In The Know: May 2, 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 AP reports on how Oklahoma is working at cross-purposes by passing extremely harsh new drug sentencing laws while trying to reduce its inmate population. According to 2010 Census numbers, 44 percent of Oklahoma children are minorities, compared to 27 percent of adults. As part of the new health care reform law, the state’s temporary health insurance high risk pool is providing care for hundreds of Oklahomans with serious pre-existing conditions until the insurance exchanges take effect in 2014.

The Tulsa Public Schools Board is expected to vote tonight on a consolidation plan that would close 14 schools and convert 8 others to different uses. The Tulsa World explains how funding early childhood education promotes economic development and assesses how Governor Fallin is meeting her legislative goals. Fallin signed a bill on Friday that ends collective bargaining requirements in several Oklahoma cities. The Tulsa World surveys the debate over Sally Kern’s latest remarks and affirmative action. The OkieBrent blog points out the contrast between state leaders’ muted response to Kern and their outrage over comments by Board of Education member Herb Rozell in January.

On the OK Policy Blog, Jeffrey Alderman, M.D., writes on Oklahoma’s difficulty attracting new physicians to the state. NewsOK suggests the new tax credit funded scholarship for private schools can be improved by lowering the income cap and allowing children of undocumented immigrants to participate. In Today’s Policy Note, The Economist surveys how American transportation infrastructure is falling behind Europe and China due to chronic underfunding.

Read on for more.

In The News

Oklahoma legislators pass harsh hashish law

With a decimated state budget and spending on state prisons approaching nearly a half-billion dollars each year, legislative leaders in Oklahoma are pushing for changes to the state’s criminal sentencing policies to keep more nonviolent criminals out of the state’s overcrowded prisons. But while Republican leaders are pushing for these sentencing changes on one hand, they also are continuing to endorse harsher penalties for drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses. Last week, on the same day the Oklahoma Senate approved a proposal by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, to increase the use of electronic monitoring and community sentencing for low-risk offenders as a way to reduce Oklahoma’s prison population, it overwhelmingly approved a measure that would authorize penalties of up to life in prison for a first offense of converting marijuana into hashish.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Oklahoma Census: Children leading the demographic change

Minority children are now the majority among children in 11 Oklahoma counties, including Oklahoma County, the state’s largest county. That’s a big change from a decade ago, when just four Oklahoma counties had “majority-minority” child populations. Hispanic children and children of two or more races accounted for most of the state’s under-18 population growth in the last decade, according to an analysis of census data by The Oklahoman. Also, the racial gap has widened between children and adults, another indication of a demographic shift that could change the face of Oklahoma.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Sick Oklahomans receive stopgap health insurance from new program

Kicked off his parents’ health insurance when he graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in December 2008, Jeremy Hall months later tried to get his own policy, but no company would touch him. Hall had recurring brain cancer following a late 2007 surgery to remove a golf ball-size tumor. “I didn’t have the money to pay for a $1,000 or more MRI every two to three months,” Hall said. Consequently, Hall quit watching his health until six months later when he — after experiencing double vision and other symptoms — finally returned to the doctor and learned his tumor had doubled in size. Hall, 25, is among 312 Oklahomans covered under the state’s new temporary health insurance high risk pool. Following the passage of health care reform last March, Oklahoma and other states formed such temporary pools Sept. 1 to serve as a bridge until 2014 — when they are required to offer health insurance exchanges where everyone can buy affordable health insurance.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Tulsa Public Schools board expected to vote on school consolidation tonight

The Tulsa school board on Monday is expected to deliver the final verdict on a consolidation plan that would shutter 14 school buildings and convert another eight for different uses. The Project Schoolhouse initiative would net Tulsa Public Schools nearly $5.4 million in savings the first year alone, and is expected to continue to save the district about $5 million annually in subsequent years. Superintendent Keith Ballard launched the Project Schoolhouse efficiency initiative in the fall, saying it could help TPS cope with losses of state and federal funding and pay for reforms that would make schools’ educational offerings more equitable.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Nationally ranked pre-K program’s help Oklahoma’s bottom-line

Years ago, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis released a study showing how Minnesota could create the greatest return on public investment. Their solution was (pick one): (A) Providing tax incentives for businesses; (B) Further subsidizing new industries; (C) Building new sports stadiums; (D) Putting money in venture capital funds. Actually, the answer was none of the above. The biggest bang for the buck came from funding early childhood education programs. Quality preschool programs and child-care options, researchers found, could create economic development with real, inflation-adjusted public returns as high as 12 percent, and combined public and private returns of up to 16 percent.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Fallin accomplishing legislative goals

