In 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 Zebre.
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Today you should know that Gov. Fallin has signed a measure authorizing $120 million in bonds to repair Oklahoma’s crumbling Capitol. Exterior work is expected to begin this summer or fall. She also signed a bill (HB 2589) criminalizing trafficking large quantities of prescription drugs. Another bill that would have required doctors to check an online database of patient behavior before filling prescriptions (SB 1820) did not advance this year, but the bill’s author is optimistic about its chances in the 2015 legislative session. Click here for OK Policy’s fact sheet on prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma.
Gov. Fallin signed a bill (HB 1623) authorizing suicide awareness training in Oklahoma high schools. StateImpact Oklahoma summarized the fates of bills they had followed during this legislative session. The Journal Record’s M. Scott Carter reviewed the legislative session via an A – F grading system. A guest post on the OK Policy blog discussed the debate around regulation of e-cigarettes. An editorial in The Oklahoman warned against provisions in the bill to repeal Common Core standards in Oklahoma that would give politicians more control over the crafting of all of the state’s academic standards. The New York Times described the backlash against Common Core in a number of states, including Oklahoma.
A national study ranked Oklahoma 17th nationwide for harmful power plant emissions, a slight improvement over last year’s ranking (16th). Three eighth-grade girls from Jenks won a regional award for their design of a do-it-yourself tornado shelter. They will advance to a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Army and the National Science Teachers Association. An anti-abortion bill signed by Gov. Fallin on Wednesday could force the closure of two of Oklahoma’s three clinics providing abortion services. Oklahoma remains remarkably untouched by a national measles outbreak, which has seen cases in neighboring states.
Oklahoma Watch reports that the state Department of Corrections has yet to release the execution log of Clayton Lockett, who died in a botched execution on April 29. Execution logs detail the week prior to a prisoner’s execution. A new Fresh Start program designed to reduce recidivism rates launched in March with more than 90 recently released Oklahoma inmates. The program is part of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. Gov. Fallin is allowing a burn ban to expire in 36 counties due to recent rainfall, but StateImpact writes that the rain has only slightly alleviated Oklahoma’s drought.
The Number of the Day is the combined federal and state funds distributed for disaster recovery to victims of last May’s tornadoes. In today’s Policy Note, MetroTrends discusses why only about one in four Americans eligible for housing assistance actually receives it.
In The News
Gov. Mary Fallin signs measure to repair Oklahoma’s crumbling Capitol
With a stroke of her pen, Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday set in motion the biggest refurbishment of the state Capitol since it was built nearly a century ago. She signed a measure that authorizes $120 million in bonds to pay for repairs to the building, which is crumbling on the exterior and beset by electrical and plumbing problems. “The state Capitol is the seat of our government and an important symbol of Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “The disrepair it had fallen into was a black eye for the entire state. This bond issue offers a responsible way to rebuild and repair the people’s house. My thanks go out to our legislators for taking action to restore the Capitol.” A bipartisan committee is to oversee the repairs.
New Okla. law makes prescription drug trafficking a crime
For the first time ever on Wednesday afternoon, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill into law to combat prescription drug trafficking. It now makes it a crime to carry 1,000 grams of morphine, 400 grams of oxycodone, 3,750 grams of hydrocodone and 500 grams of benzodiazepine. And anyone caught doing it would face hefty penalties. Pharmacist Paul Reed with Reed Family Pharmacy said he hopes the new penalties will be a deterrent. “This is someone who’s stealing or acquiring large, very large quantities of medications and transporting them, trying to sell them,” Reed said. Local State Representative Pay Ownbey authored the bill and said that’s by design. “We’re going after the people that are getting these drugs on the street, to basically those that are selling the drugs,” he said.
See also Join the conversation around mental health and addiction in Oklahoma from NewsOK and Prescription Drug Abuse in Oklahoma from OK Policy.
Oklahoma lawmaker optimistic prescription drug bill will survive in 2015
Better luck next year. That’s what state Rep. Doug Cox says he’s hoping for — and indeed expects — as he resumes efforts to put a dent in Oklahoma’s serious problem with prescription painkillers. Cox, R-Grove and a medical doctor, worked overtime during the closing weeks of the 2014 session trying to gather support for Senate Bill 1820. He was unable to find enough backers to move the bill out of a House committee. “We were that close and we just ran out of time,” Cox said this week. SB 1820 would have required doctors to check the state’s online Prescription Monitoring Program each time they wrote or refilled a prescription for Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances. Included are powerful opiate painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, but also many non-narcotics such as hormone supplements.
