In The Know: March 9, 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, the House approved a measure to end “trial de novo” protections that allow teachers who are fired to appeal the decision in district court and get their jobs back if they win. Lobbying efforts from tobacco companies are stepping up in response to a bill that would allow local jurisdictions to institute their own tobacco laws. The success of Indian casinos has put Oklahoma at number 4 in the nation for gaming revenue. The Oklahoma Conservation Commission is warning against cuts to flood control programs in the federal budget, saying it will put Oklahoman lives in danger.

The OK Policy Blog looks at attempts to add exemptions and lower the cap on property tax increases and proposes a better alternative. The House approved a bill to create an options counseling program to guide long-term care decisions for the elderly. The bill states that the program cannot be used to implement any provisions of the new federal health care reform law, even though the federal grant that would fund it was created by that law.

The Senate passed bills to require Senate confirmation of judges and prevent those without liability insurance from receiving pain and suffering damages in a lawsuit. The House rejected a bill to allow the Health Department to bill insurance companies over a sentence that would have enabled transgendered Oklahomans to change their birth certificates. On, Jennifer Barron makes a defense of the Art in Public Places Act, and on the Okie Funk blog, Kurt Hochenauer calls for a more balanced public discussion on pension reform.

Read on for these stories and more.

In The News

Oklahoma House approves measure changing teacher due process system

Voting along party lines, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill Tuesday that would strip public schoolteachers of the “trial de novo” portion of their due-process laws. House Bill 1380, by Rep. Corey Holland, a former teacher, passed 69-31 with Republicans voting for it and all 31 Democrats voting against it. The emergency clause, which would make the bill take effect as soon as the governor signs it, failed to get the required 68 votes by one vote, 67-33.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Tobacco lobbyists step up work in Oklahoma legislature

Big tobacco companies have hired a slew of influential Oklahoma lobbyists this year to help the industry defeat legislation that would let cities regulate smoking. There are at least 13 lobbyists for tobacco companies at the Capitol this year, up from nine at this time last year, according to the Ethics Commission. In recent weeks, the lobbyists have ramped up efforts to secure votes against House Bill 2135, which would give cities the power to regulate smoking in public.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Casino boom puts Sooner state at No. 4 for gaming revenue

Oklahoma, with the 28th-largest population and the 29th-largest economy among the 50 states, accounts for more gambling revenue than all but three. An explosion of Indian casino gaming in the state has brought transformational opportunities for the tribes but hasn’t been without social costs for everyone. The annual Indian Gaming Industry Report released last week shows that in 2009 Oklahoma tribes combined for $3.119 billion in gambling revenue and another $442 million in nongaming casino revenue – things such as food, drinks and hotels.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma Conservation Commission fights flood-control spending cuts

An Oklahoma state agency is warning that efforts to cut spending would kill flood-control projects and even bar federal employees from working on those that already are funded. “This would be a crushing blow to Oklahoma’s flood control infrastructure,” said Mike Thralls, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “Oklahoma has six projects under construction, nine more with designs complete and awaiting construction, and 12 in planning or design stages.” Thralls said his reading of a funding proposal in the Senate indicates that all of the projects would “simply stop dead at whatever their state of progress.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Should Oklahoma expand its property tax caps and exemptions?

Once again this session, property tax cuts are on the table in Oklahoma. Although curtailing Oklahoma’s already low property taxes with additional freezes and caps may sound appealing, a better approach would target help to people who need it without sacrificing important investments in education and safe communities. Oklahomans pay less in property taxes than the residents of almost any other state.  The average Oklahoman pays less than half the national average in property taxes: $535 per capita in 2007,  compared to $1,270 for the nation as a whole.  A number of constitutional provisions serve to keep Oklahoma property taxes low.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Lawmakers approve of Kern’s long-term care act

