In The Know: Capitol inaction: What’s the worst that can happen?

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Capitol inaction: What’s the worst that can happen? Oklahoma lawmakers are still negotiating to break the special session impasse between House Democrats and the GOP, but a very real question remains, with very dire circumstances. What if there is no agreement? What happens if the Legislature does nothing? As it stands, the three agencies most affected by the $215 million shortfall are the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority [NewsOK]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Plan to Stabilize Oklahoma’s Health Care Marketplace Collapses: Oklahoma is blaming the Trump administration for failing to approve an expedited plan that was projected to lower health insurance premiums and entice thousands of uninsured Oklahomans to sign up for coverage. In a letter sent today to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (who resigned late Friday for unrelated reasons involving the use of charter aircraft), Oklahoma Secretary of Health and Human Services Terry Cline said the state is formally withdrawing its request for a waiver to begin a reinsurance program through the Affordable Care Act because federal officials didn’t fulfill a promise to approve it on time [Oklahoma Watch]. The federal government’s failure to approve Oklahoma’s waiver undermines trust between HHS and states [Health Affairs]. Oklahoma’s ambitious reinsurance proposal was the state’s first real effort at engaging meaningfully with the Affordable Care Act [OK Policy].

Reasons for optimism about special session (Capitol Update): With special session underway, it’s rational to be cautiously optimistic that schools and state agencies will make it through this fiscal year, which ends next June, without further budget cuts. Remember, the current state budget has cuts in it already when compared with last year. And this has been true each year for the past several years, to the point that nearly everyone in a leadership position has recognized the need for additional revenue. The process broke down during the regular session over how much was needed and who ought to be called on to pay increased taxes [OK Policy].

Inman hurls several bills at gross production tax rate: As Democrats in Oklahoma’s Legislature continue to push for an oil and gas tax policy that the majority party shows little interest in implementing, the House minority leader seems to be throwing a Hail Mary. State Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, filed more than a half-dozen bills that would in some way alter the gross production tax rate on the oil and gas industry. That rate has been a contentious topic for several years, and it was a major sticking point for Democrats during the spring’s legislative session [Journal Record]. Bills filed in special session put many options in play [OK Policy].

Bills seek to cut ed costs, but unlikely to advance: Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing bills to consolidate administrative services in small rural schools and cap nonteaching positions in an effort to address education funding challenges. A couple dozen education-related bills were filed last week as the state Legislature gathered for a special session, which has essentially stalled as Republican and Democratic House members debate proposed tax increases. While it’s doubtful the bills will progress this year given the current stalemate, the proposed legislation shows that many lawmakers may be prepared to step up their efforts to cut administrative costs come next year during the regular session, especially as school funding continues to be a challenge in Oklahoma [NewsOK].

New Corrections Department program to utilize intense inmate screening: State Corrections Department Director Joe Allbaugh has vowed to take a strong, personal role in determining inmate eligibility for a new community supervision program. “I am going to kind of be judge, jury and executioner,” Allbaugh told The Oklahoman. If staff members have questions about whether a particular inmate should be allowed to participate, Allbaugh said he is prepared to make the ultimate decision [NewsOK]. Oklahoma inmate release plan a result of DOC frustration [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman]. Despite warnings, little has been done to ease prison and jail overcrowding [OK Policy].

Former inmates in Oklahoma face poverty in the real world: Elvis Wright doesn’t know what a normal life looks like. “A normal life? I still don’t know what that is,” Wright said. “And I’m not looking for that. I’m looking for an extraordinary life, I’m not looking for the same old normal, day-to-day thing. I think it’s the only way I’m going to be able to overcome the past.” Wright, of Duncan, once belonged to an overcrowded and failing system. Bursting at the seams with inmates, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is underfunded and lacking in program participation, leaving prisoners without a support system to reintroduce them to society [Altus Times]. As we consider the best reforms to reduce the number in prison, we should not forget to look at what happens after inmates return to the streets [OK Policy].

Some Oklahoma courts prescribe work at a poultry plant as alternative to incarceration: After struggling with methamphetamine addiction, Darrell Wilson, 44, faced life in prison for a series of drug and firearms charges in 2015. Wilson credits Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), a court-referred recovery program in Delaware County that puts people to work at a poultry plant and other manual labor jobs, with saving his life. He now works at CAAIR as a staff member. …At a different court-referred recovery program called the DARP Foundation in Tahlequah, Mandy Rucinski, 40, said she was forced to work 14-hour days gutting chickens in order to avoid being sent to prison [NewsOK].

