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 Zébre.
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Today you should know that in its second round of sweeping budget cuts, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority will consider reducing payments to doctors and other Medicaid providers by $159 million, effective immediately. OK Policy previously outlined how state funding cuts and our refusal to accept federal funds is slashing Oklahomans’ health care safety net. The federal government has given Insure Oklahoma a one-year extension, keeping alive a program that provides coverage to about 19,000 of the state’s working poor and their families. Insure Oklahoma could pave the way for a long-term solution to expand health coverage.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that the federal government cannot require Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby to offer insurance coverage for certain contraceptive drugs that the owners say violate their religious beliefs. NPR examined how many companies may be touched by this ruling. In today’s Policy Note, SCOTUSBlog summarized the ruling in plain English. The OK Policy Blog discussed why two legal challenges to Oklahoma income tax cuts and drilling tax changes could cause a huge shift in the state’s budget and tax landscape.
UCO business dean Mickey Hepner examined how new EPA regulations to combat climate change could benefit Oklahoma’s economy. More than 12,000 of Oklahoma’s most underpaid state workers are getting a boost in pay effective today. Although Chesapeake Energy has laid off more than 700 positions at its Oklahoma City headquarters over the past three years, the company remains eligible to collect $572,500 this year in job-creation incentive money from the city. Oklahoma has had more earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater this year than the entire Western United States.
Governor Fallin held a ceremonial bill signing for a bill that allows the state of Oklahoma to enter into a Pay for Success contract, in which private donors provide upfront funding for a prison diversion program like Women in Recovery, and the state refunds the investment if measurable successes are achieved. OK Policy previously summarized this bill as well as the missed opportunities to reform the state’s beleaguered criminal justice system this legislative session. KGOU reported on how the Center for Employment Opportunities non-profit is helping Oklahomans with criminal records get back on their feet after they serve time.
The Tulsa World criticized a new Oklahoma law that declares gold and silver to be legal tender and exempts them from from state sales taxes. KGOU discussed a new book on financial panics in Oklahoma before statehood. NewsOK discussed a New York Times analysis showing Southeast Oklahoma is one of the hardest regions to live in the nation. Data from a mobile breathalyzer company found Oklahoma users registered the 4th highest blood-alcohol content in the nation.
The Number of the Day is how much job creation incentive payments Chesapeake Energy is still eligible to collect this year from Oklahoma City, despite laying off more than 700 positions at its OKC headquarters.
In The News
Medicaid Providers Face Possible Cuts
In its second round of sweeping budget cuts, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority on Tuesday will consider reducing payments to doctors and other Medicaid providers by $159 million, effective immediately. The authority will meet in special session to vote on provider reimbursement cuts affecting up to 13,932 physicians, 2,097 advanced practice nurses, 1,561 therapists, 1,285 physician assistants, 1,277 pharmacies, 1,255 personal care providers, 1,133 dentists and several thousand other providers. Under the new rate structure, providers will be reimbursed at 89 percent of the comparable rate for Medicare. Before the reduction, Oklahoma’s SoonerCare Medicaid program reimbursed at 97 percent of the Medicare rate.
See also: Medicaid on the chopping block from the OK Policy blog.
Insure Oklahoma Health Care Plan Given Another Year
The federal government will let the state operate its Insure Oklahoma health care plan for another year, keeping alive a program that provides coverage to about 19,000 of the state’s working poor and their families. Gov. Mary Fallin announced Monday that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services extended the program through Dec. 31, 2015. It was set to expire at the end of the year. Insure Oklahoma provides coverage to about 19,000 Oklahoma residents through both individual and employer-sponsored plans.
See also: Insure Oklahoma extension paves way for longer-term solution from the OK Policy blog.
Supreme Court rules for Hobby Lobby in contraceptive insurance case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that the federal government cannot force Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby to offer its employees certain contraceptive drugs in violation of its owners’ Christian beliefs. “Today, the nation’s highest court has reaffirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles,” Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, said in a statement. “The court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith.” The decision was a setback for the Affordable Care Act but will not substantially affect the new law.
