In The Know: September 1, 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 you should know that the final draft of the state’s water plan projects demand in Oklahoma will increase by 33 percent in the next 50 years. Wildfires raging in parts of Texas and Oklahoma have displaced hundreds of residents, destroyed several dozen homes and threaten many more. Unemployment fell in 72 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties in July, according to new numbers from the Oklahoma Economic Security Commission. OK Policy previously spoke with OESC analyst Lynn Gray about the real meaning of the unemployment data.

On the OK Policy Blog, we explain why it’s important to be wary of polls that ask people to give an opinion without any information or context on the issue at hand. A new statewide initiative will seek to improve coordination between agencies caring for children found in homes during a drug bust. Starting next week, OG&E will resume cutting off power to customers who don’t pay their bills. The company had put a hiatus on disconnections due to the heat wave.

Former legislator Ryan Kiesel has been named the new executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. A judge struck down a Texas law that would have required doctors to take sonograms and describe them to women seeking an abortion. A similar law in Oklahoma also faces legal challenges. The Tulsa World argues that the public has a right to view police dash-cam videos.

In today’s Policy Note, Governing Magazine finds that efforts to replace the electoral college with a national popular vote are gaining steam. The measure would make Oklahoma more relevant for presidential campaigns since votes would be equally important from anywhere in the U.S., not just a few swing states. Today’s Number of the Day is how many women in Oklahoma received contraception from a publicly funded family planning clinic in 2006.

In The News

Water needs projected to increase 33 percent over next 50 years

The final draft of a comprehensive water plan projects demand for water in the state will increase by 33 percent in the next 50 years, a joint legislative committee was told Wednesday. The draft encourages lawmakers to come up with a plan to pay for measures necessary to meet Oklahoma’s future drinking water needs. Water to irrigate crops is projected to be the largest water use, consuming 36 percent of the total demand, as detailed in the final draft of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s comprehensive water plan, which has been made available on the agency’s website. Kyle Arthur, director of water planning for the Water Resources Board, told members of the Joint Legislative Water Committee the need for water to irrigate crops will continue to grow in the Panhandle, west and southwest areas of the state, while water for thermoelectric power will be in most demand in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state. Water for the oil and gas industry will experience the largest growth — 300 percent — statewide.

Read more from NewsOK at

Dozens of homes destroyed by wildfires in Oklahoma, North Texas

Wildfires raging in parts of Texas and Oklahoma have displaced hundreds of residents, destroyed several dozen homes and threaten many more — and officials say the region’s unbearably hot, dry weather is only making it worse. The heat, the bone-dry brush, low humidity and gusty winds are creating perfect conditions for the fires that were gaining speed late Tuesday. The North Texas fires have so far engulfed more than 3,500 acres, including land that already burned during a devastating spring fire that claimed more than 160 homes. The current fire has destroyed at least 20 homes, and the flames are threatening more than 125 homes in the Possum Kingdom Lake area about 75 miles west of Fort Worth. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the area, Berglund said. In Oklahoma, the fires were closer to being controlled. Fire and emergency officials reported that the fire destroyed about 12 homes, a church and an estimated 1,500 acres in the northeastern part of the city. Several hundred homes were evacuated and more than 7,000 homes and businesses were without power.

Read more from the Los Angeles Times at

See also: Northeast Oklahoma City fire rages for second day from NewsOK

July unemployment falls in 72 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties

Despite a weak national economy, unemployment fell in 72 of 77 state counties in July — and in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton — as it did in most U.S. cities, according to state and federal statistics released Wednesday. The jobless rate in Oklahoma City’s metropolitan area slipped to 5.5 percent from 5.7 percent in June and 6.6 percent in July last year. In Tulsa and Lawton, July unemployment was 6.4 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, down from 7.7 percent and 6.4 percent a year ago. The report by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission showed Oklahoma City lost 7,800 jobs from June to July, but over the past year has gained 11,000, including a collective 4.7 percent year-over-year increase in mining, logging, construction and manufacturing jobs. Conversely, information and government jobs since July 2010 have fallen by 4.8 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: Labor force data casts doubt on real strength of Oklahoma’s economic recovery from the OK Policy Blog

Poll: 97 percent of respondents object to bad polling

Hardly a day goes by without news of the latest opinion poll surveying the attitudes of Americans or Oklahomans. While many polls are carefully worded and fairly presented, some issue polling is so sloppy or biased that one suspects its only purpose is to promote the political agenda of the pollster or their client. This certainly seemed to be the case with a recent Rasmussen poll of American’s attitudes on poverty, welfare, and immigration. The poll, which was released to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of the 1996 welfare reform law, seems at first glance to suggest that Americans are unhappy with the nation’s welfare system and believe too many undeserving people are receiving public assistance.  But a closer look suggests that the poll reveals next to nothing about what Americans think.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Statewide initiative would coordinate help for children from drug-bust homes