Lawmakers voted today to increase access to long-term care counseling services to help Oklahoma’s elderly. House Bill 1554, by state Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma City, creates the Options Counseling for Long-term Care Program within the Department of Human Services Aging Services Division. … The bill states that “access to information regarding all components of a long-term care support system is necessary to empower the elderly and persons with disabilities in planning, evaluating, and making decisions to meet their individual long-term care support needs appropriately.” … Implementation of the program would be funded through federal grant money that does not require a state match. The bill prohibits the program from being used to implement any provisions of the new federal health care reform law.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

See also: Affordable Care Act Grants to Help People Navigate their Health and Long-term Care Options from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Bill to require Senate confirmation of judges OK’d

The Senate passed a measure Tuesday that would require Senate confirmation of the appointments of judges across the state. Senate Bill 621 by Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City, passed by a vote of 30-14 and heads to the House. Aldridge said the measure would give the public, through elected representatives, more power in the decision-making process. The Judicial Nominating Commission now reviews candidates for judicial offices and forwards names to the governor, who makes the appointments.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Measure would affect lawsuits for drivers lacking liability insurance

The Senate passed a measure Tuesday that would ban people who don’t have liability insurance on their vehicles from claiming pain and suffering damages in lawsuits. Senate Bill 189 by Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City, heads to the House. Aldridge said the measure would still allow for compensation for medical bills, property damage and lost wages. The measure has some exceptions. One would be if the person is struck by someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was convicted or pleaded guilty or no contest to the offense.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma House rejects Health Department billing measure over sentence that would allow birth certificate change for transgendered

The House sent a clear message Tuesday it didn’t like the idea that people getting sex-change operations could have their birth certificates changed to reflect the new gender. The House of Representatives rejected House Bill 1397 by a vote of 71-23. Only a small part of the measure dealt with those who had surgical sex-change operations. The majority of the 62-page bill dealt with allowing the state Health Department or city-county health departments to bill insurance companies for those who received services and have health insurance.

Read more from the NewsOK article at Art in public places on the chopping block

… Why is this bill – and the Art in Public Places (AIPP) Act – important enough for to call you to arms? Simply put, public art projects make a positive difference in the lives of Oklahomans, and eliminating them will have a negative impact. These bills will not reduce taxes for Oklahomans, will not assist in balancing the budget, and will actually eliminate jobs and progress in the state. … If this program were eliminated, the allocated funds would not be able to be redirected to other programs, or given back to Oklahomans in the form of tax cuts. The “extra” cash made available by eliminating this program would possibly line developer’s pockets; there is nothing in these bills to say that this would not occur.

Read more from at

Okie Funk: Retirement plans under scrutiny

Back in November, I wrote about how the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the state’s largest conservative think tank, was pushing for fundamental changes in the state’s retirement plans. I was critical of an article published by an OCPA fellow, Steve Anderson. The article argued that the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS) and the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) should gradually switch to a defined-contribution plan from its current defined-benefit plan. That argument, which deserves a public discussion, didn’t bother me as much as the political language in the article.

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Quote of the Day

It could, but I found it first.

Rep. Guy Liebmann, responding to a question on whether his proposal to spend $800k in leftover bond money on capitol maintenance could instead be spent to prevent DOC furloughs. Liebmann’s bill failed 46-49.

Number of the Day


Average annual salary for a private sector mental health and substance abuse worker in Oklahoma in 2009.

Source: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC)

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The battle over Internet sales taxes

The battle over Internet sales taxes, simmering for more than a decade, is boiling over. And I think somebody bought the tea kettle on for $39.95. Free shipping. No sales tax. Actually, there is, but more about that later. It is no wonder the issue is taking on a new urgency. States face a 2012 budget deficit of $125 billion and are under heavy pressure to find revenue wherever they can. In 2010, E-commerce grew by nearly 15 percent to $165 billion. And $10 billion in tax revenue is on the table. On Main Street, many retailers are getting pounded by online competition, at the cost of local jobs. In just the past few days, lawmakers in Colorado, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Missouri have joined California and a fistful of other states in moving to make online sellers collect sales taxes. Last month, Texas—not exactly a hotbed of aggressive taxation—presented Amazon with a bill for $269 million in uncollected sales taxes.

Read more from the Tax Policy Center at

See also: Fixing the sales tax from the 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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