In The Know: May 12, 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, Gov. Fallin signed a prison reform bill that seeks to reduce overcrowding in Oklahoma’s jails with more alternative sentences. The legislature gave final approval of a hospital provider fee that will bring in federal matching dollars for Medicaid. While measure was designed to be a fee rather than a tax, both the House and Senate passed it with the supermajority required for tax increases, preventing a constitutional challenge.

Lawmakers are aiming to end the session a week early, and Gov. Fallin commented that they might not pass a health insurance exchange bill this session. OK Policy previously explained why the current exchange proposal does not provide many of the services required of an exchange and would not be compliant with federal law.

Senate Democrats are uniting in opposition to the budget agreement, which would cut 5.8 percent from higher education 4.1 percent from common education. Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Ballard strongly condemned the budget, which would take $6.35M from TPS. Data Watch created a tree map visualization using OK Policy’s spreadsheet showing agency cuts from FY ’09 to FY ’12. The assistant state superintendent for financial services says there is a “leadership vacuum” at the Department of Education after he was fired by Superintendent Barresi’s chief of staff. Fifty Teach for America recruits will be coming to Oklahoma City schools this fall, with as many as 150 joining the district over the next 3 years.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discuss problems with predatory payday lenders in Oklahoma, where they outnumber McDonald’s and Walmarts combined. A Senate committee voted to approve the plan for redistricting. Batesline created a map showing how Oklahoma Senate districts have changed over time. A new study ranks Tulsa and Oklahoma City low for public transit accessibility, particularly for low-income workers trying to reach a workplace. An attempt to disapprove a rule affecting mental health providers has failed in committee.

In today’s Policy Note, a short video from the Center for American Progress explains why states are considering their own immigration legislation and what economic impact these bills would have. Oklahoma’s latest comprehensive immigration bill (Word doc) will be heard in conference committee today at 9AM. The conference report preserves resident tuition for qualified undocumented Oklahoma students, but it would also require jails to determine immigration status on everyone, including misdemeanors, and it retains the sweeping definition of human smuggling that could ensnare a broad range of normal commercial activity.

Read on for more.

In The News

Governor signs prison reform bill

Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law Wednesday what she called a landmark corrections bill that will significantly change how the state deals with nonviolent offenders and relieve prison overcrowding. House Speaker Kris Steele, the author of House Bill 2131, said the measure is a start and he hopes to look at sentencing guidelines next year. “This is only the first step in the work that we have left to do as a state,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. HB 2131 expands both the use of community sentencing programs and the electronic monitoring of low-risk, nonviolent inmates. It also limits the governor’s role in the parole process for nonviolent offenders and requires state Pardon and Parole Board members to meet minimum qualifications.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Legislature OKs fee on hospital revenue

The House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a plan to increase federal Medicaid funding to the state by leveraging a voluntary hospital assessment. House Bill 1381 – the Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program – passed the House 80-15 and goes to Gov. Mary Fallin for her consideration. It assesses a mandatory 2.5 percent fee on 77 Oklahoma hospitals, all of which agreed to the fee. The money would be eligible for a roughly 2-to-1 Medicaid funding match.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Lawmakers aim to adjourn session early, health insurance legislation may be postponed

Legislative leaders are trying to end their session a week early and adjourn by May 20, lawmakers said Wednesday. Items left on the legislative agenda include passing the budget, immigration reform, Senate redistricting, workers compensation reform, creation of an insurance exchange, consolidation of agencies and enactment of a closing fund. Fallin said the state needs to establish an insurance exchange – or online portal – where consumers can go to compare and buy health insurance. But she said Wednesday that it might not be possible to establish a state exchange this session.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: Short-changed on a health exchange from the OK Policy Blog

Senate Democrats oppose budget agreement

Senate Democrats said Wednesday that they oppose a budget agreement announced the previous day by Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders. “Our caucus is completely united about our opposition to the budget agreement,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City. “Unfortunately, we were not included in any part of the process.” Legislative leaders could have eliminated some tax credits to soften the cuts to education, Rice said. Instead of asking special interest groups that get the tax breaks to make sacrifices, legislative leaders are requiring students to shoulder the burden of the cuts, he said. Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, said Republicans are backing a reduction in the top personal income tax rate that will help the wealthy but do little for low-income families.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Oklahoma budget agreement for FY 2012 visualized from Data Watch

Tulsa Public Schools Faces $6.35 Million In State Education Funding Cuts

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced a $6.5 billion 2012 fiscal year budget on Tuesday that includes a 4.1 percent cut to education funding. For Tulsa Public Schools that’s going to mean a cut of $5 million in funding. That’s on top of $1.3 million lost when the state failed to fulfill obligations to fund teacher health insurance costs. It also comes a year after the district lost $20 million in state funding for the 2011 fiscal year. Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard had some very harsh words for state legislators on Wednesday, and so did parents. “It’s devastating and it’s disappointing,” Ballard said. “it’s disappointing because the Legislature said they would protect education, and they did not do that. But what it means is, ultimately, it will mean the loss of the equivalent of 150 teaching jobs on top of the 225 teaching jobs that we lost last year.”

