In The Know: March 28, 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, Governor Fallin is calling on the legislature to come up with more alternatives to reduce the severity of budget cuts to core state agencies. With a major corrections reform bill heading to the full Senate, House Speaker Kris Steele said it is not the end of needed reforms. Oklahoma district attorneys have also come out in support of more alternatives to prison. State officials disputed some numbers in a study on reforming Oklahoma’s parole system, but board members say they agree with most of the recommendations. The Tulsa World has more on the Innocence Clinic being established by OCU law school to identify and help wrongfully convicted Oklahomans.

Analysis by the Community Service Council shows major demographic changes coming to Tulsa, as the population ages and grows more diverse. Today’s Policy Note looks at the challenges of many U.S. counties on the losing end of population shifts. At their convention this weekend, the Tulsa GOP voted to take a harder line on requiring public officials to adhere to the most conservative position on guns, abortion, and tax cuts. The OK Policy Blog reports on Governor Fallin’s message to insurance underwriters that like it or not, health reform is “still the law of the land.”

Residents of eastern Oklahoma are upset over the Tourism Department’s plan to close seven state parks, most on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.

The state’s debt to the higher education system is growing, as a commitment to provide matching funds for private donors who fund endowed chairs remains suspended during the budget crisis. After a year of collaborations with translators from the tribe, the Cherokee language is now searchable on Google. NewsOK calls for hitting fast-forward on providing mental illness records to the national gun registry.

You can hear OK Policy Director David Blatt today at 11am on KGOU’s Oklahoma Voices speaking about pensions, health care reform and other issues. Read on for more.

In The News

Governor Fallin opposes steeper state agency cuts, calls on legislature to come up with alternatives

Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday she opposes steeper funding cuts for state agencies and suggested legislators come up with alternative ways to deal with the significant budget hole in the upcoming fiscal year. “If they have a different way of being able to fund the budget and make up for the $500 million budget shortfall, I invite them to bring those ideas forth,” Fallin said. … Fallin proposed cuts in the 3 to 5 percent range for most state agencies in her budget she presented to lawmakers last month. She combined those cuts with suggested ways to streamline government services and funding ideas in her budget proposal. Legislators didn’t accept all of her ideas, and budget committee chairmen in the House and Senate said state agencies may have to deal with cuts ranging mostly from 3 to 7 percent, with some facing cuts as high as 10 percent. Many agencies have had 15 percent budget cuts the past two years, with some having been slashed 20 percent during that time.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Penal reform bill awaits Senators’ votes

It’s not clear how much money a prison reform bill moving through the state Legislature could save Oklahoma, but its backers insist it will have a big payback over time. House Speaker Kris Steele said House Bill 2131 only lays the foundation for addressing Oklahoma’s rising prison costs. “HB 2131 is not the end of what we are trying to do,” said Steele, who sponsored the bill. One of the bill’s major components would reduce the governor’s role in the parole process for nonviolent offenders, which Steele’s office has projected could save up to $10 million annually. Meanwhile, a 2007 study commissioned by the Legislature said more than $40 million could be saved within 10 years by removing the governor from having to review parole requests for nonviolent offenders.

Read more from this Oklahoma Watch article at

See also: DAs support alternatives to prison from Oklahoma Watch; Board members agree with most recommendations of parole study from The Tulsa World; Innocence clinic coming to Oklahoma — finally from The Tulsa World

Tulsa’s demographic trends mean major changes lie ahead

Could Tulsa be facing not just a perfect storm, but a “super perfect storm?” Experts who’ve been analyzing demographic trends believe a “convergence of significant forces” over the next two decades probably will change life as we know it. “And the cavalry isn’t coming,” said local planning leader Phil Dessauer, Jr., borrowing a popular phrase. “It’s up to us.” In the next two decades, Tulsa’s aged population will grow vastly larger while suburbia’s youth numbers will swell. The dwindling ranks of young people will be much more diverse, while also more economically disadvantaged, than today’s young people. The labor force will change drastically. Housing, transportation, and education will become more critical needs in coming years.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Tulsa GOP moves further right at convention Sunday

The Tulsa County Republican Party moved further to the right at its biennial convention on Saturday, adopting a series of measures intended to enforce greater discipline on elected officials and party members, and voting down every candidate associated with the more moderate old guard. The measures included a state party rule change to be proposed at next month’s state convention requiring censure hearings for Republican officeholders who do not adhere to “core principles” that include the unconstitutionality of all gun regulations and the belief that life is the result of “an act between a man and a woman,” and begins at the moment of fertilization. The proposed rule also would require elected Republicans to work for “drastic” reductions in taxes and mandatory fees.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Who are these Tulsa County Republican “moderates”? from Batesline

