In The Know: March 25, 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 gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, state agencies may be looking at 5 to 7 percent cuts rather than the 3 to 5 percent cuts proposed by the governor, because legislators have refused to put any new funding ideas on the table. Gov. Fallin is pushing back against conservative critics of her position on health reform, as state leaders attempt to develop a plan for health insurance exchanges by 2013 or have one imposed by the federal government.

A bill to cap lawsuit damages is going to the full Senate after being passed by the Rules Committee. Senate leaders sent the bill to Rules even though the subject would have been more appropriate for the Judiciary Committee, because they were unsure of having enough votes to pass it in judiciary. The Boynton-Moton School District in eastern Oklahoma will lose its accreditation and close on June 30th due to a number of failures to comply with state laws.

A new study suggests a number of reforms to Oklahoma’s parole system that could save the state millions. At 11 percent, Oklahoma has one of the lowest parole rates in the country. Writing in NewsOK, the dean of the OCU School of Law announced the Oklahoma Innocence Clinic, a new project to identify and help remedy wrongful convictions in Oklahoma. House Speaker Kris Steele is defending Appropriations Chair Earl Sears against conflict of interest accusation due to Sears’ daughter working as a lobbyist for the state regents.

Oklahoma’s two largest natural gas producer and its largest electric utilities have taken opposing sides on how the state should handle new federal regulations for coal-fired power plants. On the OK Policy Blog, Alice Blue writes on her experience as an immigrant from Poland escaping concentration camps and how immigrants contribute to American life. In today’s Policy Note, the Christian Science Monitor looks at what has been the impact of new state immigration laws since 2006.

Read on for more.

In The News

Oklahoma agencies may face steeper budget cuts

Deeper funding cuts are likely for state agencies than the 3 to 5 percent range proposed by the governor because two of her key funding ideas haven’t been embraced by legislators, the chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee said Thursday. Most of the cuts now could be in the 5 to 7 percent range, with some cuts perhaps as high as 10 percent, for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, said Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville. Discussions on the budget are under way with Sears and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Myers, R-Ponca City, and talks soon will include the governor’s office, Sears said.

Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-agencies-may-face-steeper-budget-cuts/article/3551586.

Gov. Fallin says insurance exchange critics are misinformed

Gov. Mary Fallin suspects that conservatives who are critical of her acceptance of a $54 million health-care-related grant are “uninformed” about the program and her position on federal health-care reform, she said Thursday. “People who are aware would know I’ve never been for Obamacare,” she said after speaking to the Tulsa Health Underwriters Association at the Tulsa Country Club. … Fallin’s Tulsa appearances were part of a concerted effort by her and other top-level Republicans, including House Speaker Kris Steele, to overcome intraparty opposition to the grant and legislation that puts in place the framework for carrying out some aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The grant and legislation would be used to set up a state insurance exchange that would be intended to make it easier to find and afford health insurance.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20110325_16_A1_CUTLIN731449.

Lawsuit damages cap goes to full Senate

The Senate Rules Committee has advanced to the floor a House-originated lawsuit reform measure considered critical to the Senate Republican Jobs agenda. The Rules Committee this week approved House Bill 2128 by a vote of 11 to 5. While Republicans cheered, a key House Democrat was critical of the measure. … According to a Senate staff press release, key points of H.B. 2128 include: The bill will place a cap on non-economic damages of $350,000; In cases of malice, intent, or gross negligence the cap may be lifted; Economic damages will not be affected by the legislation; The bill will uphold an individual’s right to a fair trial and preserve the jury’s discretion on all other elements of judgments; including loss of income, medical expenses or other things that could be characterized as economic damages.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at http://capitolbeatok.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3857806.

Oklahoma school district run so poorly, it’s losing accreditation

The Oklahoma State School Board today voted unanimously to not accredit the Boynton-Moton School District in Muskogee County after June 30th.  The board took the action following a presentation by staff and the questioning of the district’s superintendent and two school board members. The State Department of Education sent an accreditation team to the district to assess the situation and that team came back with reports of numerous areas of non-compliance with state laws and department guidelines.  These included: mandated reports, including dropout reports, not submitted in a timely manner; no comprehensive local education plan; teaching certificates not on file; college transcripts not on file; signed Loyalty Oaths not on file; contracts for teachers and administrators do not have required information; no specific procedures in place for medicines, accidents, emergencies or disasters; insufficient library expenditures for two consecutive years (08-09 and 09-10, the mandate was suspended by the legislature for the current year).

Read more from this Oklahoma Watchdog article at http://oklahoma.watchdog.org/1738/oklahoma-school-district-run-so-poorly-its-losing-accreditation/.