Gov. Mary Fallin signs House Bill 1623 authorizing suicide awareness training in schools
Governor Mary Fallin has signed a bill authorizing school boards to adopt policies concerning suicide awareness and training. House Bill 1623 allows training for teachers and students in seventh through twelfth grades in how to recognize danger signals and prevent suicide. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will provide a curriculum at no cost to schools. Oklahoma has the 13th highest suicide rate, per capita, in the nation.
What Became Of The Bills StateImpact Followed This Legislative Session?
From the start of the legislative session on February 3rd, StateImpact Oklahoma had its eye on what was sure to be a heated issue: the coming expiration of a tax credit for horizontally drilled oil and gas wells. Without action, rates would go from one-percent for the first four years of a well’s life, back to 7 percent. Democrats like Representative Richard Morrissette argued companies don’t drill for oil and gas because of tax breaks, and it can’t be assumed they have the best interest of Oklahomans at heart. “The jobs are here, because they’ve got to get the gold out of the ground,” Morrissette said on the House floor. “They’re not doing it because of the love of country and state. They’re doing it for the love of the dollar bill.”
The debate on e-cigarettes lights up
Oklahoma leaders have been weighing e-cigarettes’ possible commercial and health benefits with their potentially harmful health effects. The caveat? Neither risks nor benefits of these products have clear evidence. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have gained popularity nationally and especially in Oklahoma. E-cigarettes are devices that simulate smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette. The device contains liquid nicotine that is heated to produce a vapor similar to cigarette smoke. E-cigarettes have been prescribed by some medical professionals as a tool to stop smoking, like nicotine patches or gum. However, these devices are not widely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), because regulations are triggered only when manufacturers specifically market e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking.
Academic standards require better process than Oklahoma lawmakers proposing
Few people deny that Oklahoma’s education system faces many challenges. But until now, no one claimed the solution was to put politicians in direct charge of writing academic standards for public schools. Yet that’s what a bill approved on the final day of the legislative session endorses. This is the latest, and goofiest, development to come out of efforts to repeal Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma. Under the final provisions of House Bill 3399, the state Board of Education would be required to adopt new academic standards in language and math by Aug. 1, 2016, after consulting with a wide range of experts. However, the legislation exempts adoption of those academic standards from the state’s Administrative Procedures Act. That law allows legislative review of agency rules, but typically requires lawmakers to simply accept or reject rules. Instead of using that longstanding practice, House Bill 3399 would make academic standards “subject to legislative review” in a separate process.
Common Core School Standards Face a New Wave of Opposition
Opposition to the Common Core, a set of reading and math standards for elementary, middle and high school students that were originally adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, has gathered momentum among state lawmakers in recent weeks. The governors of Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering signing bills to repeal the standards and replace them with locally written versions. In Missouri, lawmakers passed a bill that would require a committee of state educators to come up with new standards within the next two years. Although the Common Core, developed by a coalition convened by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, was initially backed by a group of Republican governors, the Obama administration also lent its support. For the past year, conservative Republicans, seizing on the administration’s backing, have argued that the standards amount to a federal takeover of public schools.
Fourth Reading: Self-interests sink Legislature’s grades
Now that the second session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature is history, 149 lawmakers have returned to their districts to campaign while the rest of us are left to sort through what our elected representatives did and didn’t do. The most effective way to do this is to use the same model the Legislature does to evaluate public schools: A through F grades. Easy-peasy. This year the Legislature left a lot more undone than they can claim to have accomplished. Granted, there was a big budget hole. Yes, revenues were down, but Oklahoma lawmakers boxed themselves into a corner by their continued efforts to cut taxes while still funding the state’s core services.
Oklahoma ranks 17th for electric power plant emissions
Oklahoma was slightly improved in its ranking for total carbon dioxide emissions last year, according to a nationwide study released Wednesday that showed a downward trend nationally in the amount of noxious emissions by electric power plants. The state improved by one spot from 16th to 17th overall in the U.S. in 2013. The report was released by Ceres, a nonprofit advocacy organization that issued EPA-based standings on air emissions of nitric oxide, mercury and sulfur dioxide in addition to carbon dioxide output by the nation’s 100 largest electric power companies.
Jenks eighth-graders win regional award for do-it-yourself tornado shelter
Three Jenks eighth-graders are hoping to win a national science competition with a potentially life-saving idea inspired by the fatal tornadoes that tore through two Moore schools last year. Hayden Hilst, Riya Kaul and Becca Mackey won regionals for their grade level in the eCYBERMISSION contest sponsored by the U.S. Army and administered by the National Science Teachers Association. The competition encourages students in sixth through ninth grades to develop solutions to real-world challenges in their community. The goal is to get kids excited about STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.
