In The Know: Tornado damage costs still climbing

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 the cost of damages from recent Oklahoma tornadoes has been estimated at $5 billion, of which only half is estimated as insured. Scientific American shared a satellite image showing the Moore tornado’s path of destruction. Restaurants were ordered closed, a hospital moved its patients to other facilities, an emergency was declared and 100,000 residents faced a boil advisory after a water main break in Broken Arrow.

A new Oklahoma Policy Institute fact sheet explains that, despite a much-heralded law passed in 2012, Oklahoma has not implemented any real criminal justice reform. Gov. Fallin signed a bill into law that criminalizes driving with any detectable amount of marijuana in a person’s system.  THC can remain detectable in blood tests for days after its use — long after any behavioral effects have worn off. discussed how Oklahoma has the highest per capita number of executions in the nation since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

New Census numbers show that growth of Oklahoma’s Hispanic and Asian populations continues to far outpace growth of non-Hispanic whites. David Blatt’s Journal Record column explains why closing the wealth and opportunity gap for people of color in Oklahoma is central to our state’s future prosperity. The state Board of Education the creation of boot camps to get more special education teachers into Oklahoma classrooms amid a severe shortage statewide. Oklahoma higher education officials are seeking greater collaboration between universities and industry employers.

An Oklahoma court said a ruling that invalidates the state’s exemption of capital gains taxes for Oklahoma-based companies is limited to the 2008 tax return of the company that filed the appeal. Norman sales tax collections continue to fall below budget predictions, and the city’s Finance Director said growth in untaxed online shopping by the college population is a major cause. The Number of the Day is the percentage of families in poverty receiving ‘welfare’ cash assistance in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, health researcher Dr. Aaron Carroll points out that the arguments used today by opponents of expanding Medicaid are the same as those made when Medicaid was first created in the 1960s, and the critics’ predictions of doom didn’t come true.

In The News

Tornado damage costs still climbing

Within 24 hours of the killer tornado crashing through Moore on May 20, news media outlets began circulating the estimated cost of damages: $2 billion, one of history’s most expensive weather events, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Now that insurance adjusters and government officials have had time to actually survey the area firsthand, that figure deserves a little adjustment. But the result, like the storm damage itself, is messy. Moore City Manager Stephen Eddy, for example, said the loss of municipal properties alone is estimated at about $1.7 million. Beyond that, however, he was unable to say.

Read more from the Journal Record.

Satellite image tells twisted tale of the deadly Oklahoma tornado

The trail of destruction blazed by last month’s powerful Newcastle–Moore tornado can be seen from space. The entirety of the 27-kilometer path through central Oklahoma slashes across a recent image from NASA’s Terra spacecraft. The photo uses false color to highlight different surface features: red for vegetation, dark blue for water, gray for roads and buildings, and tan for bare fields. The twister’s path shows up as a broad tan swath cutting through a grid of fields and roads.

Read more from Scientific American.

Broken Arrow declares emergency after water main break

Uncertainty over the safety of its water paralyzed the city Wednesday as restaurants were ordered closed, a hospital moved its patients to other facilities, an emergency was declared and 100,000 residents faced a boil advisory. “This is a pretty significant event for a community of our size,” City Manager Thom Moton said during an emergency meeting of the City Council. “We cannot assure the community that there has not been an entry of some type of contaminant in the (water) system.” The council unanimously declared an emergency Wednesday because of a water main break that occurred late Monday and caused the water level in the city’s four water storage tanks to fall to less than 30 percent of their capacity.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma has not implemented real criminal justice reform

Yesterday, the Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma judges are not implementing a key provision of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that sought to reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system. The JRI law approved by lawmakers in 2012 mandates post-release supervision for felony offenders after incarceration, but since it went into effect, that requirement has been placed on only 9 out of 1,621 eligible offenders. Unfortunately, the news is just the latest of many examples where Oklahoma is not implementing the new law. A new fact sheet from Oklahoma Policy Institute makes clear that the law continues to face numerous roadblocks that prevent it from having any impact of the state’s high levels of costly incarceration.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma criminalizes driving with any detectable level of marijuana in system

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation, House Bill 1441, into law that criminalizes drivers from operating a motor vehicle if they have any detectable amount of THC and/or its inactive metabolites in their blood, saliva, or urine. Under such internal possession statutes, known as zero tolerance per se laws, a motorist who tests positive for the presence of such compounds is guilty per se (in fact) of a criminal traffic safety violation, regardless of whether or not there exist supporting evidence that the defendant was behaviorally impaired by such compounds. Residual, low levels of THC may remain present in the blood of occasional consumers for several hours after past use and for several days in habitual consumers — long after any behavior-inducing effects of the substance have worn off.

