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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

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Today you should know that a Senate panel passed a measure (HB 2642) to divert some of the scheduled funding increase for roads and bridges to common education. A lobbyist for Oklahoma highway contractors expressed outrage about the bill, saying it would destroy the state’s progress on road conditions. Bob Waldrop shared a story about rescuing a man in a motorized wheelchair on Oklahoma City’s Northwest Expressway, which has no sidewalks or other pedestrian amenities for 16 miles.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how tax cuts are moving forward even though Oklahomans are not calling for them. The OK Policy Blog discussed a new “MyRA” initiative that creates a simple way for workers to build retirement accounts. The accounts have no fees or risks to principal, and low income earners who save in MyRAs will be eligible for a savers’ tax credit of 10 percent to 50 percent of their contributions.

The state Department of Education said about 96 percent of all Oklahoma school districts have been deemed technologically ready for spring testing, up from 70 percent nearly a month ago. The private contractor that provides Oklahoma’s testing is experiencing a glitch that causes administrators at schools to be regularly logged out of the system. Several House members are complaining their bills to outlaw embryonic research and to allow school employees to deliver “Merry Christmas” greetings to one another aren’t getting a hearing in the Senate.

Though an Oklahoma County judge ruled last week that two inmates facing execution have a constitutional right to know key details about lethal injection drugs, the state so far has revealed sparse information about its new protocol. Oklahoma has until the end of the month to appeal the ruling. The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner said that the death of Luis Rodriguez, who experienced heart problems after being restrained by Moore police, was a homicide. Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan announced he will not run for re-election, after a grand jury concluded his involvement in a road project violated state law. 

Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove) is speaking out against measures to restrict abortion and contraception access that he says are prejudiced against women. The Associated Press reported that even as Hobby Lobby is leading the legal challenge against birth control coverage under the new health care law, the company’s retirement plan includes investments in companies making contraceptive and abortion drugs. A coalition of same-sex couples and their supporters are launching a statewide campaign intended to teach Oklahomans about marriage equality. Lawyers defending Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban filed a brief arguing that marriage exists for its procreative potential, not just as recognition of a loving relationship between two people.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Hispanic immigrants who own their own businesses, a higher entrepreneurship rate than the US as a whole. In today’s Policy Note, an expansive survey of America’s public schools reveals large racial disparities in suspension rates and access to advanced courses and college counselors.

In The News

Funding detour from roads to schools heads to Oklahoma Senate floor

A Senate panel on Wednesday passed a measure to divert money from roads and bridges to common education. House Bill 2642 by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, moves to the Senate floor after securing passage in the Senate Appropriations Committee by a 20-3 vote. Under current state law, money is diverted from the state’s General Revenue Fund to the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) Fund. The amount is about $59.7 million a year until the total amount hits $575 million. HB 2642 would redirect half that money to common education to be put through the state aid funding formula for schools, Halligan said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Lobbyist for highway contractors expresses outrage about funding diversion

State lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday they say brings more funding to education. The plan shifts money from ODOT to education. Opponents say the idea would destroy the state’s progress on road conditions. “[It’s] asinine. It really is. Here you have one of the few things in state government that’s working,” said Bobby Stem, executive director of Oklahoma General Contractors. On his desk, a copy of ODOT’s 8 year plan, literally cut in half, representing the funding cuts proposed by this plan. “All we see is a bill that says ‘we want half your money’,” Stem said.

Read more from Fox 25.

An adventure along Northwest Expressway

So I met a man on my way home after choir practice tonight along Northwest Expressway. I was in the right lane, going east, when I had to come to a stop, east of McArthur, by the Taco Bell and Golden Corral. All of the cars ahead of me save one swerved around the obstruction, which turned out to be an elderly African American man, without legs, in a motorized wheelchair, just rolling along in the right lane of Northwest Expressway. Northwest Expressway is six lanes of traffic, officially a state highway, and in the 16 miles of so of its length, from where it starts at Classen to where it exits Oklahoma City, there is not one single pedestrian amenity.

Read more from Bob Waldrop.

Unpopular but inevitable?

The tax debate this legislative session is especially strange. Almost no one really seems to support a tax cut, yet approval of one is considered almost inevitable. Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders have been pushing hard for a tax cut since 2012. After failing to reach an agreement two years ago, they passed one last year, only to see the state Supreme Court overturn it. Many Republicans worry about heading into this fall’s elections without a tax-cut notch on their belts.

Read more from the Journal Record.

MyRA: New options for working Oklahomans

During the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new savings initiative, appropriately titled ‘MyRA’. Created by executive order, the MyRA is a simple retirement savings account that will be available (after an initial pilot period) to many workers through their employers. This post explains the rationale behind the new initiative, how MyRA accounts work, and how they could help move thousands of working Oklahomans toward a more secure retirement.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Most Oklahoma school districts now test-ready

About 96 percent of all Oklahoma school districts have been deemed technologically ready for spring testing, up from 70 percent nearly a month ago, the Oklahoma State Department of Education said Tuesday. Spring testing begins April 10. Department officials have been working closely with testing vendors to avoid the computer testing problems that plagued many school districts last year.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Testing glitches already starting

Yesterday, CTB/McGraw Hill sent District Testing Coordinators the following memo: “The Oklahoma Online Test Administration System (TAS), used by coordinators to manage testing, is currently experiencing technical issues that are causing administrators to be logged out of the system on a consistent basis. Our technology engineers are working diligently to isolate the source of the issues and make the necessary adjustments to return to a normal status as soon as possible.”