After a little more than 100 days in office, Gov. Mary Fallin’s legislative agenda is doing very nicely, thank you. Fallin’s State of the State address set out 13 identifiable legislative initiatives. While she hasn’t cleared the tables on all 13, and she has had to accept some compromises, a little more than midway through the legislative year she finds herself in a position most governors would envy. The “first priority” Fallin addressed was “to balance our state budget without raising taxes.” Although the details are far from decided, there seems little doubt this will be accomplished, certainly so far as meeting the state Constitution’s requirement for a balanced budget. Serious talk surrounds only one tax increase, a moist snuff tax increase to pay incentives to rural doctors. That proposal missed a House deadline for passage last week and can’t be considered until next year.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma governor signs bill that ends collective bargaining requirements

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law Friday that takes away collective bargaining rights from nonuniformed municipal employees in most of Oklahoma’s largest cities. House Bill 1593 also repeals a state law that prohibits nonuniformed city workers from striking. The measure takes effect Nov. 1. The law doesn’t apply to county or state employees. City contracts expire June 30, so cities that elect to do away with collective bargaining for nonuniformed workers, which include sanitation and street crews and water, utility and sewage workers, will have to negotiate a temporary agreement through Nov. 1.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Kern’s remarks stir debate on issue

Maladroit as it may have been, or maybe because it was, Rep. Sally Kern’s 10-minute discourse Wednesday night on race, gender and government lifted the lids from a lot of simmering pots. Kern’s remarks came during debate on Senate Joint Resolution 15, a proposed state constitutional amendment ostensibly introduced as a way to eliminate preferential treatment based on “race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” “It’s a wedge issue used to stir up people around election time,” Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said. “It would be disingenuous to say the authors decided to move this issue because of an immediate problem in state government.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: What about Fallin, Barresi, Jolley, Ford, et al? from OkieBrent’s Soapbox

Guest Blog (Jeffrey Alderman, M.D.): The silent problem in Oklahoma health care

With Medicaid cuts looming and the federal government entertaining efforts to shift the costs of Medicare and Medicaid on to states and individuals, the future of health care reform and reimbursement seems murkier now than ever. But gaining little attention is the issue of physician workforce. In other words – with the size and scope of our health care provider pool now shrinking, how will we meet increasing patient demand with our current available workforce? Despite our best efforts, we simply cannot attract new physicians to the state, and a large percentage of our OU/OSU graduates leave to work outside of Oklahoma. This helps to explain why in 2009 the Commonwealth Fund ranked Oklahoma 50th in the nation for health status and health system performance.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at http://guest-blog-jeffrey-alderman-m-d-the-silent-problem-in-oklahoma-health-care/.

NewsOK: Tax credit scholarship bill could be improved

This session, lawmakers are attempting to go even further and make it easier for students who attend or live in the attendance boundaries of the state’s poorest performing schools to attend private schools. Senate Bill 969 would authorize tax credits for corporations and individuals who donate money to provide private school scholarships for qualifying children. Still, SB 969 isn’t perfect. It automatically excludes students who are in the country illegally. In a bill designed specifically to help students in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas, this is problematic. Children shouldn’t be automatically excluded from this opportunity because of their parents’ choices.

Lawmakers also might want to consider a lower income cap for eligible students or at least give preference to those at lower income levels.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

Most people understand they have to pay car insurance and home insurance, but when it comes to health, they’re not that understanding. If we all chipped in the same way, the risk would be spread and insurance affordable.

Dwight Herron, chair of Oklahoma’s temporary high risk pool and traditional high risk pool, which is helping Oklahomans with serious pre-existing conditions receive care until the insurance exchanges take effect in 2014.

Number of the Day

22.2 percent

Food hardship rate in Oklahoma in 2010, compared to 18 percent nationally; Percentage of people answering yes to the question, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

Source: Food Research and Action Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Life in the slow lane: America’s transportation infrastructure crumbling, chronically underfunded

America, despite its wealth and strength, often seems to be falling apart. American cities have suffered a rash of recent infrastructure calamities, from the failure of the New Orleans levees to the collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis, to a fatal crash on Washington, DC’s (generally impressive) metro system. But just as striking are the common shortcomings. America’s civil engineers routinely give its transport structures poor marks, rating roads, rails and bridges as deficient or functionally obsolete. And according to a World Economic Forum study America’s infrastructure has got worse, by comparison with other countries, over the past decade.

Read more from The Economist 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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