In The Know: May 10, 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, nearly 300 seniors and adults with disabilities rallied at the capitol against budget cuts to home and community services that help keep people out of nursing homes. The OK Policy Blog reports on how the legislature may be deepening the budget hole and increasing administrative hassles for businesses by refusing to standardize sales tax collections with other states. A bill is headed to Governor Fallin that relaxes some of the new regulations on Oklahoma pet breeders but does not go as far as initial versions that would have disapproved all rules.

While there are signs of more controversty on the Senate side, the House redistricting plan is receiving strong bipartisan support. A proposal in the legislature would increase the minimum age by three months for children entering pre-K, Kindergarten, or first grade. Superintendent Barresi hired two employees who had previously been voted down by the Board of Education, and the new Board voted to give Barresi expanded powers immediately that otherwise would have gone into law in August.

NewsOK discusses the important work of OCU’s Innocence Project to aid wrongfully convicted inmates in Oklahoma. The Tulsa Initiative Blog looks at the increasing burdens caused by a lack of affordable rental housing nationwide. In today’s Policy Note, The Infrastructurist finds similarities between today’s opponents of high-speed passenger rail with the last century’s arguments against a national highway system.

Read on for more.

In The News

Oklahoma seniors and adults with disabilities rally against budget cuts

Nearly 300 people — including 125 who made the trip on three buses from Tulsa — pleaded Monday with lawmakers to provide more money to pay for day, home and community services for low-income seniors and adults with disabilities. Supporters said home and community services cost one-third the expense of a nursing home, with the state’s reimbursement rate for community services at $33.10 per day compared with the daily rate of $103.39 paid to nursing homes. After a 30-minute rally, participants tracked down individual lawmakers to talk about their concerns.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Phantom Menace: Fear of “lurking taxes” may deepen budget holes

One might imagine that with a $500 million budget shortfall for the upcoming year and the strong likelihood of chronic shortfalls for years to come, Oklahoma legislators would not want to jeopardize millions in annual state and local tax revenue paid by out-of-state retailers. Yet that is precisely what a majority of House members did recently in using the phantom threat of new taxes to vote down legislation (SB 744) implementing a minor technical revision to the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA).

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Relaxed pet breeder law goes to Gov. Fallin

The Oklahoma Senate on Monday passed a watered-down bill that originally was designed to disapprove of rules adopted by the Oklahoma Commercial Pet Breeders Board. Initially, Senate Bill 637 would have disallowed all of the rules adopted by the recently created Commercial Pet Breeders Board. The board was created to regulate commercial pet breeders and to crack down on puppy mills. The measure was changed to create a toll-free number for callers to report allegations of neglect and abuse, said Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, the Senate author. It also would prohibit humane society groups from contracting with the board to do inspections of breeding facilities, he said. A companion measure, House Joint Resolution 1045, disapproves a handful of rules adopted by the Oklahoma Commercial Pet Breeders Board.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

House reapportionement headed for peaceful end

On Monday (May 9), as bi-partisan leaders of the Oklahoma House of Representatives gathered to discuss new House district lines under which incumbent legislators will seek reelection in 2012, one reporter quipped, “Who’s going to set the key for the song, ‘Kumbaya’?” House Minority Leader Scott Inman, a Del City Democrat, did not miss a beat. Pointing to Speaker of the House Kris Steele of Shawnee, a Republican, Inman said with a straight face: “The Speaker will lead that song.” Reapportionment is required every 10 years under the U.S. Constitution. It is often a contentious and divisive process, and sources say that is still likely in the state Senate process which is still unfolding. However, under the chairmanship of Republican state Rep. Dale DeWitt of Braman, redistricting is headed to apparently easy ratification, perhaps as early as this week.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Proposal would increase the minimum age for children to enter pre-K, Kindergarten

Legislation to allow three more months for children to mature before entering pre-K and Kindergarten programs is pending in the House Conference Committee on Education, which has a meeting scheduled for this Wednesday (May 11). House Bill 1465 is co-sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Johnson of Duncan and state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond. Both men are Republicans. The proposal would move the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten “cutoff date” from September 1 to July 1. As a practical matter, that would mean a child would have to be four by July 1 to enter Pre-K programs, and/or 5 by July 1 to enter kindergarten.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

School Superintendent Janet Barresi hires contested employees

After almost four months in limbo, state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi received a boost in her authority Monday, including the ability to hire her own staff for the Education Department. A month after a contentious board meeting that made headlines across the nation, Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2139, which broadens Barresi’s powers while limiting some of the responsibilities of the Education Board. The bill is set to take effect in August, but in a special meeting Monday, the Education Board voted 3-1 to implement the changes immediately. Following the meeting Barresi announced she would hire two of the three people she attempted to hire in January. One of the contested applicants has accepted a job with the Department of Finance.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

OCU’s Innocence Clinic preparing to do righteous work

Two things about criminal justice in Oklahoma: Most inmates depended on relatively low-paid defense attorneys. If any were wrongfully convicted, the person who actually committed those crimes remains free. This is instructive. Hellman says poor representation is one of the top reasons wrongful convictions happen. When they do happen, the actual perpetrator could still be among us. Other contributors to wrongful convictions include eyewitness misidentification, improper forensic science, false confessions, unreliable informants and prosecutorial misconduct. Hellman stresses that the OCU project isn’t designed to free inmates based on legal technicalities. It’s designed to free the 1.5 percent to 5 percent of inmates who, Scheck’s group says, are wrongfully convicted. If just 1 percent of the nation’s inmates are innocent, that’s 20,000 people.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Increasing percentage burdened by lack of affordable rental housing

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the affordable rental housing crisis in Tulsa.  Today, I ran across an interesting report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, that looks at the problem at a national level.   One passage stood out to me from the report, “In 1960, 24 percent of renters were at least moderately burdened [30-50% of income spent on housing], including 12 percent that were severely burdened [more than 50% of income spent on housing].  By 2000, these shares had reached 38 percent and 20 percent.  And by 2009, the share of at lease moderately cost-burdened renters soared to 49 percent while the share of severely burdened renters jumped to 26%.”

Read more from The Tulsa Initiative Blog at

Quote of the Day

The Speaker will lead that song.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, responding to a reporter asking who will set the key for singing ‘Kumbaya’ over the House redistricting plan.

Number of the Day

53.5 percent

Oklahoma’s voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election; 41st in the nation.

Source: U.S. Census, State and Metropolitan Area Data Book

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

When railroads ruled transportation politics

Today Ray LaHood announced the recipients of the $2 billion in federal high-speed rail funding refused by Florida. In the hours and days to come, this news will certainly be greeted with a strong backlash from opponents of U.S. passenger rail. Many will argue that an improved rail network is superfluous in a country with such a great road network; what they will not remind you is that, once upon a time, railroad interests made the very same argument to prevent the development of a national highway program.

Read more from The Infrastructurist 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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