In The Know: Oklahoma drops to third unhealthiest state

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 you should know that Oklahoma dropped two spots to become the third unhealthiest state in the nation. DHS Commission Chairman Yarbrough said he is “terribly concerned” that the agency is falling further behind in investigating reports of child abuse and neglect. DHS plans to reduce by half the number of residents in two state-run centers for the mentally disabled because they have not been funded to repair the aging facilities.

Meanwhile, Governor Fallin is developing a plan to further reduce or eliminate the state personal income tax. Her plan will likely be based on a report from a 45-person task force comprised almost entirely of business executives. It included no women and little to no representation from non-profits, educators, or local government.

Urban Tulsa Weekly discusses Oklahoma’s serious problems with payday lenders that charge an average APR of 349 percent on a 14-day loan. Lafarge North America, which operates a cement plant in Tulsa, has reached a settlement for up to $170 million in penalties and more stringent control requirements due the Clean Air Act violations. Tulsa Public Schools’ new teacher evaluation system beat out two national models in being selected Monday as Oklahoma’s primary new model for evaluating public school educators.

Four officers convicted in the Tulsa police corruption trial were charged with sentences ranging from 4 months to 10 years. State Treasurer Ken Miller writes in the OK Policy Blog about the rhetoric versus reality on tax incentives. The Tulsa Initiative Blog shares evidence that almost all Section 8 housing assistance recipients are either working at low-paying jobs, disabled, or caring for a child under 6 or disabled person.

The Number of the Day is the percentage discount on the average foreclosed property’s price versus the average property’s price in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, The New York Times reports how Hispanic immigration is breathing new life into many previously declining Kansas towns.

In The News

Oklahoma drops to third unhealthiest state

Oklahoma’s getting less healthy, plunging two spots to No. 48 in America’s Health Rankings for 2011. More children in poverty, along with diabetes patients and obese people, helped sink Oklahoma’s ranking. Even the significant drop in smoking (to 23.7 percent from 25.1 percent of adults) and a decline in preventable hospitalizations couldn’t boost Oklahoma’s rankings. America’s Health Rankings is an annual report published by United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. Louisiana was 49th in the rankings, and Mississippi was 50th. The nation overall hasn’t gotten healthier since last year. But most importantly, Oklahoma not only didn’t improve but actually slipped.

Read more from NewsOK.

DHS falling behind on investigating reports of child abuse and neglect

The Department of Human Services Commission chairman on Tuesday expressed concern about the number of child abuse and neglect referrals coming into the agency. Commission Chairman Brad Yarbrough said he was “terribly concerned” about the situation. In October, the agency had 648 past-due referrals, the highest since February, according to the agency. A referral is a report to the agency alleging abuse or neglect. Marq Youngblood, Department of Human Services chief operating officer, said the agency has had significant challenges recruiting staff to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. “It does trouble me we are doing more with less and seeing the case load increase,” Yarbrough said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

DHS to reduce population at centers for the mentally disabled

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services plans to keep open two state-run centers for the mentally disabled but cut the number of residents from 242 to 112. DHS commissioners on Tuesday approved a “plan in principle” that will move most residents at the Pauls Valley and Enid centers into community settings by Aug. 13, 2013. Many of the residents at the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley and the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid have lived there for years. Some have been there for decades. Most of their relatives wanted DHS to let the residents stay. In a report to commissioners, one parent predicted his daughter will be heavily sedated, locked in a room or dead in a year if she is moved to a community setting. “Our daughter has lived at Pauls Valley since September of 1961 and it is the only home and family that she knows,” the parent said. DHS Director Howard Hendrick said the agency has no choice but to make changes because the Legislature won’t provide funding to repair the aging campuses.

Read more from NewsOK.

Fallin developing income tax reduction plan

Gov. Mary Fallin is reviewing information to develop a personal income tax reduction plan before the start of next year’s legislative session. Fallin, who will be in office for a year by then, is expected to rely heavily on a report from a task force she put together earlier this year to look at ways to improve the state’s economy, a spokesman said. A main finding of the Task Force on Economic Development and Job Creation is to “initiate a 10-year program to significantly reduce then ultimately eliminate the Oklahoma personal income tax.” The task force recommends removing several credits, including some that benefit low- and moderate-income families, such as the state child care and child tax credit, low-income property tax credit, sales tax relief credit and the state earned income credit.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: Income tax proposal would do lasting damage to state’s prosperity from OK Policy

