In 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
Cherokee Nation sues drug firms, retailers for flooding communities with opioids: Lawyers for the Cherokee Nation opened a new line of attack against the pharmaceutical industry Thursday, filing a lawsuit in tribal court that accuses the nation’s six top drug distributors and pharmacies of flooding communities in Oklahoma with hundreds of millions of highly addictive pain pills. The suit alleges that the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws by failing to prevent the diversion of pain pills to the black market, profiting from the growing opioid epidemic and decimating communities across the nation’s 14 counties in the state [Washington Post].
State Legislators Debate Raising Taxes On Oil, Gas: As the state legislature continues to wrangle with a nearly $900-million budget shortfall, Democrats want to increase taxes on oil and natural gas production. But Republicans aren’t so sure. Democrats say increasing the gross production tax, the tax on the production of oil and natural gas, could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for the state. But they fear the industry, with its powerful lobby, has become a sacred cow in the capitol [News9].
House Minority Leader Scott Inman announces for governor’s race: Saying it’s time for a new generation of leadership, House Minority Leader Scott Inman officially announced on Thursday that he is running for governor. Gov. Mary Fallin is finishing her second term and can’t run again. “I am running for governor because I believe Mary Fallin and (Lt. Gov.) Todd Lamb have failed this state in their leadership over the last seven years,” Inman, D-Del City, said [Tulsa World].
House keeps criminal justice reform bills in play, but action might not come until next year: Five more pieces of a complex criminal justice reform package were sent to conference committee by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday. Sending the bills to conference means lawmakers may continue to work on the legislation during the final month or so of the legislative session. Or longer. “The chances are very low that everything sent to conference will pass this year,” said Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, the House sponsor of all five bills [Tulsa World].
Legislature should reject high-interest loan bill: As a pastor, I am often asked, “What would Jesus do?” And I am comfortable with the answers, especially when I watch our elected representatives proposing legislation like House Bill 1913, which would create a high-interest loan product similar to a payday loan, but with a $1,500 cap and a 204 percent annual percentage rate. Jesus, I believe, would just say no [Rev. Tim Luschen / NewsOK]. There is simply no need in Oklahoma for another high-cost predatory loan product designed to trap people in unaffordable debt [OK Policy].
Measure to Boost Tax Collections by $17M Passes Oklahoma Legislature: A bill expected to net millions in revenue next year by expanding the definition of “noncompliant taxpayer” goes to the governor. House Bill 2343 says the definition now applies when filings are missed on any tax but income for two out of 24 months. Currently, the definition only applies to missed sales tax filings and payments [KWGS].
Scanning License Plates Is Latest Revenue-Boosting Move by DAs: With less money from the state and bounced-check funds drying up, Oklahoma district attorneys are turning to issuing tickets and putting people on probation through their offices – activities typically left to police, counties and the Department of Corrections. Their newest effort that yields revenue is to crack down on uninsured drivers using a system that scans the license plates of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans on roadways every year [Oklahoma Watch].
Legislation marks third-, fourth- and fifth-graders for suspension: Senate Bill 81, which is currently pending state House action, would require the suspension of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who assault or attempt to assault school employees or volunteers. Previous law has limited mandatory suspensions to students in sixth grade or higher. Taken to extreme, a school could suspend a 9-year-old who raises her fist in anger — attempted assault [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. SB 81 would break Oklahoma’s obligation to educate all kids [OK Policy].
Legislature Approves Measure to Lure Healthier Grocery Options to Fill Oklahoma Food Deserts: Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are epidemic in Oklahoma, and lack of access to fresh, healthy food is a big reason why. Scarcity is most severe in regions known as food deserts, where going to the grocery store often means taking a road trip. But new legislation awaiting the governor’s signature could bring more healthy food to areas that need it [StateImpact Oklahoma]. Food deserts are a big reason behind Oklahomans’ poor health [OK Policy].
Senate approves bill cutting film rebate budget: Oklahoma’s rebate program for movie and television production will likely lose 20 percent of its budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The Senate approved House Bill 2344 in a 36-8 vote on Thursday. It would drop the cap for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program from $5 million to $4 million. The office uses the program to help compensate production companies for any Oklahoma-based goods and service purchases, such as film crews, construction crews and prop rentals [Journal Record].
‘Caregiver Support Act’ Approved by OK Legislature: House Bill 1357, the “Oklahoma Caregiver Support Act,” has passed both the House and Senate. The measure is now headed to the Governor’s desk. “There are resources, information, counseling, training, and even some money – $360 vouchers for those who qualify – to help ease the load of caregivers who juggle schedules, work and finances to care for loved ones,” said Rep. Regina Goodwin said [KSWO].
