In The Know: National right-wing group’s ‘model legislation’ has large influence in Oklahoma

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that NewsOK reports how a national right-wing organization that churns out prewritten bills to state legislatures across the country has been a platform for some of the more controversial laws passed in Oklahoma in recent years. The Center for Public Integrity uncovered a charity that is funneling anonymous donations to right-wing state policy groups and media around the nation, including to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and CapitolBeatOK in Oklahoma. Workers’ compensation judges appointed by Governor Fallin are awarding much less money to injured Oklahoma workers than their predecessors.

Oklahoma Watch spoke with Mental Health Commissioner Terri White about why Oklahomans report more mental illness and addiction problems than residents of other states. A Utah-based consultant firm is studying how to provide health care coverage for as many as 200,000 low-income Oklahomans who would qualify for Medicaid coverage if Oklahoma joins the expansion. An Oklahoma City high school for pregnant students will have an on-site clinic for the first time in 4 years, after it was eliminated by state budget cuts. A lack of parole officers in Oklahoma means that one officer can be supervising 150 offenders on parole at once.

Rep. Tom Newell has proposed legislation to phase out state funding for OETA. Dozens of legislative staffers are receiving pay raises this year. Bixby City Manager Douglas Enevoldsen writes in the Tulsa World why it’s important for lawmakers to know the impact on municipal budgets before approving potential unfunded mandates. OSU booted up a large wind farm to supply electricity to the campus. Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole is pushing his fellow Republicans to support the Violence Against Women Act to close a loophole that is letting non-tribal members get away with domestic abuse on tribal land.

The okeducationtruths blog shows that contrary to the claims of conservative pundits, Oklahoma test scores have improved since the state began funding universal pre-k. In today’s Policy Note, economist Nancy Folbre writes that a public commitment to early childhood education is important both for increasing student achievement and helping parents reconcile the conflicting demands of work and family care. The Number of the Day is the percentage of children in Oklahoma under age 6 with all parents in the labor force.

In The News

National conservative group’s ‘model legislation’ ends up becoming law in Oklahoma

A national organization criticized recently for churning out prewritten bills to state legislatures across the country has been a platform for some of the more controversial laws passed in Oklahoma in recent years. “Model legislation” developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council or shared through conferences the council has hosted, played a part in a 2006 “Stand Your Ground” law that allows Oklahomans to use deadly force when threatened in public places, a 2010 resolution that prohibits any law from compelling a person to purchase health care and a state question that same year that requires voters to show an identification card before receiving a ballot. Several laws under consideration now — including bills that allow for covenant marriages, that would challenge the teaching of global warming and evolution in public schools and that would reject key provisions of the new federal health care law — have identical versions that have either been passed or are also under consideration in GOP-led legislatures elsewhere.

Read more from NewsOK.

Anonymous donors use charity to push right-wing policies in states

In 2009, a network of online media outlets began popping up in state capitals across the nation, each covering the news from a clearly conservative point of view. What wasn’t so clear was how they were funded. “The source is 100 percent anonymous,” said Michael Moroney, a spokesman for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the think tank that created the outlets. In fact, 95 percent of Franklin’s revenue in 2011 came from a charity called Donors Trust, according to Internal Revenue Service records. Conservative foundations and individuals use Donors Trust to pass money to a vast network of think tanks and media outlets that push free-market ideology in the states — $86 million in 2011 alone.

Read more from the Center for Public Integrity.

Workers’ compensation awards in Oklahoma drop under new judges

The four newest workers’ compensation judges are much more tightfisted than their predecessors in handing out money to injured Oklahoma workers. The four have awarded, on average, $5,092 less to workers with permanent injuries than did the four judges they replaced, records show. That’s a 15.6 percent drop. Gov. Mary Fallin appointed the four new judges. The Legislature this year is considering radical changes to a state workers’ compensation system that some contend is so political that which judge hears a case can be almost as important in determining how much a worker receives as the extent of the worker’s injuries.

Read more from NewsOK.

State ranks high in mental illness, addiction

It’s no secret that Oklahoma consistently ranks near the bottom in state surveys of physical health indicators such as obesity, diabetes and smoking. It’s less well known that Oklahoma also has some of the highest rates of mental illness and addiction. Gov. Mary Fallin cited those statistics and the Sandy Hook massacre when she asked lawmakers to provide a $16 million funding boost next year to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services headed by Commissioner Terri White. In an interview with Oklahoma Watch’s Warren Vieth, White explains why Oklahomans report more mental illness and addiction problems than residents of other states.

Read more from the Norman Transcript.

Group begins research on Medicaid expansion plan

A consultant firm hired to study Oklahoma’s health care options will soon begin focus groups to gather perspectives from stakeholders. Tony Armstrong, the vice chairman of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s board, said at the board meeting Thursday that, over the next three months, Leavitt Partners will meet with physicians and other people in health care to discuss Oklahoma’s options in how it moves forward in its health care plan. In January, the board approved a $500,000 contract with Utah-based Leavitt Partners to analyze how best to provide health care coverage for as many as 200,000 low-income Oklahomans who would have qualified for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma City alternative school to get medical clinic after 4 years without one

Erica Ortiz is a few months away from graduating high school, and a few days away from giving birth for the second time. She misses school whenever Kristina is sick or has a checkup, but sometimes she skips doctor visits for herself so she doesn’t get too far behind in her classes. A new health clinic at her high school could allow Ortiz and students like her to spend more time in class while also providing more access to health care. Oklahoma City Public Schools will build a clinic inside Emerson Alternative High School, and nonprofit Variety Care will run it. Emerson had a clinic for more than 30 years, but it closed in 2009 after state funding cuts.

