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 by a veto-proof margin of 89-6, the Oklahoma House passed and sent to the governor a bill (HB 2625) that would let parents and educators decide whether to retain or promote third-graders who don’t pass a reading test. About 40 parents and teachers rallied at the Capitol in support of the bill. OK Policy has previously explained what’s in the reforms and released a detailed report on Oklahoma’s third grade retention law. Although Oklahoma’s high quality preschools have become a national model, more than 25 percent of Oklahoma’s children live in counties with a lack of quality early learning programs.
With just over two weeks remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers have not adopted any revenue options to stave off large budget cuts, fund state worker pay raises, fix the state Capitol, or boost education funding. OK Policy previously laid out seven options to find the revenue to avoid slashing services even more. At the state Capitol, a four-pound piece of concrete fell through a ceiling tile and landed near a House staffer’s desk. Some 7,000 indigent residents will lose mental health services starting July 1 unless lawmakers boost funding for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Multiple fatal crashes may be connected to Oklahoma corrections officers working long hours who are falling asleep while driving.
The OK Policy Blog shared five reasons why it’s time to end the tax break for horizontal drilling, which is set to expire next year unless lawmakers vote to extend it. You can see an infographic and short video about the issue from Together Oklahoma here. The Wall Street Journal reported on the debate between oil executives in Oklahoma for and against the tax break. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded five earthquakes in Oklahoma this Sunday and 19 in the past seven days.
Gov. Fallin signed 21 bills into law yesterday, including a bill to regulate pharmacy benefit managers. The governor has tentatively approved parole for an inmate who had received a life sentence in prison for a murder that occurred when he was 13. Jesil Wilson was convicted of a murder in which he was not the shooter. As the deadline nears, the city of Tulsa and county haven’t been able to agree on a jail contract. Oklahoma law enforcement agencies statewide are planning to crack down on drivers and passengers who are not buckled up according to state law.
More physicians are practicing throughout the Tulsa area, but some north Tulsa zip codes still have zero physicians. A mass grave has been found of 40 patients who died in a fire at Norman’s mental health hospital in 1918. Oklahoma is seeking to improve communication between the Office of Emergency Management and the Oklaoma National Guard for fighting wildfires.
In The News
Legislature sends third grade reading reforms to governor
By a veto-proof margin of 89-6, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed and sent to the governor a bill that would let parents and educators decide whether to retain or promote third-graders not reading at grade level. House Bill 2625, by Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, calls for a committee of educators and each affected student’s parents or guardians to determine on a case-by-case basis whether to promote or retain students failing the third-grade reading sufficiency test. Under current law, most third-graders failing the test are automatically retained. That law as passed in 2011 and became effective this year. Gov. Mary Fallin has been less than enthusiastic about retreating from the hard line drawn three years ago, but Monday’s margin and the Senate’s 44-0 vote last month makes a veto problematic.
See also: Parents, teachers rally in support of House Bill 2625 from KJRH; Mandatory retention law down to 11th hour from OK Policy Blog; Issue Brief: Oklahoma’s Third Grade Retention Law from Oklahoma Policy Institute
Quarter of Oklahoma’s children live in areas at high risk of being unready for school
More than 25 percent of Oklahoma’s children live in counties with a lack of quality early learning programs placing them at risk for not being ready for kindergarten, according to a report released Monday by the state Department of Human Services. The School Readiness Report examined 10 risk factors known to impact brain and emotional development on young children, such as poverty, maternal education, language skills and abuse or neglect. Multiple studies through the past 20 years have shown the more risk factors a child experiences, the more likely the child will not be ready for school.
