In The Know: Many Oklahoma children show elevated lead levels; thousands more go untested

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.

Today In The News

Thousands of Oklahoma children go untested for lead: Although little data is available, the data that Oklahoma does have on lead provides a striking picture: Of the 316 ZIP codes where a sufficient number of children were tested for lead and the results reported to the health department, 106 of those ZIP codes have percentages of children tested for elevated blood lead levels that are at or higher than what was found in Flint, Michigan, the water lead crisis that grabbed national headlines and reminded the nation that lead is still a significant health issue that needs to be addressed. [The Oklahoman]

Rural schools feel especially challenged by budget pinch: Lisa Pitts takes a close look at a grassy hill on the campus of Ripley Public Schools and sees it’s not yet due for mowing. But with warmer temperatures expected in the coming weeks, the elementary principal knows the grass blades will soon start to rise and it will be up to her to break out the lawn mower. Those extra duties for Pitts include not only mowing the grass, but also cleaning toilets and painting hallways. Ripley’s high school principal does a lot of the school’s weed eating, basic maintenance and drives a school bus. The superintendent handles the plumbing. Even the head cafeteria worker has been known to take on the duties of a school nurse. [The Oklahoman]

OU reports decrease in out-of-pocket costs for a degree: Despite increases in tuition, the out-of-pocket cost to earn a degree from the University of Oklahoma has gone down by an average of $7,200 compared to two years ago, a new study shows. The decline was revealed in a study conducted by the OU Office of Business Analytics. The first-time study examined the cost of completing 125 credit hours — the amount required for most OU degree programs — for students who were admitted in 2009 through 2013. Spending cuts across campus and an increase in scholarships, including scholarships for middle-income students, have helped lower costs, Hathaway said. [NewsOK]

“Day without immigrants” strike reaches Okla City: From public protests downtown to the SW 29th street corridor of Hispanic-owned businesses and to the west side, Oklahoma City was a part of the nationwide strike Thursday called “Day without Immigrants.” The strike was an organic social media development to show by their absence the many ways in which immigrants contribute to our daily lives. [Oklahoma City Free Press] A dozen workers at a Catoosa restaurant are without a job after getting fired for skipping work as a show of support for “A Day Without Immigrants.” [KTUL]

Let educators make education decision, get rid of the automatons and quit branding 9-year-olds as failures: The struggle to keep educators and parents in charge of the fate of third-grade children will be taken up once again in the Oklahoma Legislature this year. A needlessly punitive state law requires schools to hold back third- graders who can’t show reading proficiency on a standardized test. Although there are a handful of exceptions, the law’s purpose and effect are to remove education decisions from teachers, principals and parents and give it to a testing company. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]

For Fallin, Oklahoma tax plan proving to be heavy lift indeed: A few days before the start of the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Mary Fallin discussed a number of the revenue-raising proposals she would be making in her State of the State speech. “This is a heavy lift,” Fallin told The Oklahoman’s editorial board. It has proven to be that, and then some. Fallin called for lawmakers to apply the state’s 4.5-cent sales tax to 164 currently untaxed services as part of a broader revenue-generating plan to provide teacher pay raises and fund state agencies. She also asked the Legislature to increase the fuel tax and the tobacco tax, and to eliminate the corporate income tax and the state sales tax on groceries. [Editorial Board / NewsOK] On the OK PolicyCast, we discussed Governor Fallin’s revenue ideas and other ways to fix Oklahoma’s budget hole. [OK Policy]

Governor’s budget shows how bad Oklahoma’s fiscal health has gotten: Looking at Governor Fallin’s FY-18 budget proposal makes one realize how poor the fiscal condition of the state is. If the Legislature and the governor were to dedicate themselves to doing everything necessary to work our way out of the current budget dilemma, it still would take years. Our recent practice of patching things together with tax cuts and budget cuts, robbing various funds, borrowing, and betting on the come that there will be a quick turnaround in the Oklahoma economy has only dug the hole deeper. At least the governor and many in the Legislature have concluded that will no longer work. [OK Policy]

Cigarette tax hike faces uphill battle in the House: An effort to increase the tax on cigarettes faces an uphill battle in the Oklahoma House. As a revenue-raising measure, it must start in the House and would require a super majority (75 percent) in both chambers. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, does not sound optimistic about prospects for the measure. “It is going to take a bipartisan effort,” McCall said. “Right now, it does not appear to be a will to do so.” [Tulsa World]

Political State Podcast: Off to the races: The Oklahoman’s Ben Felder and Dale Denwalt host their second episode of “Political State,” a weekly podcast that looks at the world of politics on a state, local and federal level. This week, they’re joined by Martin Ramirez, the communications director for Stand for Children Oklahoma, and Oklahoman health reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove. [NewsOK]