Smoke and mirrors! Let’s clear the air on the cigarette tax: The headlines generated from this legislative session are hard to miss. Oklahoma is facing another budget shortfall — $878 million to be exact. While different ideas are being floated on how to remedy this problem, we are faced with a stark reality: Our state can’t continue to operate without money [State Chamber President Fred Morgan / Tulsa World]. Increasing the cigarette tax could be a net benefit to low- and moderate-income Oklahomans for two big reasons [OK Policy].
How G.O.P. in 2 States Coaxed Health Law to Success or Crisis: When President Trump describes the Affordable Care Act as “imploding,” Lori Roll, an insurance agent here, does not consider it hyperbole. Only one health insurer in Oklahoma is left selling coverage through the federal marketplace, and the hospital in this city of 36,000 is not in the network. Premiums are among the highest in the country, and while most marketplace customers qualify for the Affordable Care Act’s income-based subsidies that lower the cost, many of Ms. Roll’s middle-class clients do not. …In neighboring New Mexico, also under Republican leadership, the Affordable Care Act marketplace is isn far better shape [New York Times].
Medical marijuana: What will happen if voters say yes to State Question 788? Oklahoma could join the 29 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use by patients in need if voters approve State Question 788 in the next general election. We looked at the legislative language written by Oklahomans for Health, whose initiative petition put the question on the ballot, to find out how it would work if it becomes law [Tulsa World]. The experience in other states suggest that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes only would have negligible revenue effects, but the legalization of recreational marijuana could bring significant benefits — though it would not by itself solve Oklahoma’s persistent revenue shortfalls [OK Policy].
Troopers raise awareness about more funding on 80th anniversary of department: Celebrations are in order for the Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Thursday, they celebrate 80 years of keeping Oklahomans safe. But like many departments, troopers are having to work around that $870 million budget deficit. While the milestone is worth celebrating, the face of public safety may not be done evolving [KJRH].
Oklahoma Counties Scramble To Fill Budget Void Left By Removal Of DOC Inmates: Sheriffs across Oklahoma are trying to figure out how to keep their jails running. Budget cuts forced the Department of Corrections to stop paying 10 counties to house Department of Corrections inmates. Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey says his jail used to hold up to 32 DOC inmates at any given time, but now, they’re gone [NewsOn6].
Bill of Rights monument to be placed on east side of state Capitol: The state’s Capitol Preservation Commission took initial steps Thursday to place a Bill of Rights monument on the Capitol grounds. A committee will be in charge of fundraising, said Dan Ross, a member of the commission. Legislation passed and signed into law last session directed the commission or its designee to arrange for the placement of the privately funded monument on the Capitol grounds [Tulsa World].
Oklahoma students express concerns about college affordability: Students from across the state shared concerns about college affordability Thursday during a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. “It is vital to keep tuition as low as possible so that students can achieve their goals,” said Olyvia Nguyen, a criminal justice major at Rose State College. Nguyen said she has seven younger siblings and works two jobs to pay for her education [NewsOK].
Weather Act by Bridenstine and Lucas Signed into Law: After four years of attempting to get Congress to pass his Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, Rep. Jim Bridenstine is successful. President Trump signed the measure into law this week. Actually, it was the Lucas-Bridenstine Act because Rep. Frank Lucas was also a sponsor of the measure first introduced in 2013. But it was Rep. Bridenstine who led much of the push for the measure, urging the House in January to move ahead with it [OKEnergyToday].
The Oklahoma killing spree that few talked about — until now: When authors research the centuries-old history between the U.S. government and American Indian tribes, use of the word “genocide” often enters the conversation. It is no stretch for any honorable human being to view the government’s broken promises and forced removal of Indians as despicable. But even the most avid amateur students of the genocidal tendencies might be unaware of what happened to the Osage tribe of Oklahoma about 100 years ago, when at least two dozen people were victims of a killing spree [Dallas News].
Quote of the Day
“Tribal nations have survived disease, removal from our homelands, termination and other adversities, and still we prospered. However, I fear the opioid epidemic is emerging as the next great challenge of our modern era.”
– Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, which has filed a lawsuit in tribal court accusing drug distributors and pharmacies of flooding communities in Oklahoma with highly-addictive pain pills [Source]
Number of the Day
Number of district court cases pending on June 30, 2016
Source: Oklahoma Supreme Court
Supply-Side Economics, but for Liberals: The social safety net is forever at risk of becoming a hammock, to use House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s memorable metaphor. That, anyway, is an operating assumption behind much of the discussion of social welfare programs. Economists have often taken it as a given that there is an inherent trade-off in which the larger the safety net, the fewer people will work. But what if that framing is backward? Certain social welfare policies, according to an emerging body of research, may actually encourage more people to work and enable them to do so more productively [The Upshot / The New York Times].
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.