See also: How Many Companies Will Be Touched By Court’s Contraception Ruling? from KGOU
Tax cut legal challenges could be game-changers
Over the years, Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent has proven a big thorn in the side of Oklahoma policymakers, filing and winning a string of constitutional challenges to legislation. Several of his lawsuits have led the Supreme Court to strike down down bills as violations of the state’s single-subject rule, including last year’s ruling overturning a measure that combined funding for repairs to the State Capitol and an income tax cut. Others have overturned various bond issues and budget provisions. This year, Fent is back with new lawsuits challenging SB 1246,the bill that would reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate subject to certain revenue triggers, and HB 2562, the bill that changes taxation of oil and gas production.
Could EPA ruling help Oklahoma’s economy?
Next to the IRS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency might be the federal agency Oklahomans most love to hate. Ironically, it is also the federal agency that might make the most significant positive impact on the state economy in the coming years. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new or modified utility plants and factories. These greenhouse gas emissions are blamed by a vast majority of climate scientists for the growth in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (to the highest levels in human history) and the subsequent warming of the earth’s climate in the past century.
Pay Raise For Oklahoma’s Most Underpaid Workers
More than 12,000 of Oklahoma’s most underpaid state workers are getting a boost in pay under one of dozens of bills passed by the Legislature that is set to become law. The pay raise bill is one of 60 measures approved by the Legislature this year that take effect on Tuesday, the first day of the state’s 2015 fiscal year. Among the other bills that go into effect on Tuesday is the omnibus general appropriations bill that divvies up the state’s $7.1 billion budget. Workers at 25 state agencies will receive raises ranging from 6.25 percent to 8 percent under the pay raise bill, which targets the most underpaid state workers according to a recent study on employee compensation. Those include prison employees and social workers, among others.
Despite layoffs, Chesapeake Energy still qualifies for city job creation payments
Although Chesapeake Energy Corp. has shed more than 700 positions at its Oklahoma City headquarters over the past three years, the company remains eligible to collect $572,500 this year in job-creation incentive money from the city. Chesapeake inked the deal in 2011 with Oklahoma City for incentive payments up to $3.5 million in exchange for creating 350 new jobs in the city, as well as for investing $50 million in capital improvements on its corporate campus at 6100 N Western. The company has received $1.92 million in incentive payments from the city since signing the job-creation deal with Oklahoma City.
Most U.S. quakes occurring in Okla.
Most of the earthquake activity in the United States is occurring in Oklahoma, said Austin Holland, research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Oklahoma is having more 3.0 magnitude earthquakes than the Western U.S. “That is truly remarkable,” he said. Nowhere have seismologists observed such an active swarm of this duration and expanse in an interplate setting. Hundreds of people brought their concerns about earthquakes Thursday to the sanctuary of Waterloo Baptist Church with dozens of people having to stand in overflow areas.
Gov. Fallin signs criminal justice reform bill
Governor Mary Fallin held a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 1278 on Thursday, June 19 in the Blue Room at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Sen. Kim David, R-Porter and participants of the 31 participants of the Women in Recovery program joined the governor as she signed the bill into law. S.B. 1278 is legislation that allows the state of Oklahoma to enter into a Pay for Success (PFS) contract to make positive changes in our state without financial risk. SB 1278 uses PFS contracting to enable private donors to provide upfront funding for a diversion program like Women in Recovery, and the state refunds the investment back into the program only if measurable successes are achieved.
See also: What lawmakers didn’t do to end the crisis in our prisons from the OK Policy Blog
Group Hires Ex-Convicts To Rebuild Oklahoma After 2013 Tornadoes
Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. Each year, the state releases roughly 8,000 people from prison, and many of them are looking for work. One organization now hires ex-offenders to help rebuild and restore tornado-struck towns. When Reuben Ramirez was released from prison three months ago, it was hard for him to adjust. Ramirez spent a total of seven years behind bars, so getting used to the outside world wasn’t always easy. “It’s been somewhat overwhelming at times just for the simple fact that I’m learning to adapt out here,” Ramirez said.
