In The Know: September 8, 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 Rep. Dank criticized the lack of a cap on many Oklahoma tax breaks and said he will push to end transferable tax credits. OK Policy previously warned about the lack of caps on tax breaks in a 2010 issue brief. Data Watch has a chart of all the companies receiving Quality Jobs credit payments since 2007. Insurance Commissioner Doak has asked for a delay on an Affordable Care Act requirement that insurers pay out at least 80 percent of premiums to provide health care. OK Policy previously discussed how health reform strengthens consumer safeguards and Doak’s previous statement that he is more committed to representing the insurance industry.

Governor Fallin appointed 2 new members to the commission overseeing DHS, and Speaker Steele called for a review of the agency. Oklahoma Policy Institute has a new issue brief and related blog post looking at whether Oklahoma should increase the tax on alcoholic beverages. A federal appeals court ruled that Texas cannot force Oklahoma to sell its water. Federal HUD funding for the Cherokee Nation has been frozen due to the dispute over expulsion of freedmen descendants from the tribe. A judge ordered Oklahoma to remove names whose time on the sex offenders registry had been retroactively extended because  it was unconstitutional to apply a punishment after the criminal has been sentenced.

Some OKC households can apply for cheap loans to make energy-efficiency improvements to their homes under a stimulus grant. In today’s Policy Note, a new USDA report shows Oklahoma tied with Arkansas for the worst rate of very low food security in the nation. Today’s Number of the Day is the average debt per consumer in Oklahoma.

In The News

Rep. Dank criticizes lack of cap on tax breaks

Legislators should learn from good parents when it comes to dealing with tax credits, the co-chairman of a legislative task force looking into the credits and other economic incentives said Wednesday. Information on many of the tax credits indicates that many have no caps or limits, said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. Task force members also were troubled about Tax Commission figures provided to them that showed for the three-year period ending in 2009 that $312 million was available in tax credits and $63.8 million in credits were claimed, leaving nearly $250 million in available tax credits. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, a member of the task force, said he is troubled the state has so little information about the program. “We have no way of knowing what the exposure is to the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

Read more from NewsOK at

See also: Rep. Dank will push to end transferable tax credits from CapitolBeatOK; Quality Jobs payment recipients since 2007 from Data Watch

Previously: Shining the light on tax breaks from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Doak applies for waiver from medical-loss ratio requirements

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak announced Wednesday that he’s requested a waiver on a major provision in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Under one of the provisions set to kick in this year, concerning the Medical Loss Ratio, 80 percent of individual and small group health insurance premiums must be used to provide benefits and improve health care. The old standard, in most cases, is 65 percent. In a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Doak requested last week that Oklahoma be allowed to phase in the 80-percent requirement over the next three years instead of all at once. Oklahoma is now the 15th state to request such a waiver, with most of them still under review. In March, Maine became the first state to have its waiver request approved by the federal government. North Dakota, on the other hand, became the first state to have its request denied in July.

Read more from The Norman Transcript at

Previously: Affordable Care Act protects consumers from excessive rate hikes from the OK Policy Blog

Fallin appoints 2 to OK DHS Commission; Steele calls for review of agency

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday named a former prosecutor and an Oklahoma City businessman to the commission that oversees the Department of Human Services. Fallin announced that former Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane, 56, and Oklahoma City businessman Brad Yarbrough, 57, will serve on the nine-member panel. DHS has come under fire recently for its handling of the case of 5-year-old Serenity Deal, who died June 4 after she was placed in the custody of her father at the recommendation of DHS workers in Pottawatomie County. House Speaker Kris Steele, who has blamed the DHS for delaying the release of its report on the child’s death, said he is pleased with Fallin’s appointments and hopes they will help change the course of the agency. Steele said he wants the commission to conduct a performance review of agency director Howard Hendrick, a former state senator, and conduct an organizational review of the agency.

Read more from this Associated Press article at–Fallin-DHS-Commissioners/.

Should we increase the tax on alcohol?

