In The Know: May 19, 2011

In 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.

State Treasurer Ken Miller criticized Gov. Fallin and legislative leadership for crafting a disappointing business-as-usual budget agreement.  Public colleges and universities facing higher enrollment will have to raise tuition rates and shrink staff after $44 million in budget cuts during the past two years.  Citizens and lawmakers rallied against the scheduled closure of seven parks across the state.  The Oklahoma House passed a bill requiring DHS to make a plan to close two facilities that care for 250 severely disable residents.

On Wednesday the Senate reconsidered and approved a $70M transportation bond issue that was central to the state’s FY ’12 budget agreement.  Legislative leaders announced the creation of a special joint committee that will hold public meetings on federal health-care reform during the interim.  The Oklahoman has an editorial criticizing policymakers for including schools in an ongoing political battle over gun rights.

A bill to abolish the Indian Affairs Commission passed the House Wednesday and a $40 million bond issue to finish the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum is dead for the year.  The Norman City Council discussed how to spend the surplus revenue raised by a half-cent sales tax increase.  The governor signed a bill putting the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission under the auspices of the attorney general’s office.

In today’s Policy Note, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research examines the changes to employment policies and practices mandated as part of sex and race employment discrimination litigation.

Read on for more.

In The News

Oklahoma treasurer says budget deal falls short

State Treasurer Ken Miller tweaks fellow Republicans, including Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders, in the May issue of his monthly economic report.  Miller calls the budget agreement between Fallin and legislative leaders for fiscal year 2012 disappointing and a missed opportunity that focuses “on math rather than outcomes.”   “This agreement is particularly disappointing because it is the first time in Oklahoma history that a budget has been crafted with complete Republican control and yet it falls short,” he wrote. “This was our first real opportunity to rightsize government, implement priority-based budgeting and to prove commitment to public education.”

Read more from the Tulsa World here

Funding cuts, enrollment increases put pressure on Oklahoma colleges

College tuition likely will increase next year if Oklahoma legislators approve an approximately 5 percent cut in state appropriations for higher education, several college presidents said. They said they will work to keep the increase in the single digits.  Enrollment in the state system of higher education increased by 16,000 students between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2010, creating a need for more classes and resources. Meanwhile, state appropriations, which account for about 41 percent of the higher education budget this fiscal year, have been reduced by $44 million during the past two years.

Read more from The Oklahoman here

A rally at the Capitol is held to protest the scheduled closure of seven state parks.

Lawmakers and others on Wednesday held a small rally on the first floor of the State Capitol to protest the planned closure of seven state parks.  Park closings have been discussed for several years and are the result of budget cuts, according to the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.  The state would save approximately $700,000 by closing the parks, said Leslie Blair, the department’s public information officer.

Read more from the Tulsa World here

Oklahoma House passes bill making changes at facilities that care for severely disabled

The Oklahoma House has passed a bill requiring the Department of Human Services to develop a plan to change or discontinue operations at two state-operated facilities that care for about 250 severely disabled residents.  The bill passed 52-48 Wednesday and now heads to the Senate.  It requires DHS to submit a plan to the Legislature by Jan. 1. Supporters say the measure includes input from the families and guardians of residents and employees of the Enid and Pauls Valley facilities.

Read more from the Associated Press here–Severely-Disabled-Centers/

Senate reconsidered and approved a $70 million transportation bond issue, 29-18, on Wednesday after narrowly defeating the measure a day earlier.

The Republican-controlled Senate reconsidered and approved a $70 million transportation bond issue, 29-18, on Wednesday after narrowly defeating the measure a day earlier. The bill, which now heads to Fallin, was a key piece of the budget deal reached by GOP legislative leaders and the governor.  Lawmakers are diverting $100 million from the Department of Transportation’s road and bridge fund as part of the deal to close a $500 million hole in the budget, and the bond issue will allow the department to keep its transportation projects on schedule.

Read more from this Associated Press article here–Okla-Legislature/

White flag raised on health care

Legislative leaders signaled surrender, at least for now, on the issue of insurance exchanges Wednesday, announcing the creation of a special joint committee on the matter and the shelving of all related legislation.   House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said two Tulsa Republican lawmakers, Rep. Glen Mulready and Sen. Gary Stanislawski, will lead the committee, which will hold public meetings on federal health-care reform.   “The scope of this law is vast,” Steele said. “We need to make sure we are prepared to address this law in a conservative way that is best for Oklahoma.”

Read more from the Tulsa World here

Policymakers should keep schools out of battle over gun rights

Of the many gun bills filed at the beginning of this legislative session, only one remains. Here’s hoping Gov. Mary Fallin won’t let it stand.  Schools and guns generally aren’t a good mix. In debates on this bill and others to allow guns on college campuses, administrators and security officials have argued that loosening restrictions would make it difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys in a crisis and would put students and educators at risk.  “I’m just heartsick about this,” Kara Gae Neal, superintendent of Tulsa Technology Center, told the Tulsa World. She said altering the ban could endanger some federal funding.

Read more from The Oklahoman here

Bill abolishes Indian Affairs Commission, creates liaison in governor’s office

Oklahoma, a state with 39 federally recognized Native American tribes, will have a liaison in the governor’s office instead of a nine-member Indian Affairs Commission if HB 2172 becomes law. It is well on its way, having passed the House Wednesday evening by 57-36 after an often intense debate. Its emergency clause failed.  Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, said that many tribal leaders were unaware of the measure’s existence, and should be given an opportunity to have input on such a bill so important to their interests.

Read more from 23rd & Lincoln here

$40 million Indian cultural center bond dead for the year

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said the bill to fund completion of the project won’t be heard because of remaining questions about the project’s finances and a general concern among Republican senators about increasing the state’s debt load.  Three previous state bond issues have put $67.4 million into the partially completed project at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Interstate 40. With federal, city and private money, some $91 million has been invested in the project

Read more from this Tulsa World here

City council debates use of PSST funds

Sometime next year, city officials believe the Public Safety Sales Tax will have generated enough money to pay for the commitments made to voters in May 2008.  Dozens of firefighters and police officers have been hired.  Fire Station 8, on the city’s west side, officially opened Wednesday and No. 9 is in the design process.  The half-cent sales tax for public safety, approved by voters more than three years ago, generated $7.6 million in fiscal year 2010 and is expected to surpass that amount this year.

Read more from the Norman Transcript here

Governor signs bill putting human rights agency under AG’s office

Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation Wednesday that puts the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission under the attorney general’s office. Backers of Senate Bill 763 say the consolidation is intended to save money by sharing administrative services.  “Protecting human rights is an important function of government and I support the goal of eliminating discrimination,” Fallin said. “Merging the responsibilities and duties of the Human Rights Commission into the attorney general’s office will result in cost savings and will better serve to elevate the mission of protecting human rights.”

Read more from The Oklahoman here

Quote of the Day

“Many of our residents are elderly or low-income, and our state parks are the only form of free recreation for family outings that are available,” said Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa

Number of the Day


U.S. service member casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan from Oklahoma.

Source: The Washington Post

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope

This report examines the changes to employment policies and practices mandated as part of sex and race employment discrimination litigation. The report is based on the analysis of more than 500 consent decrees (court supervised pre-trial settlements) that were negotiated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or private law firms, and in-depth study of the negotiation and implementation of four sex discrimination consent decrees. It makes recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness and reach of employment discrimination consent decrees. The research was made possible by generous funding from the Ford Foundation.

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