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.
Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:
Today you should know that the Oklahoma House has approved three bills identical to ones vetoed by Gov. Fallin last week. The bills concern the Oklahoma Tax commission, statutory language relating to justifiable homicide, and technical changes regarding the use of state purchasing cards. Gov. Fallin signed a bill creating a new alcoholic beverage license that allows charities to host events that serve alcohol. She also signed a bill pledging to uphold a set of national standards designed to curb sexual assault in prison.
The House passed legislation authorizing those with concealed handgun licenses to store their handguns in locked vehicles in school parking lots. A Tulsa World editorial called for Gov. Fallin to sign a bill that would reduce the state’s fee for collecting sales taxes on behalf of local governments. A House committee voted to reject a set of science education standards because they make reference to human impacts on the climate. A coalition of Oklahoma doctors objected to legislation that would require them to check the state’s Prescription Monitoring System before writing prescriptions for narcotics. An OK Policy fact sheet shares the data on Oklahoma’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
As lawmakers craft a state budget with a $188 million shortfall, higher education leaders say retaining the current level of funding is critical to the state’s college completion goals and economic growth. A last-minute cut to the school activities fund proposed by State Superintendent Janet Barresi would cost Tulsa Public Schools nearly $500,000. Superintendent Barresi’s campaign has filed Open Records requests with Tulsa-area school districts for any written or electronic communication containing the name “Joy Hofmeister,” Barresi’s opponent in an upcoming election. Oklahoma City Public Schools has launched a new program to improve third-grade reading skills. Nearly 700 third-graders in the Oklahoma City school district who failed a state reading test have yet to qualify for “good-cause” exemptions and could be held back in the coming year.
In the Journal Record, M. Scott Carter criticized “hyperbole and scare tactics” by those defending a tax break for horizontal drilling. OK Policy previously shared five reasons why it’s time to end the horizontal drilling tax break. On the OK Policy blog, we explained why claims that Oklahomans stuck in a “coverage crater” while the state refuses federal funds to expand coverage could simply get a job to get insurance are not based in reality. In the Tulsa World, ACLU Executive Director Ryan Kiesel argued that Gov. Fallin’s “independent investigation” of the state’s recent botched execution isn’t really independent.
Tulsa Transit is planning to cut service and raise fares due to city budget cuts. The Tulsa World profiled a Tulsa man with disabilities who could lose his job or be forced to drop out of college if the service cuts go through. US Senator Jim Inhofe and Representative Markwayne Mullin have announced their support for a bill that could expand Oklahoma’s Port of Catoosa. The Red Cross is awarding $6.5 million in storm shelter grants to Oklahoma communities affected by last May’s tornadoes. The City of Chickasha is selling water from a nearby lake to an oil driller to pay for repairs to the city’s water infrastructure system. Current drought and previous unsuccessful attempts to eradicate eastern red cedars in Oklahoma are heightening fire risks in some part of the state. The trees burn quickly and hot, and act as effective fuel during wildfires.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of inmates in Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility who reported being sexually assault in prison in a 2012 survey, the highest percentage of any prison in the US. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post reports that Indiana’s conservative governor has agreed to expand Medicaid in his state.
In The News
Oklahoma House approves three bills identical to ones vetoed by Gov. Fallin
Three bills recycling legislation vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin two weeks ago made it through the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday, amid loud and quite lengthy taunts from the Democratic minority. The bills themselves were relatively uncontroversial, but Democrats dragged out discussion and debate as long as possible to needle the Republican majority for running new bills rather than confronting Fallin with override votes. “Why don’t we rise above the politics and vote to override the veto?” asked Minority Leader Scott Inman. “Let the governor go out on the campaign trail and explain (the vetoes)?” Inman’s remarks came after Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, said he had been told by Fallin’s staff that at least one of the bills was vetoed for “political” reasons and not because she objected to the legislation itself.
Oklahoma governor approves new alcohol licenses for charities, public events
A bill that will create new categories of alcohol licenses for charities and public events has been signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The main purpose of the new law is to create a charitable alcoholic beverage license that will enable charities to host events where alcohol is served in the state without concern about running afoul of state alcohol laws, said state Sen. David Holt, Senate author of Senate Bill 1715. “Historically, charities in Oklahoma have fundraising events all the time at venues that are not necessarily licensed to serve liquor,” said Holt, R-Bethany. “Some of the things they have been doing, like hiring caterers to hold those events and serve liquor, have in fact been illegal.”