Oklahoma Legislature still has a lot to complete before May 30 adjournment
With only weeks remaining in the legislative session, several big-ticket items have yet to be addressed. The lack of progress recently prompted Gov. Mary Fallin to veto 15 bills she said were of little or no importance, trying to get lawmakers to focus on big-ticket items. At the top of the list is a balanced budget. Lawmakers are expecting to have about $188 million less to spend in crafting the fiscal year 2015 budget than was available for the current fiscal year. “People need to be mindful that we do have a shortfall and agencies are going to be cut,” said Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
See also: Filling the Budget Hole: Options for a Balanced Approach from Oklahoma Policy Institute
Piece of concrete falls in latest problem at nearly century-old Oklahoma state Capitol
A four-pound piece of concrete fell through a ceiling tile and into a basement office at the state Capitol sometime over the weekend, in the latest problem at the nearly century-old building. Building management officials say nobody was hurt in the House media office where the accident occurred. The concrete piece landed near a desk, where the person who works in the office found it Monday morning. This is in the same general area where a floor drain backed up recently, sending smelly water up through the floor. The Oklahoma Legislature is considering proposals this session to fix longstanding problems in the building.
Helping the mentally ill
Some 7,000 indigent residents will lose mental health services starting July 1 unless lawmakers can afford to give the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services extra help. It’s going to be a hard-sell. Every core agency is suffering, including common education, which is down $200 million, after years of fiscal evisceration. Most state workers have not had a raise in seven years. Oklahoma has enormous mental health issues. It ranks No. 2 nationally in the number of adults suffering mental illness.
Motorist safety at issue for Oklahoma Corrections officers forced to work 60-hour weeks
Like most Oklahoma correctional officers, Sgt. James Caskey works a minimum of 60 hours a week and sometimes doesn’t get enough sleep. Less than a mile from home, he fell asleep while driving to work at 5 p.m. on Dec. 30. He woke up when his truck sideswiped a mailbox at 55 mph. He wasn’t hurt, but the accident has eerie similarities to two other wrecks involving correctional officers, and those crashes had fatal results. Are the extremely long hours prison guards work making them a potential hazard on the road?
It’s time to end the horizontal drilling tax break
In a year’s time, a temporary tax break that reduces the tax paid on horizontal oil and gas production from 7 percent to 1 percent for 48 months is set to expire. Executives from the three largest Oklahoma-based companies that engage in horizontal drilling — Chesapeake, Devon and Continental — have threatened to cut their Oklahoma investments in half if the tax break is eliminated. Under a plan developed by the three oil giants, the gross production tax would be lowered to 2 percent for all production for four years. The temporary tax break would be made permanent. Here are five reasons why extending and expanding the tax break for horizontal drilling is not in Oklahoma’s best interest.
See also: A sensible solution to fund Oklahoma schools from Together Oklahoma
Oil man George Kaiser proposes increase in Oklahoma oil and gas tax
Oklahoma oil man George Kaiser is breaking with fellow energy executives in asking the state to raise taxes on oil companies, including his own. “Oklahoma is in desperate financial circumstances,” says the billionaire philanthropist, who controls closely held Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. A higher tax on oil-and-gas production could help the state pay for education and much needed infrastructure improvements, he says in a prepared statement. Raising the production tax “doesn’t move the needle in the decision to drill.”
Five Oklahoma earthquakes recorded Sunday
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded five earthquakes in Oklahoma this weekend, all on Sunday. The largest quake was a 3.0 magnitude 7:13 p.m. about 5 miles south of Pawnee in Pawnee County. The other four ranged from 2.5 to 2.9 in magnitude, all in central Oklahoma. During the past seven days, the USGS recorded 19 earthquakes in Oklahoma. During the past 30 days, USGS recorded 96 earthquakes of at least 2.5 magnitude in Oklahoma.
Fallin signs bill to regulate pharmacy managers
Gov. Mary Fallin has signed 21 bills into law, including one on how pharmacy benefit managers are regulated in Oklahoma. Fallin signed the bills on Monday, including one that resulted from lengthy negotiations between Oklahoma pharmacists and groups representing pharmacy benefit managers, typically third-party administrators of prescription drug programs. The bill requires a pharmacy benefits manager to obtain a license from the Oklahoma Department of Insurance, and directs that agency to develop licensure procedures. Other bills Fallin signed Monday deal with highway advertising, competitive bidding, wrecker operators, maintaining agency records, and other topics.
