In The Know: May 20, 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, lawmakers may conclude all business today but not officially end the session until next Friday in case they need to return for an emergency or to respond to a veto. The Senate approved a complete overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation laws. A special election will be held for Senate District 43, which Sen. Jim Reynolds is leaving to become Cleveland County Treasurer, even though the district will disappear in redistricting after 2012. Data Watch has a before and after animation of Oklahoma’s House and Senate redistricting. On the OK Policy Blog, we explain how legislators are handing off responsibility for the impact of budget by giving little direction to agencies on how to deal with reduced funds. The newly elected mayor of Pawnee will be sworn into office despite a felony conviction from 2000, though Oklahoma law does not allow ex-felons to serve in public office until 15 years after their sentence is complete.

A bill that would deny pain and suffering damages to uninsured auto accident victims who were not at fault is headed to the governor. Governor Henry vetoed a similar measure last year. Also headed to Governor Fallin is a bill allowing people with concealed carry licenses to leave guns in their cars on CareerTech campuses. The TulsaTech superintendent wrote a harshly critical e-mail to Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre for being the lone Democrat to join Republicans in passing the gun bill out of committee. The Senate passed a bill targeting a ministry that houses sex offenders. They had previously voted it down after emotional testimony from Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, who was concerned it would force sex offenders into surrounding communities and threaten the safety of children.

Fixing the backlog of unrepaired bridges in Oklahoma would cost more than the entire state appropriations budget. A Texas egg farm was fined for violations of the Clean Water Act in Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruit is looking into joining an investigation of Google’s search dominance. Rep. Dan Sullivan said he is seeking the CEO position for the state-owned Grand River Dam Authority. In today’s Policy Note, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities assesses state-by-state transparency, or lack thereof, of tax expenditures.

Read on for more.

In The News

Session’s end may be hard to pin down

Lawmakers are considering a plan not to officially end the legislative session Friday – a week early – as they first had thought. Lawmakers must “sine die,” or officially end the session, by May 27, but they had planned to end the session this Friday. Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said Thursday that lawmakers are considering concluding their business Friday and recessing but not officially ending the session until May 27. Such a move would give them a chance to return to session next week if an emergency or something unforeseeable comes up, he said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Senate approves massive late-session workers’ comp bill

The Oklahoma Senate has approved a more than 200-page bill that completely overhauls Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation laws. The proposal emerged in the Oklahoma House just three days before lawmakers are expected to adjourn the legislative session. SB 878 has passed despite concern from some members that lawmakers had little time to comprehend the massive bill. It was approved by the Senate on a 48-0 vote. The plan is one of Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s top legislative priorities. It was developed by a group that spent months completely rewriting the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Senate author Sen. Anthony Sykes says the group includes representatives of insurance companies, business and industry, plaintiffs and defense attorneys, and the medical community.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Special election will be held for district that disappears in 2012

A special election will be held later this year for Senate District 43, which straddles Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, but will be swallowed up by five neighboring districts for the 2012 elections. The change is a result of the Senate’s redistricting plan, Senate Bill 821, which is on its way to Gov. Mary Fallin for approval. District 43 Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, won election as Cleveland County treasurer in November. Reynolds said Wednesday his attorneys are preparing a resignation letter from his Senate seat that would be effective the first week of July.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Before and after animated redistricting maps from Data Watch

Don’t blame us: Legislature passes the buck while passing the bucks

The budget deal is done, and nearly every state agency is receiving another round of funding reductions. That leaves an important question: what programs will be cut to make up the loss? How cuts are distributed will have a huge effect on state services, but the Legislature seems to be abandoning its responsibility to make these hard decisions. In previous years, the Legislature would approve budget limit bills directing agencies on how to spend state dollars. That changed last year, when leadership chose not to run budget limit bills for most agencies. This year there are less than a handful.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Pawnee cafe owner sworn in as mayor despite conviction

The saga of Chris Linder’s controversial bid to be Pawnee’s mayor isn’t over. Linder won the April 5 election but was delayed in taking office after questions were raised about his qualifications because of a felony conviction in Arizona. He’s vowing to fight for the office, even if he has to take the battle to court. Linder said he is not performing the mayor’s duties and will wait for the outcome of a Monday special City Council meeting, which includes an item for discussing his qualifications.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Bill denying compensation to uninsured accident victims goes to governor

