In The Know: March 31, 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, former State Senator Mike Morgan has been indicted on 63 counts of federal bribery, extortion and mail fraud for allegedly accepting illegal payments from companies while a legislator.  Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush met yesterday with GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma to highlight efforts to overhaul public education.  The Oklahoma Corporation Commission meets today to discuss whether crude oil supply exceeds capacity at the oil storage hub in Cushing and is driving down Oklahoma oil prices.

Two bills passed out of House committee yesterday that could delay pension benefits for future school teachers and state employees. Residents of Bokoshe, Oklahoma fear their high rates of cancer and asthma are linked to the town’s coal ash dump site.  A bill to ease Oklahoma’s prison population by making more people eligible for community sentencing cleared a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday.

The State Senate reinstated a $3.5 million tax credit for aerospace companies.  Oklahoma doctors criticize KV Pharmaceuticals for raising the price of a commonly used drug administered to pregnant women – from $15 per shot to $1,500 – after it was approved by the FDA.  The Tulsa World will soon no longer allow unlimited access to digital content to non-subscribers.

More after the jump.

In The News

Former Oklahoma Senate leader indicted on federal bribery, extortion, mail fraud counts

Mike Morgan, a former leader of the Oklahoma Senate, has been accused in a 63-count federal indictment of accepting more than $400,000 in illegal payments from three companies while a legislator.  Jurors said Morgan was paid $4,166 a month by a company that wanted to build a solid waste landfill in northern Oklahoma. He was paid a total of $141,664 over three years, according to the indictment.

Read more from the Oklahoman here – ixzz1IB6A8SQW

Oklahoma GOP Leaders Follow Florida’s Education Overhaul

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joined Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and GOP lawmakers Wednesday to highlight what they say is a need to overhaul public education in the state.  But critics maintain Florida’s approach to changing education may not work here, and that what Oklahoma schools really need are more funding after years of budget cutbacks.  Among the changes Republican leaders are seeking in Oklahoma are making it easier to fire bad teachers, providing parents with letter grades for schools based on performance, and an end to the practice of promoting students to the next grade level before they’ve reached certain achievement standards.

Read more from NewsOn6 here

State commissioners to discuss Cushing oil supply

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is looking into the supply of crude oil at the oil storage terminal at Cushing and its impact on Oklahoma oil prices.  The three-member commission will meet on Thursday to discuss whether the supply of crude from all sources, including Canada, exceeds available storage and pipeline capacity at the oil storage hub.  Oklahoma oil producers say oil shipped in pipelines from Canadian oil sands has produced a glut of crude at the massive terminal that has helped drive down the cost of oil they produce.

Read more from this Tulsa World article here

Bills could delay pension dates for teachers, officials

Public schoolteachers and state employees hired after Nov. 1 and state and county officials elected after Nov. 1 would have to wait a couple of years longer to start collecting their state pensions under two bills that passed out of a House committee Wednesday.  House Bill 377 would increase the eligible age for public schoolteachers hired after Nov. 1 to tap into the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System from 62 to 65.  HB 794 would put in place the same age eligibility for public employees who are hired after Nov. 1.  The measure also would increase the eligible age for state and county officials elected after Nov. 1 to draw earnings from the Oklahoma Public Employee Retirement System from 60 to 65.

Read more from this Tulsa World article here

Oklahoma Town Fears Cancer, Asthma May Be Linked to Dump Site

Many residents of Bokoshe, Okla., have a common fear: a coal ash dump site.  The mound of coal ash at the MMHF — Making Money Having Fun — dump site reaches six stories high; residents count 80 truckloads a day.  Residents say the toxic mix — coal ash contains arsenic, mercury and lead — contaminates the air they breathe and water they drink.  “It would be a cloud of dust that would engulf you,” said Susan Holmes. “It would just choke you so you couldn’t breathe.”  Of the 20 homes in the immediate neighborhood, 14 have one or more cancer victims, residents told ABC News.

Read more from ABC News here

Bill to ease Okla’s prison population clears panel

More criminals in Oklahoma would be eligible for community sentencing and electronic monitoring under a bill making its way through the Oklahoma Senate.  A Senate subcommittee on Wednesday approved the bill by House Speaker Kris Steele that seeks to slow the explosive growth of Oklahoma’s prison population.  The bill also restricts the governor’s role in the parole process, a move expected to result in the release of more inmates on parole.  Lawmakers are facing a $500 million hole in next year’s budget and are looking to control spending for the state Department of Corrections that currently takes up about 7 percent of the state budget.

Read more from the Stamford Advocate here – ixzz1IBA5FVBA

Bill to restore tax credits heads to Okla governor

An Oklahoma tax credit for aerospace companies that hire engineers is heading to the governor’s desk.  The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the bill that restores the incentive that was put on hold last year by lawmakers looking to close a $1.2 billion gap in the state budget.  The incentive cost the state about $3.5 million during its first year, but proponents say it was used to lure nearly 350 high paying jobs to the state and was a major reason Boeing decided to relocate some of its operations to Oklahoma City.  The bill now heads to new Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it.

Read more from NewsOn6 here

Anti-premature-birth drug cost jumps 100-fold after gaining FDA approval

Oklahoma doctors are joining a national chorus criticizing a company that has dramatically raised the price of a drug used to help women avoid giving birth prematurely.  The drug is administered by injection and had cost about $15 a shot until it was approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration. The marketing rights were sold to KV Pharmaceuticals through its subsidiary Ther-Rx. Now the price is $1,500 per shot.  “It’s just beyond the pale,” said Dr. Michael Gardner, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine in Tulsa.

Read more from this Tulsa World article here

Tulsa World to unveil new digital subscriptions, website changes

Tulsa World subscribers will continue to receive full access to and other digital news products under a system that will begin Monday and charge frequent website users who do not pay for a print subscription to the newspaper. The concept being implemented on is called a metered system. The system will limit the amount of locally produced articles that a nonsubscriber can view at no charge.

Read more from this Tulsa World article here

Quote of the Day

Business owners aren’t really document experts, we know tacos.  We don’t know documents.

Tim Wagner, co-owner of Cocina De Mino in Oklahoma City, on laws requiring employers to verify employee immigration status.

Number of the Day


Cigarette excise tax per pack in Oklahoma, 2011.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute, Online Budget Guide

See previous Numbers of the Day-here.

Policy Note

The Fix We’re In For: The State of Oklahoma’s Bridges

A new report ranks Oklahoma second in terms of deteriorating bridges.  Despite billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds directed toward the maintenance of existing bridges, 69,223 bridges — 11.5 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. — are classified as “structurally deficient,” requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.  Two key problems persist: while Congress has repeatedly declared bridge safety a national priority, existing federal programs don’t ensure that aging bridges actually get fixed; and the current level of investment is nowhere near what is needed to keep up with our rapidly growing backlog of aging bridges.

Read more from Transportation for America here

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