Inmate featured in World article approved for parole
The governor has tentatively approved parole for an inmate who has spent much of his life in prison for a murder that occurred when he was 13. Jesil Wilson, whose case was detailed in a 2012 Tulsa World article, was convicted of a murder in which he was not the shooter. Wilson received a life sentence for the 1997 murder of 18-year-old Mitchell Knighten of Tulsa. Last year, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend Wilson for parole, provided that he complete a vo-tech training program and serve 180 days in a work-release center.
The City of Tulsa and Tulsa County Argue over Jail Costs
As the deadline nears, the city of Tulsa and county haven’t been able to agree on a jail contract. Sheriff Stanley Glanz argues that Tulsa County has been subsidizing the housing of municipal inmates, and he wants it to stop. But there’s disagreement over when an inmate is actually the city’s responsibility or the county’s responsibility. And Mayor Bartlett isn’t sure all efficiencies and cost cutting possibilities have been considered in a study trying to determine daily inmate housing costs.
“Click It Or Ticket” Campaign To Start May 19
Oklahoma law enforcement agencies statewide are planning to join the annual nationwide “Click It or Ticket” campaign. Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Troy German said Monday that from May 19 through June 1 officers will be cracking down on drivers and passengers who are not buckled up according to state law. State law requires drivers and front seat passengers age 13 and over to have a safety belt properly fastened at all times the vehicle is being operated. Children age 12 and younger are required to be properly restrained in the appropriate car seat, booster seat or seat belt, according to the child’s age and weight.
Tulsa sees increase in doctors, but some north Tulsa areas go without
More physicians are practicing throughout the Tulsa area, including in north Tulsa, which has suffered from a shortage of doctors. The 74106 and 74115 ZIP codes in north Tulsa had double-digit increases in number of physicians from four years ago, according to the 2014 Tulsa County Health Profile, which the Tulsa Health Department released recently. Some north Tulsa areas, however, showed little or no increase and some ZIP codes in the area, including 74130 and 74117, have zero physicians. The largest physician increases were in midtown Tulsa.
Long, lost grave of ‘the unfortunates’ discovered in Norman cemetery
In newspaper accounts of the time, they were called simply “the unfortunates,” the 40 patients of the Oklahoma State Hospital for the Insane who died on April 13, 1918, in a grisly, pre-dawn fire. While their names were known, their bodies for the most part were unrecognizable. And with the exception of one man who was identified and claimed by his family, they were buried together in a single, unmarked grave. Other graves were dug to the right and left of them, and tombstones lovingly planted to record for posterity who was buried there. Yet, the 39 unclaimed bodies remained with no marker, no message to posterity that they once had lived — and violently died — at the state hospital for the mentally ill.
Oklahoma Agencies To Improve Communication Prior To Wildfires
Oklahoma is making a change aimed at improving its approach to fighting wildfires, according to several state agency officials. Better communication between the Office of Emergency Management and the Oklahoma National Guard is the issue. National Guard officials know when their helicopters are performing training exercises, but officials with Oklahoma’s Office of Emergency Management do not have the same knowledge most of the time. That lack of knowledge could potentially delay response times.
Quote of the Day
“He was an Eagle Scout of all things. We were able to hire an Eagle Scout and then we worked him to death.”
-Oklahoma corrections officer Sgt. James Caskey speaking about 30-year-old corrections officer Ryan Peacock, who was in a fatal car crash. Multiple recent traffic accidents are suspected of being caused by officers falling asleep behind the wheel (Source: http://bit.ly/1sIlsqI).
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s death rate per 100,000 people, 4th highest in the nation.
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts.
Infrastructure Jobs, They’re More than You Think
Too often we’re reminded of the deteriorating state of America’s infrastructure, from the potholes littering our roads to the wastewater overwhelming our sewers. In many areas, bridges are falling apart, ports are congested, and pipelines are ready to burst. The need to invest in the nation’s infrastructure has never been clearer. But when policymakers in Washington call attention to our ongoing infrastructure and jobs deficit, the solutions are usually short-term and temporary, focusing on “shovel-ready” projects to stimulate economic growth and put people back to work. This perspective overlooks the full economic extent of our nation’s infrastructure, particularly the sizable workforce that supports these systems over many years.
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