Oklahoma Gov. Fallin signs agreement to uphold national standards to curb prison rapes
Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday signed an agreement to continue to uphold a set of national standards aimed at curbing sexual assault in prisons, avoiding a potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds. Signed into law by Congress in 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act establishes guidelines for identifying and decreasing the causes of sexual victimization in America’s various prison systems. It has been implemented across the country, in both federal and state prisons.
Okla. House passes concealed handgun legislation
The Oklahoma House has approved legislation that authorizes persons with concealed handgun licenses to store their handgun in a locked vehicle on school parking lots. The House voted 83-6 for the measure Thursday and sent it to the Senate for consideration. Currently, handguns are prohibited inside public and private schools as well as school parking lots. The measure by Rep. Steve Martin of Bartlesville allows a person with a concealed handgun permit to leave the weapon in a locked vehicle in school parking lots provided the handgun is hidden from view when left unattended. Handguns would still be prohibited from schools.
Legislation bases state’s fee for sales collections on data, not guesswork
Gov. Mary Fallin has a chance to sign a legitimate piece of reform legislation and add some equity to the way local governments get their sale and use tax revenue. The Oklahoma Tax Commission collects all the sales and use taxes in the state, and that’s the way it should be. You don’t want to force merchants to deal with a different tax man in every city. Forever and anon, the tax commission has charged a fee of at least 1 percent for that effort. In 2011, when the city of Tulsa was going through a rough economic period, it proposed firing the tax commission and contracting with a private collection firm at a lower rate. The tax commission got legislators to put the kibosh on that idea, but the ruckus resulted in the state taking a closer look at how much it really costs to collect those taxes for cities and counties. A lot less than 1 percent.
Oklahoma House Committee Rejects Science Standards Over Teaching of Climate Change
An Oklahoma House of Representatives committee voted to reject a new set of state science standards for schools this week, a move that, according to the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, is “unprecedented.” On Monday, the Oklahoma House Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee voted 10-1 to reject the Oklahoma Academic Skills for Science, a set of academic standards that had been developed by a committee of teachers, community members, as well as business and industry representatives over the last year and a half.
Oklahoma doctors balk at prescription drug checks
Oklahoma’s doctors declared a deadlock Thursday in negotiations over a legislative proposal that would require them to check an online database before writing narcotic prescriptions. A coalition of nine physician groups said it had reached an impasse with state officials over how often doctors would be required to use the database, and how many drugs would be subject to the checks. “We’ve made a lot of progress in our negotiations,” said Art Rosseau, chairman of the Oklahoma State Medical Association’s Council on State Legislation in a prepared statement. “But unfortunately there are still a couple of big issues on which we simply cannot agree at this point.” The medical groups have been wrangling for weeks with Gov. Mary Fallin’s office and key lawmakers over a bill that would require doctors to check their patients’ drug-taking histories on the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program. The measure, Senate Bill 1820, is intended to address a prescription drug overdose crisis that claimed the lives of 534 Oklahomans in 2012. Officials say at least half of the casualties took drugs they were prescribed by their own doctors.
Oil industry isn’t going away
If you accept the arguments from the State Chamber of Oklahoma, energy producers could soon face a 700-percent increase in their taxes. The chamber (of which The Journal Record is a member) says a compromise plan to address the tax rate has been developed and is supported by industry leaders and elected officials. But, the chamber laments, it could be kicked down the road because it’s an election year. “How would your business react if there was a chance taxes would increase by 700-percent next year?” the chamber asks. “Oklahoma can’t afford for these companies to reduce their investment in Oklahoma, which amounted to $11.7 billion in 2012 alone. Nonetheless, what else can we expect these businesses to do when faced with this level of uncertainty?” If you buy that argument, the world is about to end for Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry. Not so fast.
‘Get a job?’ Get a clue
In a recent debate sponsored by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Forbes blogger and Manhattan Institute Fellow Avik Roy argued against expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma to provide coverage for the 140,000 working-age Oklahomans with incomes below the federal poverty level trapped in the state’s “coverage crater,” because they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but are too poor to receive federal subsidies on the health insurance marketplace. Those people, he said, should simply get a job. He said a full-time job pays enough for a household of one to earn over 100 percent of the federal poverty level, making them eligible for subsidies on the health insurance marketplace. He also argued that many workers would have access to insurance through their jobs (despite the fact that employer-sponsored insurance is declining). The Oklahoman endorsed Roy’s comments, agreeing that most uninsured Oklahomans can qualify for health insurance via employment. As simple as Roy’s solution for the uninsured may sound, it isn’t based in reality. As we will show, a job isn’t automatically a ticket to subsidized insurance, full-time employment isn’t possible for everyone, and for a variety of reasons, many unemployed persons will not be hired for the jobs available.