Read more from NORML.

Capital punishment: Oklahoma leads per capita

Texas has a well-earned reputation as the most capital punishment friendly state in the union, executing more people since the reinstatement of the death penalty than any other state. You may be surprised, however, to find out that Texas doesn’t execute the highest percentage of its populace. We do. Oklahoma has executed more inmates per capita than any other state since the US Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Oklahoma is third in the nation in overall executions, behind Texas and Virginia. In 2003, Oklahoma set a high water mark when it executed 14 inmates. Just two years before, it had set a national record by executing three women in the same year, making up a quarter of all women executed since 1976 nationwide. Oklahoma is on track to surpass Virginia in overall number of executions soon. We also have over six times as many death row inmates as Virginia.

Read more from

Oklahoma’s Hispanic, Asian populations showing growth

Juvenal Saldivar came to Tulsa from California in 1997 as his family – which had been spread out in various states – regrouped to make Tulsa their home. Saldivar later opened up a business which saw success, so he opened another. And another. El Bazaar, a mall that houses 48 spaces for rent so others can also start their own businesses, opened in April in the heart of Tulsa’s Hispanic community at 21st Street and Garnett Road. Saldivar and those community leaders and business owners are part of a steady increase in Tulsa’s Hispanic population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Prosperity Policy: Closing the gap

At a recent forum sponsored by the Oklahoma Academy, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa President Gerry Clancy shared a shocking and disturbing statistic: The average life expectancy for residents of certain ZIP codes in north Tulsa is 14 years less than for individuals living a few miles away in south Tulsa. It’s deeply troubling, yet unsurprising, that the neighborhoods with lower life expectancy are predominantly African-American, while those with higher life expectancy are predominantly white. This is one of many examples of deep and persistent disparities between whites and people of color in Oklahoma.

Read more from the Journal Record.

State Board of Education OKs special ed teacher boot camps

The state Board of Education on Wednesday approved policies for 150-hour intensive boot camps to get more special education teachers into Oklahoma classrooms amid a severe shortage statewide. The state Legislature passed a bill in the most recent session that implemented the boot camp training as a nontraditional route to special education teacher certification. For candidates, a boot camp would be the start of a three-year alternative pathway to a standard teaching certificate and open the door to those who decide to continue on to earn a master’s degree in special education.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma education officials seek greater collaboration between universities and industry

When Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology instructors teach their students how to use a piece of equipment or a particular technique, they can be reasonably sure they’re keeping pace with the industry. If they weren’t, the industry would let them know, said Roy Achemire, division chair of OSUIT’s heavy equipment and vehicle institute. Oklahoma education and commerce officials said Wednesday they hope to see similar collaboration become more common across the state’s higher education system. Officials discussed the higher education system’s role in developing the state’s workforce at a conference Wednesday at Oklahoma State University — Oklahoma City.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma appellate court limits effect of capital gains ruling

Worst-case fears that Oklahoma could be responsible for paying up to $500 million because a section of a capital-gains tax deduction was ruled unconstitutional were set aside Wednesday. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, after granting a rehearing to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, upheld its earlier ruling that the deduction that treats out-of-state companies differently than Oklahoma firms is unconstitutional. The appellate court directed that its ruling applies only to the 2008 tax return of the company that filed the appeal.

Read more from NewsOK.

Norman sales tax running below projections

Norman sales tax collections continue to fall below budget predictions, with the last receipt of the fiscal year rolling in well under budget predictions this month. Studies indicating that online shopping is growing in the college population could provide a reason for Norman’s flagging tax receipts, and legislation under consideration might provide the solution. But e-fairness legislation is seemingly lost in a U.S. House subcommittee, and Norman must make do while hoping other revenue makes up the difference.

Read more from the Norman Transcript.

Quote of the Day

The return on a college investment has fallen, students are facing higher and higher debt burdens, and the reaction of employers is to make matters worse for them by hiring more and more people without paying them.

-Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, reacting to a court ruling that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns (Source:

Number of the Day


Percentage of families in poverty receiving ‘welfare’ cash assistance in Oklahoma, compared to 27.3% nationally

Source:  Community Action Project, 2009-10

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The sky didn’t fall before, and it won’t fall now

One of the things I’m fascinated by is the way history repeats itself when it comes to health care reform. Everyone acts as if what we’re doing is crazy new, as if it’s never been done before. I think we’re seeing the same thing again with respect to Medicaid and the ACA. Many of the claims about the expansion’s imminent failure involve arguments that aren’t new. In fact, they were the same as those being employed against traditional Medicaid decades ago. Today, not only is Medicaid thriving, but just last year, the Supreme Court decided it was so “apple pie” that threatening to take the program away was coercive.

Read more from the Incidental Economist.

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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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