In June, Governor Mary Fallin, Speaker of the House Kris Steele, and President Pro Tem of the Senate Brian Bingman came together to announce the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). Commenting on the JRI, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones said “The first step is for us to collect and analyze…data and fully understand our situation. Once this is done we will be able to craft policy options that apply research and best practices to make the Oklahoma public safer and the criminal justice system more effective.” In the spirit of “collecting and analyzing data,” Oklahoma Policy Institute has prepared an an issue brief exploring one policy option which could have a substantial positive impact on the criminal justice system and public safety, along with public health and economic conditions in Oklahoma: raising the tax on alcoholic beverages.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

See also: The full issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Court rules against efforts to require Oklahoma to sell water

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the dismissal of two lawsuits that sought authorization to transfer water from southeastern Oklahoma to rapidly growing communities in North Texas, rulings Gov. Mary Fallin called “yet another victory for the state of Oklahoma.” Each of the lawsuits asked federal courts to invalidate Oklahoma statutes that govern the appropriation and use of water within its boundaries that North Texas communities alleged posed burdens to interstate commerce. The suits also sought injunctions to prevent the Oklahoma Water Resources Board from enforcing them. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver unanimously ruled that the Red River Compact, which governs usage of water in the basin that includes Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, insulates Oklahoma water statutes from interstate commerce challenges involving surface water subject to the compact.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Cherokee Nation’s HUD funding frozen over freedmen decision

Federal housing officials have frozen funding to the Cherokee Nation in response to a tribal court decision terminating citizenship for about 2,800 descendants of former slaves. On Aug. 31, Cherokee officials attempted to draw $33 million from the tribe’s account with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but HUD rejected the draw, according to a Sept. 2 letter from tribal Attorney General Diane Hammons to HUD administrator Wayne Simms. Freedmen were given equal rights within the tribe after the Civil War, but a 2007 tribal vote took away the citizenship of anyone who couldn’t show Cherokee heritage. In 2007, during consideration of HUD’s federal authorization, members of the Congressional Black Caucus sought to restrict Cherokee access to HUD funding because of the freedman issue. The HUD authorization says no money can go to the tribe unless the dispute is settled or the tribal court injunction stayed in effect throughout litigation, Hammons’ letter says.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Judge orders Oklahoma to remove sex offenders from registry list

Hundreds of sex offenders will no longer have to register with the state’s sex offender registry, according to a local attorney. An Oklahoma County judge made the ruling Wednesday telling the state to remove many names immediately. The ruling will affect all sex offenders convicted before 2007. That’s when the legislature changed the law lengthening the amount of time offenders have to remain on the registry. “It affects my entire life,” said one man on the sexual offender registry who asked not to be identified. He’s been on the registry since 1996 when he was convicted of urinating in public. When 2007 rolled around, he was supposed to be removed from the registry, but that’s when the new law kicked in putting him back on the list. Wednesday, a district judge said approximately 60 offenders will have to be removed from the sex offender registry. The ruling comes after two appeals courts said it was unconstitutional to apply a punishment after the criminal has been sentenced.

Read more from News9 at

Cheap loans for greener homes available in Oklahoma City

Heather Lerch’s air conditioner churned all summer and couldn’t keep the temperature in her house below 80 degrees — and that was in 2010, not the record-shattering summer winding down now. But help came in the form of a low-interest loan from Oklahoma City that helped pay for a new air conditioner and furnace, insulation and vents in her attic and a programmable thermostat. The result is that Lerch and her husband saved about 30 percent on their electric bill during the hottest summer on record, while the temperature inside hovered at a comfortable 74 degrees. Oklahoma City residents with an annual household income of less than $100,000 can borrow up to $15,000 to make energy-efficient changes to their homes, said Jennifer Gooden of the city’s Sustainability Office. The funds come from grant money given to the city through federal stimulus spending during the early stages of the recession.

Read more from NewsOK at

Quote of the Day

There are literally no caps at all on the cumulative amounts that can be used annually on all but two of these credits. That’s like handing the keys to the car and a credit card to a 16-year-old boy and saying, ‘Have fun, son!’ You know he’s thinking the sky’s the limit. But that family is ultimately going to have to balance the budget he wrecks. And so does state government.
Rep. David Dank, chair of a task force examining Oklahoma tax credits

Number of the Day

The average debt per consumer in Oklahoma, compared to $17,000 per consumer nationally, 2nd quarter 2011
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Household food security in the United States in 2010

An estimated 85.5 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2010, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.5 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.4 percent with very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The prevalence rate of very low food security declined from 5.7 percent in 2009, while the change in food insecurity overall (from 14.7 percent in 2009) was not statistically significant. Estimated prevalence rates of food insecurity during this 3-year period ranged from 7.1 percent in North Dakota to 19.4 percent in Mississippi; estimated prevalence rates of very low food security ranged from 2.7 percent in North Dakota to 7.5 percent in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Read more from the USDA 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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