In The Know: Gov. Fallin Sets Up Task Force To Look Into Untested Rape Kits

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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Gov. Fallin Sets Up Task Force To Look Into Untested Rape Kits: Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order forming a task force to look into untested rape kits around the state. Last year alone, there were an estimated 1,900 rapes and attempted rapes in Oklahoma. Police departments collected evidence in so-called rape kits, but a lot of those rape kits are sitting on shelves somewhere collecting dust, and no one knows exactly how many there are. Oklahoma City and Tulsa police have labs to test their own rape kits, but they’re the only departments in the state that do [News9].

Despite downturn, some rural hospitals thrive in Oklahoma communities: When David Keith started his job as CEO of a rural hospital, the bank account had only $4 million. That year, McAlester Regional Health Center had lost $9 million. Keith came in 2011 with a vision of turning the hospital around. “We’ve been profitable ever since,” Keith said. “We went from 21 days’ cash as high as 177 days’ cash on hand. We’ve had as high as $40 million in the bank … And we did not do this by reducing employment. We actually added employees. We did this by being community-minded.” Across Oklahoma, several rural hospitals are fighting to stay open. Since 2011, nine rural hospitals have filed for bankruptcy, most recently Atoka County Medical Center in January [NewsOK]. Rejecting federal funds for healthcare has devastated Oklahoma’s rural hospitals [OK Policy].

We must end oil and gas tax breaks to save Oklahoma communities: This year, we’re facing yet another budget shortfall of between $750 million and $1 billion, but we’ve exhausted many of the one-time revenue sources and budget gimmicks that barely got us through shortfalls in previous years. To prevent catastrophic cuts and put our finances back on a sustainable course, lawmakers must raise new recurring revenues. Part of the solution needs to include ending tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and restoring the gross production tax to its historical level of 7 percent [OK Policy].

“It’s immoral,” House Republican leaders, Gov. Fallin pushing for gasoline tax hike to close budget gap: Paying more at the pump – that’s one plan to help plug the state’s budget hole. But, some said it may drain the bank accounts of hardworking Oklahomans. House Republicans and Governor Fallin are pushing for an increase in gasoline tax, but opponents said that’s unfair to average Oklahomans when there’s no plan to raise taxes on big oil. Right now, you’re paying about 17 cents on the gallon in motor fuel tax. The Oklahoma tax on gasoline is one of the lowest in the country [KFOR].

Boost to Oklahoma mental health agency is another reason to increase tobacco tax: Lawmakers who are uncomfortable with the idea of boosting Oklahoma’s tobacco tax by $1.50 per pack should consider one area that would benefit as a result of the increase: the state’s mental health agency. The tax increase, requested by Gov. Mary Fallin, would generate roughly $185 million per year. A tax-increase bill being considered (but so far not acted upon) at the Legislature calls for giving 28 percent of that total, or about $50 million, to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Bill would require expiration dates for tax breaks: If one legislator’s pitch goes through, Oklahoma could be spared some of its hot debates over tax credits. House Bill 1187 would require each new tax break to come with a specified expiration date. The Senate amended the language to apply a four-year sunset to each new incentive, and then members passed it 43-0. State Rep. Avery Frix, R-Muskogee, said it seemed like a common-sense bill, and both conservative and progressive policy analysts supported it [Journal Record]. Mandatory sunset dates are a key component of sound tax incentive policy [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Schools Say They Need More Funding, So Why Can’t They Get It? Superintendents across Oklahoma are begging lawmakers to do something about school funding. Ultimately, school officials want more money, but that requires raising taxes, which is a tough thing to do in Oklahoma—for many reasons. However, this year, solutions are popping up in unexpected places. The Superintendent of Ponca City Public Schools, David Pennington, said if education funding is cut next year he is going to have to drastically change the way his school functions [KOSU].  

Fallin makes right choice on life without parole commutations on nonviolent convictions: Gov. Mary Fallin has done the right thing in commuting the prison terms of 21 nonviolent drug offenders serving life-without-parole sentences under a superseded and needlessly punitive state law. Since June, Fallin has changed the inmates’ sentences to life with the potential for parole, as was recommended by the state parole board, The Oklahoman reported recently. Her actions have addressed about a third of the prisoners sentenced under a legal provision that was revoked legislatively in 2015 [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

College athletics: Oklahoma opens courtroom to bad booster lawsuits: A new law lets universities sue sports boosters and agents who expose the school to sanctions. Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 425 on Thursday. It goes into effect Nov. 1. The measure allows a lawsuit against third parties who trigger penalties and economic losses against schools for breaking a governing body’s rules [NewsOK].

Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson announces gubernatorial campaign: Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson on Monday officially announced he is running for governor as a Republican. “I am applying for a job today,” he said. “You are the employer. I need your help.” Richardson said he would call for an audit of every state agency to see where the money has been spent. He repeatedly referred to the $878 million budget hole for the 2018 fiscal year, saying there is “something we don’t know.” [Tulsa World]

Former District Attorney Tim Harris declares he’ll run for 1st District congressional seat: Former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris formally announced his candidacy Monday for Oklahoma’s 1st District congressional seat. “Just as I fought for families and the safety of our communities, I will be an advocate for our freedoms, our security and our jobs,” Harris said in a statement. “There is far too much at stake right now to remain on the sidelines.” Rep. Jim Bridenstine was elected to the seat in 2012 and will not run for re-election. At least four Republicans are lined up to try to replace him: Harris, businessman Kevin Hern, nonprofit executive Andy Coleman and pastor Danny Stockstill [Tulsa World].

‘Mad Scientists’ at Oklahoma March Urge Lawmakers to Stop Underfunding and Undermining Research: Oklahomans joined thousands of people in more than 600 cities on Saturday in a march for scientific freedom organized to send a message to state and national lawmakers. The March for Science in Oklahoma City was a political rally and science fair, and marchers came from all across Oklahoma and assembled near the front steps of the state capitol. There were meteorologists showing off phased-array weather radars and doctors wearing lab coats. Engineers impressed children with robots, students and teachers pled for education funding [KOSU].

Quote of the Day

“I knocked on 3,500 door steps during the campaign, I didn’t have one person say, ‘go up there and change the gun laws.’ Those conversations weren’t happening. It was constantly over and over and over again: fix the budget, help diversify our economy, and fix education.”

-Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Okmulgee) (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children who get their health coverage through SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Conservatives’ Goal To Relax Mandatory Health Benefits Unlikely To Tame Premiums: As House Republicans try to find common cause on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they may be ready to let states make the ultimate decision about whether to keep a key consumer provision in the federal health law that conservatives say is raising insurance costs. Those conservatives, known as the House Freedom Caucus, and members of a more moderate group of House Republicans, the Tuesday Group, are hammering out changes to the GOP bill that was pulled unceremoniously by party leaders last month when they couldn’t get enough votes to pass it. At the heart of those changes reportedly is the law’s requirement for most insurance plans to offer 10 specific categories of “essential health benefits” [Kaiser Health News].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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