In The Know: Reduced marijuana penalties OK’d by Oklahoma panel

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 a bill to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Oklahoma was passed unanimously by the House Public Safety Committee. The committee passed a bill to allow public school teachers or administrators who take a training course to bring loaded handguns to school, after amending it to reduce the amount of training required and to require local school boards to pay for the cost. Oklahoma officials say federal budget cuts going into effect tomorrow if Congress and the President don’t reach a deal could hurt Oklahoma’s tax revenue.

The OK Policy Blog discussed numerous bills filed this session that target safety net assistance for Oklahoma’s poorest families. Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) said the Republican Party is “in denial” about its image problems with minority voters and needs to do more about issues like economic development, poverty, and the re-entry of prison inmates into mainstream society. The OU Daily writes that Oklahoma lags behind Saudi Arabia in women representatives. The House Public Health Committee approved a bill to prohibit Oklahoma’s Medicaid program from covering the morning-after pill. The committee consists of 7 men and 1 woman.

NewsOK writes that if lawmakers believe school mandates are unfunded, they should fund them instead of adopting a “never mind” attitude. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses why accepting federal dollars to extend Medicaid is both affordable and the morally right thing to do. On the OK Policy Blog, we respond to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs that scapegoating Medicaid is not the answer to the challenge of rising health care costs.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of the total population enrolled in HMOs in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for America Progress looks at some of the problems low-income working families face in building wealth at tax time.

In The News

Reduced marijuana penalties OK’d by Oklahoma panel

Criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Oklahoma would be reduced under a bill passed without objection by a House committee. The House Public Safety Committee voted 14-0 on Wednesday for the bill that would make first and second offenses of marijuana possession a misdemeanor. Under current law, a second offense is a felony punishable by between two and 10 years in prison. Stillwater Democratic Rep. Cory Williams says he would have preferred to make all marijuana possession offenses misdemeanors, but that such a proposal was unlikely to pass the committee.

Read more from NewsOK.

Bill to arm teachers, administrators wins House panel’s approval

An Oklahoma legislative committee agreed Wednesday to tweak a bill that would allow public school teachers or administrators who successfully complete a special school resource officer course to bring loaded handguns to school. House Bill 1062 now would reduce the amount of training school officials are required to receive and would require local school boards to pay for the cost, said Rep. Mark McCullough, the measure’s author. McCullough, R-Sapulpa, said he is working to get $500,000 in state funds set aside to reimburse school boards. As revised, HB 1062 would require three weeks instead of six weeks of training to complete a special reserve school resource officer course.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma officials: Federal defense cuts will hurt state

Broad government-wide spending cuts set to take effect on Friday could slash an estimated $137 million in federal funding from education, health, environment and other programs in Oklahoma, but state finance officials are worried more about the potential impact of defense cuts. With five major military installations in the state and an array of federal contractors who work with those bases, the impact of mandatory spending reductions on Oklahoma’s economy could be enormous particularly on sales and income tax revenue, State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said Tuesday. Tinker officials estimate 16,000 of the base’s 26,000 total workers will be forced to take furlough days if the cuts go into effect, with a total of $124 million in lost pay.

Read more from the Lawton Constitution.

Let them eat judgment: Legislation targets the poor

A number of bills targeting safety net assistance to Oklahoma’s poorest families were filed this session. Some are straightforward measures to limit or deny assistance by modifying eligibility, but many seem likely to foster suspicion about applicants and recipients of specific public benefit programs. Debates over how best to use the state’s limited resources are always welcome, but debates that air popular yet faulty assumptions about low income Oklahomans can do far more harm than good.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

J.C. Watts: GOP ‘in denial’ about its image problems with minorities

Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) says the Republican Party is “in denial” about its image problems with minority voters — and he argues the “burden of proof” is on the GOP to show it is sincere about repairing relationships with communities tilting toward Democrats. Watts, who left Congress in 2003, recently launched INSIGHT America, a nonprofit group designed to boost diversity within the GOP. INSIGHT America plans to hold networking forums with African American, Asian American, Hispanic American and Native American Congressional staff associations. And it hopes to raise awareness about issues like economic development, poverty, and the re-entry of prison inmates into mainstream society, even though they are “not sexy Republican issues.”

Read more from The Hill.