With the number of drug busts in homes increasing, more young children are being found in homes where those drugs are processed. In response, authorities are organizing a state chapter of Drug Endangered Children, which would help establish a statewide protocol for dealing with children taken out of drug homes, said Mark Woodward, public information officer for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Coordinated efforts by law enforcement, protective services and mental health officials would provide the best care as soon as possible to help those children, he said. Some multidisciplinary teams already exist across the state, and the chapter of Drug Endangered Children would incorporate those efforts into a statewide, standardized program to increase communication between all parties and coordinate their efforts.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

OG&E to resume disconnecting power of customers who don’t pay

Starting next week, customers of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. once again will be subject to having their electricity cut off if they don’t pay their bills. OG&E had promised not to disconnect residential service during August for those who were struggling to pay their bills after record heat in July. Spokesman Brian Alford said the company’s moratorium on cutoffs, which ends Tuesday, helped several thousand state residents keep their electric service last month. Oklahoma Corporation Commission rules prevent state electric utilities from disconnecting service to residential customers when the forecast temperature or humidity index exceeds 100 degrees.

Read more from NewsOK at

Former lawmaker selected to lead state ACLU group

Former state Rep. Ryan Kiesel has been named executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. The Democrat from Seminole succeeds Joann Bell, who retired this year. Kiesel is an attorney who served in the House from 2004 to 2010. He debated against measures that limited reproductive rights, free speech, religious freedom and the rights of the accused. “It is an honor to be part of an organization that relentlessly defends the rights of Oklahomans at the Legislature, in communities large and small, and when necessary at the courthouse,” he said. Juanita Vasquez, an ACLU board member who was chairwoman of the search committee, said she was pleased with the number and quality of applicants but that Kiesel was the best-qualified.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Judge strikes down portion of ultrasound law in Texas; similar to Oklahoma case

Women’s rights advocates hailed a Texas federal judge’s ruling in a case requiring that women seeking abortions obtain sonograms and that doctors describe the images to them. The case is being closely watched by advocates in Oklahoma, where a similar law also faces legal challenges. In the Texas case, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks upheld the sonogram requirement but struck down the provisions requiring doctors to describe the images and for patients to hear the descriptions. Sparks ruled that doctors cannot be penalized if they don’t show patients the sonogram images or don’t describe the images, if patients decline that information. In his ruling, the judge held that “the Act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen.”

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Tulsa World: Public has right to view police dash-cam videos

The question seems pretty simple: Why not release dash-cam recordings made by arresting officers? It would help inform the public, could exonerate an accused officer or even protect those suspected of wrongdoing, thereby protecting the public. A Rogers County judge, however, doesn’t see it that way. Associate District Judge Sheila Condren ruled Tuesday that a video made by the Claremore Police Department is a “direct piece of evidence” and “not public record” under the state’s Open Records Act. That is an unfortunate ruling and seems to fly in the face of transparency and the public’s right to know. Why such openness is resisted by some law enforcement agencies is confounding. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol raised such a ruckus over releasing dash-cam videos to the public that the Legislature passed a special bill amending the state Open Records Act to specifically exempt OHP, not local police or sheriffs, from releasing tapes.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Quote of the Day

We built this house. If it goes, I’m going to watch.
Stacy Shields, whose home is threatened by a wildfire that has already burned down dozens of homes in northeast Oklahoma City

Number of the Day

Number of women in Oklahoma who receive contraception from a publicly funded family planning clinic, 2006; 76,830 of those women were aged 20 or above.
Source: Guttmacher Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Efforts to reform the electoral college gaining steam

With each presidential election comes the inevitable debate about the convoluted Electoral College system. Now, the country may be close to changing it. States are gradually signing on to a plan that would marginalize the power of the Electoral College and create something resembling a national popular vote. Here’s how it would work: States would agree to give all their electoral votes to whoever gets the most votes nationally, regardless of how their own residents vote. The plan would preserve the Electoral College but would make it much less relevant, since the candidate receiving the most votes nationally would be assured victory. This month, California became the latest state to join a compact that includes seven other states plus the District of Columbia. What does that mean? Let’s look at some simple math. The Electoral College has 538 votes. To win a presidential election, a candidate needs to win just over half of those, or 270. So if states representing 270 electoral votes agree to the plan, they can ensure the popular vote winner becomes president, regardless of what other states do. Today, the states that are on board represent 132 electoral votes, putting the plan almost halfway toward the 270 threshold needed for it to take effect.

Read more from Governing Magazine 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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