A path of independent inquiry
When she selected Michael Thompson to lead the investigation of Clayton Lockett’s botched execution, Gov. Mary Fallin was right. Her secretary of safety and security should be deeply involved in an independent investigation. Gov. Fallin just has his role wrong. Instead of asking the questions, he should be answering them. It’s common sense. You don’t ask Kevin Durant to figure out who fouled who. And you don’t ask someone to uncover the truth about a series of events shrouded in secrecy if that person is part of the system that created and maintains that secrecy.
Oklahoma higher education leaders hope to avoid budget cut
As lawmakers continue to craft the state budget this week, higher education leaders say retaining the current level of funding is critical to the state’s college completion goals and economic growth. Officials launched the Complete College America initiative in 2011, with Gov. Mary Fallin announcing the goal to boost the number of college degrees earned per year by 67 percent over 12 years. That would require adding 1,700 degrees conferred each year through 2023. “We’ve had a really good plan with the State Regents working to try to increase the number of college graduates,” Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said Wednesday. That effort is important to providing a good supply of people with various degrees needed for businesses to expand in Oklahoma, Halligan said.
Tulsa Public Schools would be hit hard by last-minute funding cuts
Tulsa Public Schools would be hit hard by a last-minute cut to the school activities fund proposed by State Superintendent Janet Barresi. The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced late Wednesday that Barresi has directed $6.54 million budgeted for a variety of school activities to instead be used to cover a deficit in health insurance premiums for school employees. TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams said Thursday that TPS alone would lose more than $477,000 it was counting on to cover costs incurred during the school year that ends in two weeks. The school district said it would lose $394,236 for alternative education programs, $21,000 for the Oklahoma Parents as Teachers parent education program and $61,896 for professional development. “This is premature,” Williams said. “We would urge the state superintendent to go back to the Legislature to push for the supplemental appropriation. What she has proposed is not a solution for schools. It is the responsibility of the Legislature to appropriate the money to pay FBA costs and the role of the state Department of Education to allocate those dollars.”
Janet Barresi campaign asks schools for correspondence with rival candidate Joy Hofmeister
Several Tulsa-area school districts have received Open Records requests from state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s re-election campaign for any communications between employees and Barresi’s Republican rival Joy Hofmeister. “I’m tempted to ignore it like they’ve ignored all my correspondence the last four years,” Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said. “But we’ll reply. We always do.” Tulsa Public Schools, along with Jenks, Sand Springs, Sapulpa and Union, received a request dated May 8. The campaign asks that districts provide the records by May 23. The request specifies any communication — written or electronic — that contains the name “Joy Hofmeister” between March 1 and April 1, school officials say.
Oklahoma City Schools Launch Plan To Improve Third Grade Reading Skills
The Oklahoma City School District is launching new programs to help third-grade students after state assessments showed low scores in reading. Test scores released last week found that 27 percent of Oklahoma City public school third-graders scored unsatisfactory on the state reading test. Students could be held back unless they receive an exemption or get higher scores when they retake the tests. Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez says up to 259 students could qualify for exemptions — many of whom who are special education students or who have English as a second language.
Nearly 260 OKC school district third-graders who failed test could be promoted
Nearly 700 third-graders in the Oklahoma City school district who failed a state reading test have yet to qualify for “good-cause” exemptions and could be held back in the coming year, school leaders announced Thursday. As many as 259 other students who scored unsatisfactory meet the initial criteria for an exemption and likely will be promoted if the exemption is approved by each student’s teacher and principal, and by interim Superintendent Dave Lopez, district officials said. That leaves 697 third-graders in danger of being held back in the coming school year unless they meet the exemptions or demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher. “It is not a lost cause,” said Wilbur House, the district’s director of curriculum development. “With rigorous reading activities and strong instruction in phonics and comprehension we know our students can be strong readers.” To help ensure promotion, the district is offering added reading and language instruction over the summer to assist students who must pass alternative exams or complete portfolios of their work.
Tulsa Transit Cuts Service, Raises Fares After Budge Cut
Tulsa transit is taking a $691,000 cut under the proposed budget, and that’s going to cut back on service and raise fares. The transit service plans to end regular bus service each day an hour earlier, at 8:30 p.m. The lift program, for the handicapped, will end an hour and a half earlier each day at 7:30 p.m. Daytime service will be cut back on three routes, 118, 318, and 306. Fares will also go up. Regular fares will increase from $1.50 to $1.75 and lift fares will go from $3 to $3.50. Bill Cartwright, with Tulsa Transit, said, “We’re going to need to do some service reductions on both the fixed routes and the lift program the para transit program and we’re going to need to raise fares on those programs.”