Talihina veterans center hit with admissions ban in wake of patient’s choking death: Federal officials banned the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Talihina from admitting new residents in the wake of the choking death of a man with later-stage dementia in the nursing home’s locked-down special-needs unit. Officials at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that new information, but little else about the ongoing investigation into the Jan. 31 death of 70-year-old Leonard Smith, formerly of Sapulpa, at a Friday meeting of the nine-member commission that oversees the state agency. [Tulsa World]

End of Hope: One Offender’s Path to the Penitentiary: Like other suicides in Oklahoma prisons, little is publicly known about the circumstances of David Hammock’s death. On June 1, 2014, he was found hanging in his cell at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and died in a Tulsa hospital four days later. He was 28 years old. His death came about a week before the 10th anniversary of the crime that sent him to prison: At age 18, he had lit a fire that burned the old Sallisaw High School building to the ground, outraging local citizens. Although no one was hurt, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree arson and second-degree burglary, with 10 years suspended – his first convictions as an adult. [Oklahoma Watch]

OKC psychic charged with rare fortune telling offense: Fortune telling for a fee has been illegal in Oklahoma since 1915 but the law is rarely enforced. The unusual charge, though, has been filed against an Oklahoma City psychic who could see jail in her future if convicted. The next court date is in March. Sonia Lisa Marks, 52, is accused of illegally operating “Mrs. Maples Psychic Reader” at 4445 SW 33. Her attorney says Marks was “targeted” for prosecution of an outdated and unenforced law. [NewsOK]

House bill seeks to help ABLE figure out regulation of medical marijuana: Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission Director A. Keith Burt has often talked about how the entity could be asked to oversee the state’s medical marijuana regulations. That’s the reality outlined in House Bill 1877, which would create the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Act of 2017. The 48-page bill outlines the regulations and fees around selling medical marijuana. “It’s modeled after the laws in Arkansas,” said state Rep. Eric Proctor, R-Tulsa, the bill’s author. “It was done intentionally so we can see what (Arkansas) has done right and wrong.” [Journal Record]

With EMSA under fire, memo outlines Oklahoma City ambulance service alternatives: Federal allegations of an alleged kickback scheme engineered by the Emergency Medical Services Authority have prompted questions about whether Oklahoma City has alternatives for providing ambulance service. The Emergency Medical Services Authority, or EMSA, trust oversees ambulance services in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Federal attorneys allege EMSA received more than $20 million in illegal kickbacks from a Texas-based contractor that provided drivers, paramedics and emergency medical technicians. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma City considers taxes on short-term rentals in private homes: An increasing number of visitors to Oklahoma City are reserving rooms in private residences, according to the online service that connects those guests with homeowners. Seen one way, travelers enjoy cozy accommodations while “hosts” collect a few extra bucks. From the city’s perspective, though, travelers are evading taxes while ordinances intended to protect neighborhood peace and tranquility are ignored. said in a news release this week that Oklahoma City is the state’s busiest market for its online overnight-stay bookings. [NewsOK]

The father of an Oklahoma City bombing victim has a message for President Trump: Bud Welch knows something about the human cost of terrorism. His 23-year-old daughter was killed when a rental truck packed with explosives destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building. That was in 1995, when domestic terrorism seemed to be the nation’s most immediate security threat. Now President Donald Trump sees the greatest risk in potential attackers who sneak into the U.S. from abroad. But Welch and others say the administration can’t ignore threats from home. A list of worldwide attacks recently released by Trump’s administration left off many that were carried out by right-wing extremists and white supremacists. [NewsOK]

Quote of the Day

“What the Legislature has long needed is more men and women willing to entertain new ideas instead of simply shouting ‘No!’ and moving on. This is especially true when times are tough, as they have been in recent years.”

-The Oklahoman Editorial Board, writing that lawmakers need to come up with their own revenue ideas to close Oklahoma’s structural deficit if they reject Governor Fallin’s proposals (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma adults who reported either binge drinking or chronic drinking of alcohol, the 7th lowest rate in the US.

Source: United Health Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Number Of Hungry And Homeless Students Rises Along With College Costs: There’s no way to avoid it. As the cost of college grows, research shows that so does the number of hungry and homeless students at colleges and universities across the country. Still, many say the problem is invisible to the public. “It’s invisible even to me and I’m looking,” says Wick Sloan. He came to Bunker Hill Community College in Boston more than a decade ago to teach English full time. He says it felt like he quickly became a part-time social worker, too. [NPR]

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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