Read more from this Fox23 article at

See also: School officials react to new budget cuts from KJRH

Oklahoma education official fired

A former key official at the Oklahoma Department of Education said Wednesday he’s been fired by Republican state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s top lieutenant and that there’s a “leadership vacuum” at the agency. Jack Herron had been the agency’s assistant state superintendent for financial services. He told The Associated Press that Barresi’s chief of staff, Jennifer Carter, dismissed him Monday, not long after the state Board of Education granted Barresi personnel authority over the agency that morning. “I was stunned,” Herron said. “When Dr. Barresi came aboard, we met and she said she appreciated my credentials and expertise … and said she’d have a place for me somewhere.”

Read more from this NewsOK article at

50 Teach for America recruits to teach in Oklahoma City schools

Will Norton is reading about the challenge of teaching inner-city children. But before long, he’ll be doing more than just reading about it. He’ll be living it. Norton, 23, is one of 50 Teach for America recruits who will be teaching in the Oklahoma City School District beginning this fall. Program and district officials announced Wednesday they have raised most of the $4.6 million needed to bring as many as 150 of the highly sought-after teachers to some of the city’s most challenging schools over the next three years.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Quick cash and debt traps: Predatory payday lending in Oklahoma

Predatory payday lending is the practice of making several small, consecutive, short-term loans at an average APR of around 400 percent. Opponents of the practice maintain that these loans trap borrowers in a cycle of debt. The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) found that out of the total volume of payday loans in 2009 76 percent were ‘churned’ loans – consecutive pay period transactions. As the CRL describes, “This rapid re-borrowing indicates that most payday borrowers are not able to clear a monthly billing cycle without borrowing again.” To lessen the risk of a debt trap, Oklahoma law technically prohibits renewal or rollover of a payday loan. However, since it also permits borrowers to have more than one outstanding loan at a time, the rollover provision is functionally unenforceable.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Oklahoma House, Senate redistricting plans online

Paul Monies of The Oklahoman has created an interactive map featuring the proposed State Senate districts. I’ve taken his work and added (from U. S. Census Bureau data) shapefiles showing the Oklahoma Senate districts created after the 1990 and 2000 censuses. You can turn each layer on or off to see how the districts have evolved over time. I had really hoped that, having won overwhelming control of the legislature despite the Democrats’ gerrymander in 2001, Republican legislative leaders wouldn’t feel the need to perpetuate the errors of the past or create monstrosities of their own. It appears that I was mistaken.

Read more from Batesline at

See also: Oklahoma Redistricting: Interactive map of new Senate plan and download the data from Data Watch; Senate panel OKs changes to state districts from The Tulsa World

Oklahoma City public transit ranks low in new national study

A nationwide analysis of public transportation by the Brookings Institute shows Oklahoma City ranks 84th of 100 metropolitan areas in serving the transit needs of its workforce. The report, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” shows Oklahoma City far below the average in area coverage, route frequency and access to jobs. According to the report, 70 percent of metropolitan residents can get to public transit, but the typical commuter can reach only 30 percent of metropolitan jobs via transit. The Brookings report warns such shortfalls create steeper challenges for low-income workers hoping to get ahead in life.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Tulsa ranks low for public transit options from The Tulsa World

House panel fails to strike down health care rule

Mental health counselors and therapists will be allowed to continue the less than a year-old ability to contract with a state agency to treat patients, because a House committee Wednesday failed to pass a measure intended to stop the practice. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority in July passed an emergency rule that allowed mental health practitioners to contract with the agency. Previously, they had to work for a community mental health center or an agency that contracted with the Health Care Authority. The House Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee voted 7-5 against House Joint Resolution 1064, which would have disapproved the rule.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Quote of the Day

Here in Tulsa we went through a very painful process to economize, and they didn’t have the will to do anything other than say we’ll cut ya.

Tulsa parent Brandie Quiroz, responding to news that Tulsa Public Schools would lose $6.35M due to state budget cuts.

Number of the Day


Average days out of 30 that Oklahoma residents reported not getting enough sleep in 2008.  Oklahoma ranked 4th highest among other states in sleep-deprived residents.

Source: Centers for Disease Control via WebMD

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Impact of Immigration Legislation

Why are states considering their own immigration legislation? What economic impact would these bills have if they achieved their goals? What would be a better policy for dealing with immigration?

Watch the video from the Center for American Progress 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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