The number of protective orders in Tulsa County is skyrocketing. Here’s why: Charlotte found herself in a hospital bed with bruises around her neck — broken blood vessels courtesy of a violent choking from her boyfriend. The injuries weren’t his initial act of physical abuse, just the first to hospitalize her. She was freshly discharged when Charlotte filed for an emergency protective order. But because she didn’t show up for the required court date two weeks later, the matter was dropped [Tulsa World].

Reports of Drug-Exposed Newborns Surge: Oklahoma health-care professionals reported to the state a record 517 cases of newborn infants who tested positive for dangerous drugs or alcohol last year, up from 320 when officials began compiling statistics in 2013. State officials said they couldn’t determine how much of the 62 percent increase was attributable to rising drug use among pregnant women and how much to improved reporting and testing by health care personnel. Much of the reported increase involved prenatal exposure to marijuana [Oklahoma Watch].

Federal inspectors criticize Oklahoma’s oversight of group foster care homes: Cracked windows, holes in walls and celery so old that it had turned brown and begun to liquefy were among dozens of health and safety violations federal inspectors found when they visited Oklahoma’s group homes for foster children. Seventeen of Oklahoma’s 22 foster group homes were in violation of at least one state health and safety requirement, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. Several had multiple violations [NewsOK].

University of Oklahoma regents accept David Boren’s resignation, establish search committee for new president: The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents took the first steps to select the university’s next president during a special meeting Sunday in Oklahoma City. “Our objective is to find the person who is the best fit for the University of Oklahoma,” Chairman Clay Bennett said. “We view this as perhaps our most important assignment as regents,” Bennett said. “It’s an important new day that we’re very, very focused on.” [NewsOK]

Oklahoma’s new education plan targets student hunger: Along with increasing test scores and graduation rates, fighting childhood hunger is included in Oklahoma’s new education plan, which has been submitted for federal approval. With nearly 23 percent of children facing food insecurity, Oklahoma has some of the highest childhood hunger rates in the nation, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Oklahoma recently submitted its new school plan to the U.S. Department of Education, fulfilling a requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act that tasks states with increasing their focus on academic improvement [NewsOK]. Oklahoma school meals programs bring new strategies to fight child hunger [OK Policy].

OKC district students gain wireless access at home: About 350 ninth-graders in the Oklahoma City school district have gained access to the internet at home with the help of free mobile hot spots. By 2022-23, that number is expected to grow to 2,000 students, district officials said Thursday during a joint news conference with Sprint representatives at U.S. Grant High School. Sprint, through its 1Million project, will provide free mobile devices and high-speed wireless internet connectivity to one million high school students over the next five years [NewsOK].

Feds send $16.5M to Oklahoma for charter schools: Oklahoma will receive $16.5 million in federal funds to open and expand charter schools across the state, a funding boost that will significantly increase the number of new charter schools opening in the coming years. Oklahoma is home to one of nine state entities that were notified Thursday of the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, which is the specific local entity awarded the grant, will receive $16.5 million over the next five years [NewsOK].

D.C. Report: Scott Pruitt’s staff defends non-commercial travel: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s staff is trying to keep their boss from being sucked into the air travel expense vortex that took down Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Pruitt has spent $58,000 on four non-commercial flights since taking office. That’s far short of Price, who according to the latest report is approaching $1 million in domestic and overseas charges, but enough to be drawn into the controversy [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“Essentially, I’m crying ‘help’ and nobody’s listening. I think what we have here is a vacuum of leadership. Looking at the big picture, we have two choices here. We can either start very small and improve on this program … or they can give me more money and I can build a bunch of prisons and we just keep locking people up and throwing away the key.”

– State Corrections Department Director Joe Allbaugh (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans with a four-year degree in 2015. The US average was 30.6%

Source: Prosperity Now

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Will the Trump Era Transform the School Lunch? On a sweltering morning in July, Sonny Perdue, the newly minted secretary of agriculture, strode across the stage of a convention hall here packed with 7,000 members of the School Nutrition Association, who had gathered for their annual conference.After reminiscing about the cinnamon rolls baked by the lunchroom ladies of his youth, he delivered a rousing defense of school food-service workers who were unhappy with some of the sweeping changes made by the Obama administration. The amounts of fat, sugar and salt were drastically reduced. Portion sizes shrank. Lunch trays had to hold more fruits and vegetables. Snacks and food sold for fund-raising had to be healthier [New York Times].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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