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 the settlement of a class action lawsuit over abuses in Oklahoma’s child welfare system will create a panel of three out-of-state child-welfare experts to oversee DHS reforms. You can read the full settlement agreement here. The Obama administration rejected Oklahoma’s request to shield health insurance companies from the requirement that they spend at least 80 percent of the money they collect in premiums on medical costs. OK Policy previously recommended to HHS that they deny the request, and we explained on our blog why we shouldn’t give profitable insurers a free pass to shift more costs onto consumers.
Today the OK Policy Blog discusses the problem of wage theft and how we are failing to ensure minimum wage and fair overtime policies for all workers. Boeing plans to move 800 jobs to Oklahoma City, the majority coming from Wichita. Suggesting widespread modest improvement in the job market, unemployment in November fell in 75 of 77 state counties and in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, as it did in three-quarters of U.S. cities. A wet finish to 2011 could be a boon to Oklahoma’s economy thanks to a rescued winter wheat crop.
A legislative task force on children of incarcerated parents recommended making visits and communicating with inmates easier on children, expanding community-based sentencing programs, and designating an agency to track the needs of these children. You can read the full task force report here. Residents in Paden, Boley, Okemah and Prague woke up Wednesday morning to find flyers from the Ku Klux Klan on their front yards. An audit found that a former assistant state superintendent falsified travel reimbursements over the course of three years to make it appear as though she was working.
The Tulsa World writes the tax reform task force proposal to eliminate the personal exemption and important low-income tax credits borders on shocking. The Number of the Day is the percentage of mortgages in Oklahoma that were delinquent during the 3rd quarter of 2011. In today’s Policy Note, Robert Reich traces the history of the decline of the public good in American society.
In The News
DHS foster care settlement creates national oversight panel
DHS commissioners voted 6-3 Wednesday evening to approve a modified settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit that accused the agency of physically and psychologically damaging children in its foster homes and state shelters. The agreement must be approved by a Tulsa federal judge before it becomes final. The agreement calls for an improvement plan to be developed by state Department of Human Services staff, DHS commissioners, the governor’s office and legislators. It also calls for the creation of a powerful panel of three out-of-state child-welfare experts who will approve and oversee the plan of improvement to Oklahoma’s child-welfare system. The three experts were identified as Kathleen G. Noonan, a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin law school; Eileen Crummy, the former acting commissioner of New Jersey’s child-welfare agency; and Kevin Ryan, the former commissioner of New Jersey’s child-welfare agency.
See also: Full text of the settlement agreement
Feds reject Oklahoma’s health law waiver request
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it has rejected Oklahoma’s request to shield some health insurance companies from the requirement that they spend at least 80 percent of the money they collect in premiums on medical costs. The decision by the Department of Health and Human Services could mean nearly $16 million in rebates this year to about 70,000 Oklahomans who purchased their own health care coverage. Oklahoma is one of several states that asked the Health and Human Services Department to grant lower ratios until 2014, when all companies must abide by the standards. Kansas’ application was also denied Wednesday.
Previously: Rebates for consumers or more profits for insurers? from the OK Policy Blog
Kasey Hughart: Oklahomans remain vulnerable to wage theft
Wage theft, or an employer’s failure to pay a worker for completed labor, has emerged as a serious danger in the 21st century labor market. According to a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), wage theft is widespread. It is not limited to a specific industry or employer, and it is frequently deliberate. It can take many forms, including “being paid less than the minimum wage, working off the clock without pay, getting less than time and a half for overtime hours, having tips stolen, and seeing illegal deductions taken out of paychecks.” Despite basic protections guaranteed to workers by minimum wage and overtime laws, waning resources for enforcement make these protections inadequate. Ever-changing forms of employment, including outsourcing to subcontractors and classifying workers as independent contractors, have moved growing numbers outside the protection of the law.
Boeing plans to move at least 800 jobs to Oklahoma City
Boeing has announced that more jobs will be added to its Oklahoma City operation as it prepares to close a plant in Wichita, Kan. Oklahoma City likely will get at least 800 jobs, the majority coming from Wichita — with others coming from Puget Sound, Wash. In a news release issued Wednesday morning, the company announced it will be closing its Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) plant in Wichita by late 2013. The plant employs 2,160 employees, and the company intends to move remaining aircraft maintenance, modification and support work at Wichita to its operation in San Antonio, while remaining engineering work will be moved to Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma job gains point toward improving labor market
Suggesting widespread modest improvement in the job market, unemployment in November fell in 75 of 77 state counties and in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, as it did in three-quarters of U.S. cities, according to state and federal statistics released Wednesday. The jobless rate in Oklahoma City’s metro area slipped to 5.5 percent from 5.8 percent in October and 6.3 percent in November last year. In Tulsa and Lawton, November unemployment was 6.4 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively, down from 7.5 percent and 6.7 percent a year ago. The report by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission showed Oklahoma City gained 3,200 jobs from October to November, and 17,800 over the past year, including a collective 5.6 percent year-over-year increase in mining, logging, construction and manufacturing jobs. Conversely, information and government jobs since November 2010 have fallen by 4.8 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.