New law could force closure of two of state’s three abortion providers
Two of Oklahoma’s three abortion providers could be forced to close if a law Gov. Mary Fallin signed Wednesday is implemented, according to the pro-choice group Planned Parenthood. The law, House Bill 1848, requires that a physician, with admitting privileges at a general medical facility within 30 miles, be at the abortion facility during every abortion. Reproductive Services in Tulsa is the only abortion provider in the state that currently meets that requirement. The law becomes effective Nov. 1 but could be challenged in court, as many of the state’s other abortion laws have. The law also requires the Oklahoma State Board of Health to establish facility supplies and equipment standards. Similar laws have been passed in Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin and Mississippi, and one is pending in Louisiana. Some of them have been stalled by court challenges, but some Texas providers have had to shut down.
So far, Oklahoma untouched by national measles outbreak
So far, Oklahoma has been untouched by the measles outbreak plaguing the nation. With 288 measles cases reported in 18 states since January, the United States is experiencing the highest level of reported measles cases in two decades. Measles cases have been reported this year in neighboring states Texas and Missouri, but no cases of the virus have been reported in Oklahoma since the late 1990s. “Luckily we have not had cases recently,” said Laurence Burnsed, an epidemiologist with the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s acute disease service. “Our last confirmed case in Oklahoma was 1997.”
Corrections Department Has Yet to Release Execution Log
A month after the controversial attempt to execute an Oklahoma prisoner, the state Department of Corrections has yet to release the official log detailing what went on in the days and hours leading up to the incident. The Corrections Department did release a detailed timeline covering the 14 hours before and during the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29. But so far the department has not released a copy of the execution log, which officials are required to keep starting seven days before an execution.
Fresh Start program aims to reduce recidivism among felons
Tammy Thomison is in search of a new way of living so she can avoid a return to prison. Luke Berenes wants to learn about local support and counseling resources to help him succeed. Both convicted felons took positive steps toward those goals Thursday evening by enrolling in Fresh Start, a program targeted at reducing recidivism among felons released back into society through parole or probation. More than 90 were expected to attend the re-entry program at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ Tulsa office, 440 S. Houston Ave. Danny Williams Sr., U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, said much emphasis has been placed on prosecuting cases and placing criminals behind bars. But about 700,000 people are released from federal and state prisons each year, according to Williams’ office. Of those, about two-thirds are likely to be arrested again within three years.
Gov. Mary Fallin allows burn ban to expire June 4 in 36 counties due to increased rainfall
Gov. Mary Fallin says a state burn ban in 36 counties will be allowed to expire because of rainfall during the past week. Fallin said Thursday that the ban she issued on May 5 will be allowed to expire next Wednesday. The governor said in a release she doesn’t expect to renew the burn ban for any county — but said county commissioners should issue a ban for their county if they believe it is appropriate. Many areas remain in extreme drought and all 77 county commissions have authority to declare countywide burn bans should conditions warrant.
Drought in Southwest Oklahoma Dented But Not Dead After Days of Rain
The latest update of the U.S. Drought Monitor shows some improvement in the hardest hit part of the state — southwest Oklahoma — after a very wet Memorial Day weekend. Drovers CattleNetwork’s Angela Bowman looked at the impact recent rains have had across the southern plains, and found that while the last week helped, it won’t take long for drought to fully reassert itself, and it’s too late for the state’s wheat crop.
Quote of the Day
“There hasn’t been as much focus on when they get out.”
– Danny Williams Sr., U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, on Fresh Start, a new program designed to reduce recidivism among recently released felons. He said about two-thirds of those released from state and federal prison are reincarcerated within three years (source: http://bit.ly/1rmPW4e).
Number of the Day
Amount of combined federal and state funds distributed for disaster recovery in the year following the May 2013 Oklahoma tornado outbreak.
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency.
One in four: America’s housing assistance lottery
Housing policy has the ability to exacerbate or mitigate extreme income inequality in American cities. Where incomes are growing and inequality is increasing, cities like New York and San Francisco, rising prices and rents can displace poor families. But affordable housing secures a place for low-income people in communities with growing tax bases and improved services. Having access to better schools, good transportation networks, recreational facilities, and other community services enables families to improve their quality of life and provide greater opportunities for their children. Unfortunately, affordable housing is a scarce resource in many cities. America’s housing policy has never fully met the demand for affordable rental housing, and the number of households served by federal rental assistance has essentially plateaued.
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