Uninsured auto accident victims who were not at fault would not be able to recover so-called “pain and suffering” compensation under a bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday and sent to Gov. Mary Fallin. The Senate approved the bill on Wednesday. In most cases, Senate Bill 272 prohibits people in vehicles not covered by liability insurance from obtaining noneconomic damages if they are injured in an accident in which an insured party is at fault. A similar measure was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry last year.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

CareerTech gun bill heads to governor’s desk

Oklahomans with a license to carry a concealed weapon would be able to keep firearms in their vehicle at state career and technology centers under a bill given final approval on Thursday in the Senate. The measure passed Thursday on a bipartisan 35-12 vote and heads to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin for consideration. The bill, which was strongly opposed by CareerTech administrators, is the only surviving firearm-related measure this legislative session and applies only to Oklahomans with a license to carry a concealed firearm. It does not allow the permit holder to carry the gun onto campuses, only to keep it in their vehicle.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: TulsaTech superintendent assails Senator Judy Eason McIntyre from CapitolBeatOK

Senate passes bill targeting sex offender ministry

A bill designed to tighten living restrictions on a group of sex offenders living at a mobile home park in south Oklahoma City passed the Senate Thursday. Senate Bill 852 targets Hand Up Ministries, which houses about 270 registered sex offenders at its mobile home park at 2130 SE 59. The measure provides that mobile homes or trailers cannot be defined as multiunit structures to meet current sex offender living restrictions. The bill initially failed 21-25, but was reconsidered and passed 34-12. The Rev. David Nichols, founder and director of Hand Up Ministries, said a hatred for sex offenders will always be around, and politicians will continue to use it to increase their popularity among voters.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma ranks high for bad bridges

Oklahoma has just been ranked by a transportation watch dog group as having some of the worst bridges in the country. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation adds that one in five bridges need to be repaired or replaced. We probably have a backlog in the neighborhood of $9 or $10 billion,” said Randle White, a Division Engineer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. That’s a backlog larger than the entire state budget. ODOT says the main reason the state’s so behind is that for two decades its funding never increased.

Read more from this KJRH article at

Mahard Egg Farm fined for water pollution violations in Oklahoma, Texas

A Texas-based egg producer has agreed to pay a $1.9 million fine for violating federal water pollution laws at locations in Texas and southeastern Oklahoma, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday. Mahard Egg Farm Inc. also has agreed to spend about $3.5 million to ensure its facilities don’t endanger the environment or public health. Federal officials said the civil fine was the largest one to be paid in a federal action against a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma AG says probe of Google’s search dominance possible

Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt said he may join other states and federal agencies in probing Google’s dominance of the Internet search industry. Pruitt plans to contact the U.S. Justice Department, state attorney-general colleagues, companies and Google’s competitors for information about the operator of the world’s largest search engine, according to an e-mailed statement. Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Pruitt, said the attorney general’s office is looking at both consumer protection and competition issues, including Google’s data collection practices, social networking policies and data collection by the Android mobile phone operating system.

Read more from this Bloomberg article at

Dan Sullivan seeks top GRDA post

Tulsa Republican lawmaker Dan Sullivan confirmed Thursday that he is pursuing the top job at the Grand River Dam Authority. The House majority floor leader, Sullivan said he has steered clear of all legislation dealing with the GRDA this session. He has been in the Legislature since 2005. Earlier this week, a Senate conference committee reported out a bill intended to give the governor and legislative leaders authority to remove and replace five of the GRDA’s seven directors. Those five are now appointed by the governor and the two legislative leaders but serve rotating terms and normally cannot be removed without cause.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

My district was at one point up in Tulsa and then north Oklahoma City and as a new minority district, but it ended up in Duncan.

Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, speaking about various plans to redraw the Senate district map.

Number of the Day

15 percent

Percentage of electric generation capacity within the state to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2015, as per The Oklahoma Energy Security Act.

Source: Renewable Energy World

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Promoting state budget accountability through tax expenditure reporting

Each year states spend tens, maybe hundreds, of billions of dollars through “tax expenditures.” Tax expenditures are tax credits, deductions, and exemptions that reduce state revenue. They can include everything from poverty-reducing tax credits, to middle-class benefits, to corporate subsidies. Tax expenditures cost state treasuries money in much the same way as direct spending for schools, health care, or road construction. And like direct spending, tax expenditures are a tool states can use to accomplish policy goals. There is a key difference, however, between direct spending and tax expenditures. States typically require extensive documentation of how much direct spending they do each year, and their budget processes entail evaluation of each item. Tax expenditures usually receive far less scrutiny.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 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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