Read more from okeducationtruths.

‘Merry Christmas’ Bill Languishing in Senate

Several House members are complaining their bills to outlaw embryonic research and to allow school employees to deliver “Merry Christmas” greetings to one another aren’t getting a hearing in the Senate. Rep. Bobby Cleveland’s so-called “Merry Christmas” bill that specifically authorizes school district employees to use the greeting and erect nativity scenes has stalled in the Senate Education Committee.

Read more from Public Radio Tulsa.

State reveals few details about lethal injection drugs

Though an Oklahoma County judge ruled last week that two inmates facing execution have a constitutional right to know key details about lethal injection drugs, the state so far has revealed sparse information about its new protocol. Oklahoma has until the end of the month to appeal the ruling by District Court Judge Patricia Parrish that concealing key facts about the execution drugs is “an unconstitutional denial or barrier” to the inmates’ rights to access the courts.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Medical examiner rules Luis Rodriguez’s death a homicide

The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner said Wednesday that the death of Luis Rodriguez was ruled a homicide. Rodriguez died in the early morning hours of Feb. 15th after being detained at the Warren Theatre in Moore. His wife, Nair, recorded the incident on her cell phone. On Wednesday, almost two months after his death, the state Medical Examiner said Rodriguez’s death was from cardiac arrhythmia caused by physical restraint and ruled it a homicide. The ME cautioned that homicide is a medical term that does not denote wrong doing or criminal intent.

Read more from Fox 25.

Criticized Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan won’t seek re-election

In an abrupt turnaround, Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election after all. “It is time to move on,” the District 3 commissioner said in a defiant written statement released by his attorney. His announcement comes less than a week after the state’s multicounty grand jury concluded his involvement in a road project violated state law. It also comes a day after state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, announced he will run for the seat.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma Republican Speaks Out Against Anti-Choice Bill: ‘It’s Prejudiced Against Women’

Oklahoma has already enacted some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation. Nonetheless, the GOP-controlled legislature currently advancing two additional measures to compromise women’s access to reproductive health care — one that would impose the same restrictions on abortion providers that are currently closing dozens of clinics in Texas, and another that would prevent teens younger than 17 from buying Plan B over the counter. But not every Republican in the state is supportive of the recent push. Rep. Doug Cox (R) is speaking out against the proposed anti-choice legislation.

Read more from ThinkProgress.

Hobby Lobby 401(k) invests in birth control makers

The company leading the legal challenge against birth control coverage under the new health care law offers its workers a retirement plan that includes investments in companies making contraceptive and abortion drugs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. has a 401(k) plan featuring several mutual funds investing in pharmaceutical firms that produce intrauterine birth control devices, emergency contraceptive pills and drugs used in abortion procedures, according to Labor Department documents and a review of fund portfolios.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Same-sex marriage supporters in Oklahoma launch statewide education campaign

A coalition of same-sex couples and their supporters gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol to launch a statewide campaign intended to teach Oklahomans about marriage equality. The public education campaign, called Freedom Oklahoma, comes the same month that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is set to hear a case regarding the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. “We must remember that freedom means freedom for everyone,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of The Equality Network.

Read more from The Republic.

Lawyers for Oklahoma official: Marriage is for procreation potential

Marriage exists for its procreative potential, not just as recognition of a loving relationship between two people, and the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, lawyers for an Oklahoma clerk said in a new court filing. The 63-page brief filed Tuesday is the latest volley in a battle between a lesbian couple of 17 years and Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith, who refused to grant them a marriage license in 2009.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

“So now it doesn’t matter if you have a pre-existing condition; I’m not going to have to worry.”

– Jim Curry, a Tulsa resident with diabetes who signed up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Curry estimates that he spent hundreds of dollars every month on diabetes supplies before he became insured (Source: http://bit.ly/1kqPJ8J).

Number of the Day

11.7 percent

Percentage of Hispanic immigrants who own their own businesses, compared to 10.0 percent for the US as a whole.

Source: The Partnership for a New American Economy and the Latino Donor Collaborative

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Expansive Survey of America’s Public Schools Reveals Troubling Racial Disparities

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released today the first comprehensive look at civil rights data from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years. The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from the 2011-12 school year was announced by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C. This is the first time since 2000 that the Department has compiled data from all 97,000 of the nation’s public schools and its 16,500 school districts—representing 49 million students. And for the first time ever, state-, district- and school-level information is accessible to the public in a searchable online database at crdc.ed.gov.

Read more from the US Department of Education.

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