Annual Percentage Robbery: Oklahoma leads the way in high-rate payday lenders

Imagine you lived in a world where nearly one in five of your neighbors are so desperate for cash that they willingly take out loans that impose interest rates of between 200 and 500 percent. Imagine you lived in a world where nearly four in 10 of your neighbors rely almost exclusively on high-cost check-cashing centers for routine banking services. Imagine you lived in a world where nearly half your neighbors earning less than $30,000 annually are left with few choices but payday lenders to obtain credit. Actually, you don’t have to imagine such a place. You already live there. It’s called Oklahoma. Sadly, Oklahomans in general and their legislators in particular are mostly either ignorant of — or indifferent to — the plight of our fellow citizens that are routinely victimized by the so-called alternative financial sector. A recent report authored by the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Kate Richey casts a spotlight on the obscene financial bludgeoning of those who can least afford it — the average payday loan borrower in Oklahoma paid the equivalent of a whopping 349 percent annual percentage rate on a 14-day loan in 2010.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Lafarge cement plant settles with US and Oklahoma after Clean Air Act violations

This is the tale of two cement kilns just miles from the Redbud Valley Nature Preserve. Since 1961, the kilns and its smokestacks at the Tulsa Cement Plant have puffed and wheezed out thousands of pounds of toxic substances into the air each year. Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter sound a little like common household ingredients on the side of a soup can label. Instead, they are some of the integral compounds that create the chemical soup called ozone — Tulsa’s biggest air problem. Lafarge North America, a French industrial company and third-largest Portland cement manufacturer in the world, owns and operates the kilns near 145th E. Ave. and Apache St. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency charged Lafarge with violations of the Clean Air Act. The United States, 13 state entities (including Oklahoma) and Lafarge reached a groundbreaking “system-wide” settlement that will cost the manufacturing giant up to $170 million in new technologies, more stringent controls and civil penalties.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

TPS teacher evaluation system preferred as new state model

Tulsa Public Schools’ new teacher evaluation system beat out two national models in being selected Monday as Oklahoma’s primary new model for evaluating public school educators. The final recommendation of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Commission will now go to the state Board of Education for final approval at its next meeting Dec. 15. TPS received grant funding from the Gates Foundation and from local philanthropists to develop its new evaluation system beginning in 2009. Senate Bill 2033, the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Act, was written in 2010 to strengthen the state’s chances in a federal education grant competition called Race to the Top. Oklahoma’s $55 million reform plan was not selected for federal funding, but the mandate of a new evaluation system to be in place no later than December 2011 stood. The law established a basic framework for the evaluations, including a new five-point rating system through which teachers and principals found to be ineffective could risk losing their jobs.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

4 sentenced in Tulsa police corruption case

In one sentence, a federal judge summed up what probably had been on the minds of thousands of Tulsans who endured one of the worst police corruption scandals in at least a generation, maybe even longer. “All of you should have known the law better than anyone,” U.S. District Judge Bruce Black said in court Tuesday as he sentenced four officers caught up in a corruption probe that led to dozens of convictions being overturned. The judge told former Cpl. Harold R. Wells that he’d “dishonored the badge” before sentencing him to 10 years in prison for his role in the police corruption scandal. Wells was the third of four officers sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma. The others were Jeff Henderson, who was sentenced to 42 months behind bars, minus time served; John K. Gray, who drew a sentence of four months in prison and Brandon McFadden, a former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, who was ordered to serve 21 months in prison.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Ken Miller: Rhetoric versus reality on tax incentives

Critics contend that if politicians are good at anything, it is studying something to death. While this legislative interim has been full of task forces and studies, many promise to be more than just simple academic exercises. True, some are meant to garner attention for a favored issue. Others are meant to bolster an opinion. And some are honest undertakings in search of good policy. And there are some with elements of each of the above. Facing a December 31 report deadline, the Task Force for the Study of Tax Credits and Economic Incentives is preparing final recommendations. It is this task force member’s hope that rhetoric and ideology will play a subordinate role to sound policy and economic reality. The task force recommendations can impact our business climate for years to come and must take into account the competitiveness of states in attracting industry and economic growth.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Do Section 8 recipients work?

One of the ongoing arguments I have with a couple of friends is that people who receive housing vouchers (specifically Section 8) are lazy and don’t work. Today the Center on Budget and Policy Priority’s Off the Charts Blog posted about just this topic. A new CBPP report analyzes the demographic characteristics and labor force attachment of voucher recipients. The analysis shows that voucher recipients who do work make around $17,000 per year, which is not enough to afford decent housing in most places. Of those that weren’t attached to the workforce, many households included a pre-school aged child or a person that has a disability that can make it very difficult work without the aid of child care subsidies and other assistance. The 129,000 or so recipients who are not attached to the workforce, disabled, or caring for a child under 6 or disabled person tend to get assistance for a shorter time and are geographically spread across the system.

Read more from The Tulsa Initiative Blog.

Quote of the Day

Our daughter has lived at Pauls Valley since September of 1961 and it is the only home and family that she knows.
-The parent of a woman who may be evicted from a DHS center for the mentally disabled because they have not been funded to repair the aging facilities.

Number of the Day

60 percent

Percentage discount on the average foreclosed property’s price versus the average property’s price in Oklahoma, the largest percentage of savings of any state in the country as of October 2011.

Source: RealtyTrac 

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Hispanics reviving faded towns on the plains

For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region. Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave.

Read more from The New York Times.

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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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