Oklahoma lags behind Saudi Arabia in women representatives

There is a lower percentage of women in Oklahoma’s state Legislature than in Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Assembly, and Cuba’s parliament has more than three times the number of women than Oklahoma’s legislature, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Americans are quick to criticize democracy in Cuba and Saudi Arabia, but a large section of our own population in Oklahoma is underrepresented in government. Oklahoma should not have fewer women legislators than Saudi Arabia and Cuba. The Oklahoma State Legislature and Oklahoma citizens must support programs encouraging women to participate actively in government as elected officials.

Read more from the OU Daily.

Committee votes to ban Medicaid payments for morning after pill

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority would be prohibited from providing payment for the use of the morning-after pill under House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s House Bill 2039. The Oklahoma Health Care Reform Act of 2013 was approved in the House Public Health Committee, which consists of 7 men and 1 woman. “There are plenty of serious medical conditions that warrant Medicaid dollars. We need to value life at all stages, especially the most vulnerable,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. House Bill 2039 will now move to the Calendar Committee to be assigned a hearing on the House Floor.

Read more from the Ardmoreite.

Oklahoma lawmakers’ use of ‘local control’ could rob students

If lawmakers believe school mandates are unfunded, here’s a solution: Fund them. Instead, legislation winding through the Oklahoma Legislature would adopt a “never mind” attitude. Under House Bill 1711, by Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, a local board of education “may elect” to opt out of any unfunded or underfunded mandate. The bill defines a mandate as “underfunded” if state appropriations cover less than 75 percent of cost and “unfunded” if no money is provided. The local board would make the funding determination and simply notify the state. House Bill 1100, by Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Fort Gibson, would prohibit enactment of any school mandate unless “sufficient” funding is provided. Who determines what’s “sufficient”? The bill doesn’t say.

Read more from NewsOK.

Prosperity Policy: The right thing to do

When it comes to giving more Americans access to health insurance, a growing number of governors are realizing it’s not just about dollars and cents. For months, the debate raging in numerous states over whether to extend Medicaid to many of those without insurance has focused on the economic effects on health care providers and the fiscal impact on state budgets. Opponents, like Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, argue that their states can’t afford to expand Medicaid. Supporters counter that the federal government will assume the lion’s share of the cost and that turning down Medicaid dollars puts hospitals and other providers in financial jeopardy. In recent weeks, however, Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Scott of Florida have made clear that the decision is also a deeply moral one, as they joined a growing line of Republican governors announcing their support for extending Medicaid to low-income people who have nowhere else to turn for coverage.

Read more from the Journal Record.

The dangers of cherry-picking facts, part 2

In a recent blog post, we took issue with claims about state spending made by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The post pointed out that OCPA left out important facts – namely that nominal spending numbers are meaningless without considering inflation and the number of people in the state. OCPA wants us to believe that Oklahoma’s government is growing out of control and tax collections are at record highs, but considering all of the facts shows that our state government has actually shrunk for the past two years, with education especially hard hit. And far from being at record highs, state tax collections remain below every year from 2006 to 2009 after accounting for inflation. OCPA has not answered any of these critiques, but they did respond on one point.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

“People who’ve gone to prison pay their debt to society, and when they get out, they often times see the light and try to change their ways. It’s impossible for them to get a job though because of their record, so how long are we going to hold it against these people even though they may have gone to prison for something like the possession of marijuana? … Now many of them have to apply for food stamps and public housing.”

Former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts

Number of the Day

6.7 percent

Percentage of the total population enrolled in HMOs in Oklahoma, compared to 22.5% nationally in 2011

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Helping working families build wealth at tax time

For many Americans, tax time is also savings time—whether a family is working with an accountant to maximize deductions or debating how to use a tax refund. This should not come as a surprise. The tax code encourages people to save through billions of dollars in tax incentives for homeownership, retirement, and other goals, including the Saver’s Credit, which rewards low- and moderate-income families who make contributions to retirement accounts. Yet the vast majority of benefits from retirement-tax incentives—about 80 percent—go to the top 20 percent of income earners. Some have suggested, however, that savings incentives help low- and moderate-income families increase how much they save—which generates net new savings—while higher-income earners are more likely to simply move existing savings into tax-advantaged accounts. More can be done to help working families build wealth so that they can better deal with emergencies.

Read more from the Center for American Progress.

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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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