Gold bugs: Oklahoma Legislature says gold, silver are legal tender
Misguided by archaic monetary thinking, the Oklahoma Legislature has declared gold and silver U.S. coins to be legal tender in the state and exempted sales of gold coin from any nation from state sales taxes. Previously, only investment sales of gold stored in recognized depositories were exempt from sales taxes. Gold U.S. coins may be legal tender, but are they money? If you think so, try to buy a pack of gum with one and see if you can come to an agreement with the clerk about how much change you’re owed.
Oklahoma’s Early Banking An Era Of ‘Wild West Capitalism’
Overzealous railroad builders and near-constant debates over the merits of gold vs. silver led to the worst financial crisis the United States had ever seen toward the end of the 19th century. By the time the dust had settled after the Panic of 1893, the U.S. comptroller of the currency’s annual report indicated 573 national, state, private, and savings banks as well as loan, trust and mortgage companies failed during the year. Historian and principal researcher for the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Oklahoma Bank and Commerce History Project Michael Hightower chronicles the Panic’s effect on Oklahoma in his 2013 book Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood.
Where’s the hardest place to live in Oklahoma?
Southeast Oklahoma is one of the hardest regions to live in the nation, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Overall, McCurtain County got the worst ranking among Oklahoma counties, ranking No. 2,890 out of 3,135 counties nationwide. McCurtain County’s ranking was based, in part, on its unemployment rate of almost 9 percent and its low percentage of residents with at least bachelor’s degrees. Meanwhile, Canadian County is the least difficult place to live in Oklahoma, the analysis shows. The county has a low unemployment rate, a median income that’s $31,750 more than McCurtain County’s median income, and about one in four residents who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Oklahoma is too drunk to drive
In a recent nationwide survey, Oklahomans reported the third highest average blood alcohol content levels. Overall, Oklahomans who used BACtrack, a mobile breathalyzer, reported an average BAC of .096 percent, which is above the legal limit and was one of the highest reported averages BACs in the U.S. Data used in the BACtrack Consumption Report was collected from users with location services turned on and does not represent data from all users. Overall, Montana and South Dakota had the highest average BAC results in the country, each with 0.10 percent. The other states in the top ten were West Virginia (0.098%), Oklahoma (0.096 percent), Idaho (0.089 percent), Vermont (0.087 percent), Tennessee (0.087 percent) and Wisconsin, Nevada and Massachusetts, all with 0.086 percent.
Quote of the Day
“Removing the sales tax on gold and silver purchases shorts the state treasury from revenue for priorities such as schools, roads and public safety in an effort to pander to the gold bugs. … In fact, there is nothing special about gold and silver except that they are rare, coveted and historically associated with value. Their real value is merely as a superstitious hedge against economic catastrophe.”
-The Tulsa World editorial board, on a new state law that declares gold and silver to be legal tender in Oklahoma and exempts them from sales tax (Source: http://bit.ly/1rbVGwF). The tax break is estimated to cost the state $930,000 in the next budget year.
Number of the Day
Job creation incentive payments Chesapeake Energy is still eligible to collect this year from Oklahoma City, despite laying off more than 700 positions at its OKC headquarters.
Source: The Oklahoman
Court rules in favor of for-profit corporations, but how broadly? In Plain English
It was déjà vu all over again. On the last day before its summer recess, we expected the Court to rule on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature legislative achievement. Lines to get into the courtroom formed early, and crowds gathered outside. Would we get another late June surprise, with the Chief Justice joining the four more liberal Justices to save the mandate – this year, the requirement that employers provide their female employees with health insurance that includes free access to birth control? But this time, the answer was no: the Court’s five more conservative Justices banded together to strike down the mandate as it applies to family-owned companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, the plaintiffs in this case.
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