Study: Oklahoma’s low parole rate costing taxpayers

About 11 percent of Oklahoma inmates up for parole get approved for release, a contributing factor to near capacity prisons that costs taxpayers an average of $80 million per year, according to a new study seeking reforms in the parole process. The Colorado-based Northpointe Institute for Public Management study made several recommendations including using evidence-based models to determine an inmate’s risk and needs, limiting the role of the governor and strengthening the minimum qualifications of board members. The George Kaiser Family Foundation commissioned the study.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=14&articleid=20110324_11_A1_CUTLIN554737.

Lawrence Hellman: Doing more to help the wrongfully convicted in Oklahoma

Most would probably agree that a single innocent person languishing behind prison walls is one too many. It is very likely, however, that Oklahoma’s prisons house more than a handful of wrongfully convicted inmates. These aren’t people who deserve to be released because of some legal technicality. Rather, they are men and women sentenced and incarcerated for crimes they had absolutely nothing to do with. They are actually innocent. … This fall, the Oklahoma City University School of Law will launch the Oklahoma Innocence Clinic to identify and help remedy wrongful convictions in our state.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at http://newsok.com/filling-a-gap-in-oklahomas-criminal-justice-system/article/3551489.

Speaker defends House budget chairman against conflict of interest accusation

House Speaker Kris Steele brushed aside criticism Thursday after it was leveled against the chairman of a powerful budget committee whose daughter deals with the needs of higher education, which receives the second-highest appropriation of state funds. “He is very conscientious, and he’s the hardest working member in the entire Legislature — a trustworthy and honorable individual,” Steele, R-Shawnee, said. Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said no conflict of interest exists because he and his daughter, Hollye Hunt, the associate vice chancellor for governmental relations, do not discuss money issues.

Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/speaker-defends-appointment-of-oklahoma-house-budget-chairman/article/3551571.

Coal plant haze plan gets mixed responses

A fight over new proposed federal regulations on coal-fired electric generation has set up a confrontation between two of the state’s leading natural gas producers – and political donors – and its two largest electric utilities. Earlier this month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said it had rejected part of the state’s plan to reduce sulfur dioxide and ordered “scrubbers” that could cost nearly $1 billion installed in coal-fired plants at Red Rock, Oologah and Muskogee. On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission held a hearing on the issue, with speakers representing interests from the Sierra Club to the coal industry in attendance.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110324_16_A11_CUTLIN479646.

From Poland to Chicago to Oklahoma: Reflections on immigration and citizenship

I come to this gathering and to my work in our community as the youngest child in a family of survivors. My parents, Rose and Daniel Blue, of blessed memory, gave me their love, their name, and their history. When their lives were just beginning to unfold, they were swept up in a unique and terrible storm. They were Polish Jews in a fateful time and place, where their ancestors had lived for centuries. Hardly anyone came through alive. My mother’s parents and brothers were murdered. My father’s young wife was killed along with his sister and brother and their families. When my parents found each other and married in Bergen Belsen, their survival was a piece of rare good fortune. Jewish life in Poland had come to a terrible end.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/from-poland-to-chicago-to-oklahoma-reflections-on-immigration-and-citizenship/.

Quote of the Day

We can try to fight the federal government all the time, but it doesn’t make any sense to do that just for the sake of saying we’re against a Democrat administration or Senate.

Tom Price, an executive with Chesapeake Energy Corp., arguing that we should use new federal regulations on coal plants as an opportunity to switch to Oklahoma-produced natural gas.

Number of the Day

19 percent

Increase in the number of minority-owned businesses in Oklahoma between 1997 and 2002; compared to a 4 percent increase in all businesses.

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

State illegal immigration laws: What have they accomplished?

The wave of immigration laws that has swept through states since 2006 shows few signs of letting up, with state legislators expected to introduce about 1,400 bills this year. Yet five years into this legislative surge, the toughest laws have not recast immigration in the ways that legislators might have intended. From an enforcement standpoint, the impact of state anti-immigration laws like Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 “is almost negligible,” says Veronica Dahlberg, an immigrants’ rights activist. The far greater impact has been social, Hispanic groups say. Laws targeting illegal immigrants have reflected and even intensified the rising anti-immigration movement, both in statehouses and on the streets. The result is a legislative record from Arizona to Florida that hasn’t made much of a mark on illegal immigration, but has fueled a populist backlash against it.

Read more from the Christian Science Monitor at http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2011/0323/State-illegal-immigration-laws-What-have-they-accomplished.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry joined OK Policy in January 2011. 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. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

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