Tulsa’s disabled fighting cuts to city transit
Emeka Nnaka spends three hours a day commuting. On a normal day, he travels between just his house, gym and church — all are between 77th Street and Lewis Avenue to downtown Tulsa. Nnaka suffered a spinal cord injury in 2009 while playing for Tulsa’s semi-professional football team, and it left him in a wheelchair. His options for transportation are to take Tulsa transit’s Lift bus or to ask a friend with a truck to pick him and his wheelchair up for a ride. To travel 77 blocks from his neighborhood to downtown takes about an hour with the Lift program, which makes multiple stops to pick up other riders. If a ride isn’t available, Nnaka is stuck close to home. He and thousands of other Tulsans rely on the Lift to live productive lives outside their homes, but proposed budget cuts are calling for decreasing the program’s hours of operation.
Inhofe, Mullin support water resources bill
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and Congressman Markwayne Mullin are announcing their support of a new water resources bill that includes an option to expand the Port of Catoosa in northeast Oklahoma. The senior U.S. senator from Oklahoma and the first-term congressman released a joint statement Thursday in support of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Both are members of the bill’s conference committee, which released its final report on Thursday. According to the release, the final version of the bill includes language to allow the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to exchange land with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would allow for the expansion of port operations.
Red Cross awards $6.5 million in storm shelter grants to Oklahoma communities
The American Red Cross announced $6.5 million in grants Thursday to Oklahoma communities affected by last May’s tornadoes. It brings the total amount donated by the nonprofit organization to $10.3 million for the cause, with all proceeds going toward the installation of as many as 4,000 storm shelters. Oklahoma municipalities, counties and tribes receiving the grants are Newcastle, Midwest City, Norman, Pottawatomie County (administered by the city of Shawnee), Cleveland County, Canadian County, the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and Citizen Potawatomi Nation. To qualify for Red Cross funding, shelters must meet or exceed Federal Emergency Management Agency standards.
Chickasha Sells Water to Oil Driller to Help Pay For Water Infrastructure Needs
When a city needs $150 million over the next half-century for upgrades and repairs to its aging water infrastructure system, its leaders might have to get creative to find the money. In Chickasha’s case, the solution is to turn — in part — to the oil and gas industry. As The Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reported on Tuesday, the city has agreed to sell water from Lake Chickasha, which is primarily recreational, to Continental Resources.
Drought And Passive Landowners Add Fuel To Oklahoma’s Burning Red Cedar Problem
The eastern red cedar tree causes allergies, crowds out other species, guzzles water, and fuels Oklahoma’s most devastating wildfires, including one near Guthrie last week. And lengthy drought has intensified the problem. But eliminating the tree is complicated by the passive attitude of many landowners, and a state forestry service with little authority. Red cedars used to be kept in check by natural fires and Native Americans doing controlled burns across large swaths of land. Things have changed since statehood. Kurt Atkinson with Oklahoma Forestry Services: “With settlements, people started building homes, and improvements to the landscape,” Atkinson says. “And fire control — was one of the first things they try to get a handle on is suppressing more fires.” Our focus on preventing fires helped spread the very trees that pose such a high fire risk today. And Atkinson says drought makes red cedars even more dangerous.
Quote of the Day
“People with disabilities are already behind the eight ball. I don’t mean to play the disabilities card, but it is what it is. With cutbacks, that would put us even further behind the eight ball.”
Emeka Nnaka, a disabled Langston University student who works during the day. Proposed cuts to Tulsa Transit would mean he is no longer able to take night classes when school starts again in the fall (Source: http://bit.ly/1sVQRGf).
Number of the Day
Percentage of inmates at Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility, an Oklahoma women’s prison, who reported being sexually assaulted while incarcerated, the highest percentage at any prison in the US.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Another conservative governor finds a way to expand Medicaid
It looks as if Indiana is about to join the list of red states signing up for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Republican Gov. Mike Pence, after months of discussions with the Obama administration, is offering a new plan Thursday morning to expand coverage to low-income uninsured Hoosiers. As expected, he’s doing it through an existing state insurance program for adults that’s been championed by some conservatives. About two dozen states still haven’t joined the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion, which extends coverage to low-income adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.