Wet finish to 2011 is good news for Oklahoma wheat crop
A wet finish to 2011 could be a boon to Oklahoma’s economy thanks to a rescued winter wheat crop. Most of Oklahoma had more than double the normal amount of rainfall for October through December, said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist for the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. That’s still not a lot of rain because that period is normally dry, but it was enough to matter. “In essence, it was a wheat crop saver,” McManus said. “And it’s not just wheat (that benefited). It’s filled up reservoirs in eastern Oklahoma and helped soil moisture.”
Incarcerated parents need contact with their children, task force reports
Making visits and communicating with inmates easier on children, expanding community-based sentencing programs and designating an agency to track the needs of children with incarcerated parents are among the recommendations released Wednesday by a legislative task force. The panel found that on any given day, more than 26,000 Oklahoma children – 3.3 percent of the children in the state – have a parent in a state prison. Of those, 12,634 were living with the parent before the parent was incarcerated. This number does not include children with a parent in a county jail or federal prison. The task force expressed concern, citing prior research, about the potential increase in problems for children of incarcerated parents, including school challenges, attachment disorders, behavioral problems, criminal activity, physical health problems and substance abuse.
KKK recruits in small town Oklahoma
Residents in Paden, Boley, Okemah and Prague woke up Wednesday morning to find flyers from the Ku Klux Klan on their front yards. “I assumed it was mail,” said Lorna Davis, who first saw the flyer on the step of her job. “When I pick it up and see Klan written on it I was like ‘Oh, my goodness.'” The fliers appear to be recruitment fliers listing “Twenty reasons why you (if qualified) should join, aid and support the United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” “I’m just plain offended by it,” said Davis. Just miles up the street in Boley, a town that’s historically African American, Micelea Mitchell’s mother was the first to read the flier that arrived on their doorstep. “She was like yea, she got a little upset about it,” said Mitchell.
Former Oklahoma special education official accused of falsifying travel claims
A former assistant state superintendent falsified a number of documents for travel reimbursement over the course of three years to make it appear as though she was working, according to an investigative audit released Wednesday by state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. Misty Kimbrough was fired in mid-June from her position at the state Education Department as an assistant state superintendent in charge of special education services. The audit focused on several events that Kimbrough was reimbursed for that in fact she had not attended. Kimbrough requested reimbursement for gas mileage, per-diem expenses and hotel rooms, although her colleagues reported she had not attended the events. “Due to the often minimal or negligible amounts involved, we concluded the travel claims and supporting documentation, that presented the ‘appearance’ of attending events, may have been more for the purpose of disguising absences from work, rather than for obtaining money through questionable travel claims,” the audit concludes.
Tulsa World: Tax reform ideas worrisome
A legislative task force’s proposals for reforming Oklahoma’s tax structure will elicit plenty of disagreement and debate. But there’s one aspect all can agree on: It sure is bold. So bold, in fact, it borders on shocking. The report calls for cuts in the individual income tax rate and the corporate income tax rate, and the elimination of 47 tax breaks, including the personal exemption, which is claimed by taxpayers in every income bracket and which has a $132.7 million impact. Also targeted is the food sales-tax relief program — a $43.2 million program — and the state Earned Income Tax Credit program, which provides nearly $32 million in aid for working poor families with children. The plan even includes recommendations to eliminate tax breaks for seniors, the blind and the disabled. David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said hundreds of thousands of low-income Oklahomans would end up paying higher taxes if the plan becomes a reality.
Quote of the Day
Let district attorneys and judges be tough on crime and the Legislature be smart on crime. Allow us to put people in prison who need to be there and take away things like mandatory minimum sentences.
–District Attorney Richard Smothermon
Number of the Day
Percentage of mortgages in Oklahoma that were delinquent during the 3rd quarter of 2011, up from 13.9 percent in the 2nd quarter; Delinquent mortgages have payments past due for 30 days or more.
The decline of the public good
Meryl Streep’s eery reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” brings to mind Thatcher’s most famous quip, “there is no such thing as ‘society.’” None of the dwindling herd of Republican candidates has quoted her yet but they might as well considering their unremitting bashing of everything public. What defines a society is a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions — public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on. Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else. “Privatiize” means pay-for-it-yourself. The practical consequence of this in an economy whose wealth and income are now more concentrated than any time in 90 years is to make high-quality public goods available to fewer and fewer.
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.