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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that according to a new report by Amnesty International, the Oklahoma City Police Department is responsible for more Taser-related deaths than any other law enforcement agency in the U.S. Oklahoma’s district attorneys agreed to support a criminal justice plan designed to ease the explosive growth of the state’s prison population. Several bills intended to reform Oklahoma’s child welfare system were passed in a House committee.
On the OK Policy Blog, we explain the huge scope of what is funded by Oklahoma’s income tax. OK Policy also released an animated video taking on the claim that Texas is beating Oklahoma without an income tax. A proposal to establish a state health-care exchange while deliberately not complying with federal law passed in committee.
The Tulsa World examines the growing backlash against a “personhood” bill. A Senate committee passed a measure that would require doctors to offer a woman a chance to listen to the fetal heart rate before consenting to an abortion. Oklahoma school districts would be able to ignore most state requirements under a bill that cleared a Senate committee.
TransCanada Corp. will build a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline from the oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast while awaiting approval of a more controversial leg from Canada. The Number of the Day is the amount of additional money requested by State Superintendent Janet Barresi to fund common education in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute discusses how proliferating unpaid internships damage the labor market and allow corporations to dodge taxes.
In The News
OKC is taser death capital of the U.S.
According to a new report by Amnesty International, the Oklahoma City Police Department is responsible for more Taser-related deaths than any other law enforcement agency in the U.S. Seven people have died at the hands of OKCPD Taser-wielding officers since 2001. Amnesty International released the data in conjunction with a recommendation for stricter limits on police use of the weapon after a man in Georgia died as a result of being shocked. His death marked the 500th fatality caused by a Taser in the U.S. In 2008, Amnesty International reviewed hundreds of deaths caused by Tasers, including 98 autopsy reports, and concluded that 90 percent of the victims were unarmed and “many” had been “subjected to multiple shocks.”
Oklahoma DAs agree to support criminal justice bill
Oklahoma’s district attorneys agreed Monday to support a wide-ranging criminal justice plan designed to ease the explosive growth of the state’s prison population. The executive director of the District Attorneys Association said recent changes to the bill have earned the support of state prosecutors. The bill passed a House committee on a 10-2 vote late Monday and was next scheduled for a hearing in the full House. A group of police chiefs, county sheriffs and state prison officials joined House Speaker Kris Steele during a press briefing on Monday to announce support for the speaker’s plan. Among the key provisions of the bill are a grant program to distribute state funds to local law enforcement agencies, stricter post-imprisonment supervision of all released prisoners, and mental health and substance abuse screening for those arrested for felony crimes.
Bills meant to address concerns about DHS advance
Several bills intended to improve accountability and efficiency in the state’s child welfare system as well as open up more records to the public won swift and overwhelming approval Monday by a legislative panel. Rep. Jason Nelson, author of the five bills, said the language of the bills will change as they work their way through the legislative process. Thursday is the deadline for House committees to act on House-originated bills. The bills are intended to improve the state’s largest agency and are a response to a federal class-action lawsuit filed against the Department of Human Services. The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by the New York-based nonprofit Children’s Rights, which accused the state of having abuses and failures in its child-welfare system.
What the income tax pays for
The personal income tax is Oklahoma’s largest single revenue source. In 2011, the state collected $2.412 billion from the personal income tax, or slightly less than one in three dollars (31.7 percent) of total state tax collections. With a strong movement developing to substantially cut and ultimately eliminate the personal income tax, it is important to understand the vital role of the income tax in paying for a broad array of public services. Ultimately, the huge scope of what is funded by the income tax would put an impossible burden on other taxes, unless they were drastically increased.
See also: Watch This: The Economy Bowl
Oklahoma health care exchange passes committee
A proposal to establish a state health-care exchange while deliberately not complying with the federal Affordable Care Act passed a test vote Monday, but only with the tepid support of three lawmakers. The measure passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 7-2 vote, but three Republican senators who voted for it made a point of saying they weren’t finished debating it. Although the measure, Senate Bill 1629, would comply with the federal health-care law’s requirement that every state establish an exchange, it intentionally would violate the federal law’s requirement that individual health insurance buyers be allowed to connect with federal subsidies through the exchange, Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, told the committee.
