The Republican, who was elected in November, said he would “talk to folks” about that possibility. Jones’ impromptu comments came after listening to the conference’s keynote speaker, Robert J. “Bob” Freeman, describe the operations of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

Read more from FOI Oklahoma at

See also: Open government laws need vigorous enforcement from the OK Policy Blog

Federal mentally ill gun registry conflicts with Oklahoma state law

Patient confidentiality laws and technical problems have prevented Oklahoma from sending names to a national register of mentally ill people prohibited from buying guns. And while state officials say they are working on the problem, gun-rights groups and sellers say there is a dangerous hole in the system meant to keep guns out of the hands of mentally deranged people. Nearly half of all states have submitted few or no mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a multiple database system allowing gun sellers to check a buyer’s eligibility, according to published reports.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: ‘Open carry’ measures advancing; one likely to be approved from The Tulsa World

Lawmakers should be cautious in changing Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship

The promise is rather straightforward: Go to school, take college-preparatory classes, get decent grades and stay out of trouble. If you do that and come from a low- to middle-income family, then the state will pay your college tuition at any public school in the state. The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program is an absolute bargain and a no-lose proposition for the state. Oklahoma needs a more educated populace, and the scholarships open the door for students who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education. So far, higher ed officials say the results speak for themselves. The scholarship recipients graduate at a rate higher than their peers and have better grades. But the price tag is starting to give lawmakers pause, and some are looking for ways to reel in the program. They should proceed cautiously.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Happy hours in Oklahoma? Some aren’t happy about the possibility

Oklahoma could be on its way to celebrating happy hour. But those who worry about the impact a legislative proposal could have on drunken driving don’t see anything to be happy about. From the day the state legalized county-option liquor-by-the-drink in 1984, bars have been prohibited from offering happy hour prices on mixed drinks, strong beer or wine. House Bill 1354, which passed the state House on St. Patrick’s Day, would strike that prohibition between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

These changes are driven by populist energy, but they’re not populist reforms. They’re using that anger against big things and actually creating a strong, centralized government.

OU political science professor Keith Gaddie on efforts to consolidate more power under the governor

Number of the Day

Out of every 4 Oklahomans suffers from a mental illness or addiction disorder.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

States push harder for online sales tax collection

Tax-free shopping is under threat for many online shoppers as states facing widening budget gaps increasingly pressure Inc. and other Internet retailers to start collecting sales taxes from their residents. Billions of dollars are at stake as a growing number of states look for ways to generate more revenue without violating a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits a state from forcing businesses to collect sales taxes unless the business has a physical presence, such as a store, in that state. States are trying to get around that restriction by passing laws that broaden the definition of a physical presence.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

See also: Remote sales tax collection effort intensifying from NewsOK; Fixing the Sales Tax: Options for Reform from Oklahoma Policy Institute

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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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