Read more from NewsOK.

Parole officers face extensive caseloads

Last fall, Probation and Parole Officer Robert Humphrey was supervising about 150 offenders on parole in the Tulsa area. One of those was Cedric Dwayne Poore, now jailed on allegations he was involved in the January execution-style slayings of four women in the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex. Assuming a 40-hour average work week, a caseload of nearly 150 offenders left Humphrey just over an hour per offender in October, when Poore was convicted of a misdemeanor. Shortly after that conviction, Humphrey began submitting a report to his supervisors to determine whether Poore’s parole should be revoked. That process ultimately took two months in the Department of Corrections system, which uses paper records mailed between offices.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Legislation plans to phase out OETA funding

A local representative proposed phasing out funding to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA). In 2012, OETA received $3.8 million in state appropriations, which totals about $1.01 per Oklahoman, Ashley Barcum, OETA Director of Communications, said. State Representative Tom Newell (R-Seminole) authored House Bill 2218, which proposes reducing funding to OETA by 10 percent for the next two years. Afterward funding would be phased out by 20 percent each year until 2020, when OETA would no longer receive any state funding. “This is not to shut down OETA,” Newell said. “I’m not trying to kill Big Bird.” He added that this is not the first piece of legislation to propose ending funding to OETA.

Read more from the Shawnee News-Star.

Dozens of legislative staffers receive pay raises

While state employees have not had an across-the-board pay raise in seven years, some legislative staffers in January quietly got raises, some hefty. Twenty-five Senate employees got pay raises ranging from 0.7 percent to 37.9 percent while 18 House staffers got raises ranging from $1,500 to $6,500. Annualized, the raises cost about $211,500, according to figures provided by Senate and House staff. The highest was a $22,000 pay increase to a Senate leadership staffer, bringing his pay to $80,000. The staffer changed jobs and assumed more responsibilities, said Nathan Atkins, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Bill would prevent municipal ‘fiscal cliffs’

Oklahoma legislative committees are considering roughly 2.500 bills dealing with a wide variety of issues, a number of which would impact local governments and the vast majority of Oklahomans whom they serve. Thanks to an important and relatively new fiscal reform measure enacted in 2010, “The Municipal Fiscal Impact Act,” our representatives at the Capitol can now know the fiscal consequences of their actions before approving potential unfunded mandates on local governments. Oklahoma municipalities have to operate primarily on volatile sales tax dollars being collected from a gradually shrinking base to provide basic governmental services, under a dysfunctional financing system in serious need of reform.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

OSU boots up Cowboy Wind Farm

One of the state’s newest wind farms now generates a lot of Orange Power. Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma State University officials and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. executives flipped ceremonial switches in Stillwater Friday to mark the completion of the Cowboy Wind Farm near Blackwell. The project has 26 turbines and a total capacity of almost 60 megawatts. One megawatt can power about 250 homes. The wind farm began commercial operations in January and will supply electricity to the OSU campus. OSU has been an aggressive adopter of energy-efficiency efforts. The university has saved more than $22 million through energy conservation efforts since 2007.

Read more from NewsOK.

Bill would close domestic abuse loophole on tribal lands

Hypothetically, if U.S. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma committed a crime on tribal land, he could face charges in a tribal court because he’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation. But if a non-Indian committed the same crime on the same land, the tribal courts would be powerless. As an advocate for tribal sovereignty, Cole is trying to persuade his fellow Republicans to support the Violence Against Women Act. At first glance, the two issues wouldn’t seem to have much to do with each other. But the debate in Congress has focused largely on a 10-page section of the bill that would give tribal courts unprecedented jurisdiction over non-tribal members. It’s supposed to close a loophole that is reportedly letting non-tribal members get away with domestic abuse on tribal land.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma test scores improved after expansion of early childhood programs

President Obama made a splash during his State of the Union Address to Congress last week talking about Pre-K programs. I want to discuss the emerging local response to this part of the speech and where Oklahoma stands moving forward. Several conservative pundits – local and national – have questioned the usefulness of state-run early childhood programs. All seem to have taken their talking points from the Heritage Foundation, which claims that Head Start and Early Childhood Education programs have no benefit to children. School choice advocates in our state who want vouchers to pay for their own children to be homeschooled have glommed onto these beliefs, repeating them without any fact-checking.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

Quote of the Day

The stigma around mental illness and addiction is what has allowed us to get to the point in Oklahoma where for so many years, for decades, we have not provided the resources needed to address these issues. No one should feel shame for having a medical condition. When people show up at the emergency room because they’re having a heart attack or a stroke, we don’t make them feel ashamed. We really have got to get to the day when all Oklahomans understand these are diseases like any other diseases.

Commissioner Terri White, the head of Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Number of the Day

61.4 percent

Percentage of children in Oklahoma under age 6 with all parents in the labor force, 2012

Source: Children’s Defense Fund

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Preschool economics

Even a 4-year-old can understand the case for early-childhood education. It’s fun, you learn things, you make it easier for Mom and Dad to earn a decent living, and when you grow up you will be better able to earn a decent living yourself. At that point, you will start paying taxes that return the favor, helping finance the retirement and health care of the generation that invested in your education. Still, conservative opposition remains fierce. The loudest complaint is that public programs have not been shown to be cost-effective. But a wealth of research by highly respected economists shows that well-designed, high-quality early-childhood education programs offer a positive payback. But the case for a public commitment to early-childhood education extends well beyond any cost-benefit analysis of child outcomes. It would help parents meet their child-care needs and reconcile the conflicting demands of wage employment and family care.

Read more from Economix.

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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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