‘Personhood’ debate ratchets up in state
Supporters of the “personhood” bill making its way through the Legislature probably didn’t have any idea that the proposal would fuel a fierce backlash that still is building. On Friday, medical professionals and infertility patients descended on the Capitol to make a vocal – and persuasive – case against Senate Bill 1433, which would establish that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and provide that embryos “have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being.” On Tuesday, a group calling itself “Persons Against Personhood” is scheduled to deliver a petition against the measure signed by more than 7,000 Oklahomans to Gov. Mary Fallin, Senate President Pro-Tem Brian Bingman and House Speaker Kris Steele. Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, the bill’s author, has insisted that the measure would not prohibit abortion or affect contraceptive access or fertility treatments. But opponents – including some doctors who should know – argue otherwise.
Fetal heartbeat bill advances to Senate floor
A Senate panel on Monday passed a measure that would require abortion providers to offer a woman a chance to listen to the fetal heart rate before consenting to an abortion. Senate Bill 1274 by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee by a vote of 5-1 and heads to the Senate floor. The measure, dubbed the Heartbeat Informed Consent Act, would require that in cases where a fetus is eight weeks old after fertilization, the abortion provider, using a Doppler fetal heart rate monitor, “make the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child audible for the pregnant woman to hear.” Providers failing to comply are subject to a misdemeanor and legal action, according to the act. Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, cast the lone no vote. An amendment by Johnson was tabled. It would have required the sound be made available to fathers as well.
Bill to give local school districts ability to ignore most state mandates clears panel
Oklahoma school districts would be able to ignore most statutory state requirements under a bill that cleared a Senate committee on Monday and faces fierce resistance from public school teachers. The Senate Education Committee voted along party lines to approve the School District Empowerment Program, with Democrats on the panel opposing the measure. It now heads to the full Senate for a vote. Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, said the bill would make local school districts exempt from the same the requirements as charter schools. Districts would still have to comply with minimum salary and benefit requirements for teachers, background checks for school personnel and basic curriculum requirements. Districts also would have to formally request an exemption from the State Department of Education and include a plan outlining the “educational and fiscal benefits” of the exemption.
Portion of Keystone pipeline through Oklahoma to be built
TransCanada Corp. will build a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline from the Cushing oil hub south to the Gulf Coast while awaiting approval of a more controversial leg from Canada, the company announced Monday. The move earned praise from Oklahoma political and industry leaders – and the White House – who see the Cushing-Gulf leg as a relief valve for the storage bottleneck at Cushing. West Texas Intermediate crude and other domestic oils have dropped in price relative to international markets partially due to the lack of takeaway capacity at the nation’s biggest hub. The $2.3 billion project can be started independent from the segment from Canada to Steele City, Neb., which was rejected by President Barack Obama on environmental grounds earlier this year. TransCanada’s statement indicated that the Gulf Coast leg could be in service by mid- to late 2013.
Quote of the Day
Many of these people do not need to be in jail. They definitely don’t need to be in prison. They need services.
–Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, on the problem of prisons filling up with people suffering mental illness
Number of the Day
Amount of additional money requested by State Superintendent Janet Barresi to fund common education in 2013. Gov. Fallin’s budget allocates $0 additional dollars.
Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute
Unpaid internships: A scourge on the labor market
I was happy to see the New York Times‘ online debate about unpaid internships, sparked by the latest lawsuit against a major corporation for exploiting an unpaid workforce. A recent graduate of Ohio State University, Ms. Xuedan Wang, is suing the Hearst Corporation for its failure to pay her during four months of work at Harper’s Bazaar, work that allegedly included directing the work of other interns, in addition to record-keeping and overseeing the pick-up and delivery of fashion samples. As Steven Greenhouse reported in April 2010, it has become common for profit-making businesses to ignore the minimum wage and overtime laws and employ young workers without compensating them and, as Ms. Wang’s lawyers point out, without paying Social Security taxes, unemployment taxes, or worker’s compensation premiums. Despite the magnitude of the tax losses nationwide, few state governments have tackled these illegal unpaid internships, and the federal government has failed to litigate a single enforcement case.
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