Gov. Fallin to insurance underwriters: Like it or not, health reform is the law of the land

The Tulsa Association of Health Underwriters hosted Governor Mary Fallin and Insurance Commissioner John Doak at a forum on how health care reform would affect the insurance industry.  Addressing a packed house at the Tulsa Country Club, Governor Fallin repeated her opposition to the law and support of Oklahoma’s pending legal action challenging the ‘individual mandate’.  She didn’t mince words about what that meant in the short term for implementation: “The fact of the matter is until a court, and the Supreme Court, rules on the health care bill itself, it’s still the law of the land, unfortunately.  I don’t like it, but it’s still the law of the land.” However, the biggest point of contention for this group didn’t seem to be the individual mandate.  Underwriters, agents, and brokerssell insurance, so if everyone is suddenly required to buy insurance, it stands to reason that they will benefit.  Luncheon attendees were instead most concerned about insurance exchanges.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at http://gov-fallin-to-insurance-underwriters-like-it-or-not-health-reform-is-the-law-of-the-land/.

Local residents upset over plan to close state parks

Local residents are upset over a plan to close several state parks, most of them in eastern Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has announced that the state parks are slated to close Aug. 15. Hundreds of residents against the closing of Brushy Lake State Park in Sequoyah County are using Facebook to organize opposition and a petition effort has gathered more than 3,100 signatures so far. … “Sallisaw resident Cindy Smith said. “You have lots and lots of single mothers and low-income families – they can go there and have a picnic. I don’t think the state parks are something that were meant to make money. They’re providing a service to this community.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

State debt to OU grows $2M

The Oklahoma Legislature’s commitment to match private donations for endowed faculty chairs just got more difficult with an Ohio couple’s $2 million gift to OU to create a chair in anthropology and archaeology. OU Public Affairs announced Arnold and Wanda Coldiron’s gift to create the Robert E. and Virginia Bell Endowed Chair in Anthropological Archaeology on Thursday. The Oklahoma Legislature is obligated by law to match the $2 million donation. The state began matching private endowments to higher-education institutions in 1988 with the Endowment Fund Program, according to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education policy and procedures manual. However, in response to the 2008 financial crisis, the Legislature put a temporary stop on the endowment-matching program because the state accumulated a debt of $364.8 million to Oklahoma’s higher-education institutions.

Read more from this OU Daily article at

Cherokee language now searchable with Google

Google made Cherokee a “searchable” language on the World Wide Web on Friday after computer programmers spent more than a year working side-by-side with translators from the tribe. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith hailed it as a major victory in the tribe’s battle to preserve its ancient language. “Language is like a muscle. It has to be exercised in order to stay healthy and grow stronger,” Smith told the Tulsa World. “This is one more tool for people, especially young people, to exercise their language.” Google won’t translate Cherokee websites into English or English websites into Cherokee. But users can now search the Web for any content that is already written in Cherokee – an admittedly tiny fraction of the Internet but nonetheless significant for the tribe, Smith said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

NewsOK: Oklahoma should work to fix flaws in mental illness record-sharing

That Oklahoma isn’t alone in failing to provide the names of the mentally ill for use in a national registry of people prohibited from buying guns is no comfort considering the possible implications. The Oklahoman’s Vallery Brown reported recently that dozens of states have submitted incomplete or no records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Oklahoma is among them because of what officials described as technical problems and patient confidentiality laws. Oklahoma is one of 17 states that have submitted few records while nine states haven’t provided any, according to The Associated Press. When gun-rights advocates are saying the state needs to get it together and limit gun access to those who are mentally unfit, it’s time to press fast-forward on efforts to address the issues.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Quote of the Day

One thing that had me in tears is the number of people that had no to place to go. Literally, if the person was released tomorrow, they would be homeless. Corrections reform has to do with the overall attitude of Oklahoma. We have a church on every corner, but having compassion for inmates and their families is low on the totem pole, especially when it comes for people getting hired.

Parole Board member Currie Ballard

Number of the Day


Average monthly residential electric bill in Oklahoma, 2009.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

More deaths than births killing US counties like Coleman, Texas

Coleman, Texas, lies in the vast empty reaches of the Texas range, like a lonely outpost at the junction of U.S. Highways 84 and 283 and Farm Road 93. If you were to stand at that crossroads, it would be hard to envision howpopulated the Lone Star state has become. Texas added more new residentsin the past years than any state in the U.S. — 4.3 million people in all. Virtually all of that growth occurred far to the east, beyond Interstate 35, the north-south freeway that bisects Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo along the Rio Grande. Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are the first and third-fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, according to 2010 census data. They account for almost half of Texas’ population and 56 percent of its growth in the past 10 years. As for west Texas, well, that’s a different story.

Read more from AOL News 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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