In The Know: Oklahoma Legislature advances measures on religion, courts, guns

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

Oklahoma Legislature advances measures on religion, courts, guns: Measures that could lead to a weakening of the state’s prohibition on government advocacy for religion, make the appointment of appellate judges more political and lead to a statewide vote to strengthen Oklahomans’ right to carry firearms all gained ground at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court riled some lawmakers when it ruled that a Ten Commandments monument had to be removed from the Capitol grounds because it violated the state constitution’s separation of religion and government [Tulsa World].

Medicaid cuts could force most Oklahoma nursing homes to close, health care group says: A state association of health-care providers claims up to 93 percent of Oklahoma nursing homes will cease operating if a 25 percent cut in the Medicaid rate goes into effect, creating a crisis for Oklahoma families and jeopardizing 16,900 jobs. This could place about 16,800 elderly and disabled patients at risk of being displaced from their nursing homes. The decision by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to slash the rate came last week as the state slips into a deepening revenue failure, estimated to reach at least $1.3 billion by next fiscal year [Tulsa World]. 

Oklahoma Eyes Obamacare Funds, But Without Medicaid Expansion: Dwight Sublett has seen a lot of busts in his 33 years as a pediatrician in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but this year ranks among the worst. With oil hovering at $35 a barrel, the state is facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year starting on July 1. On March 29 the Oklahoma Health Care Authority warned it would have to cut 25 percent from reimbursements to physicians, hospitals, and other medical providers under the state’s Medicaid program, SoonerCare [Bloomberg]. OK Policy’s statement on the Health Care Authority’s proposal is here.

Prosperity Policy: A health care high wire act: After nearly four years of waiting, there is finally a plan to bring home federal dollars to help more Oklahomans obtain health insurance. But at the same time as some common-sense steps are being taken towards broader coverage, other forces are pulling in the opposite direction. Since the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option in 2012 to extend coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act, Oklahoma has been among the dwindling number of states refusing to act [David Blatt / Journal Record]. 

Oklahoma House panel moves bill on beer, wine sales closer to law: Oklahomans moved one step closer to being able to buy wine and cold, full-strength beer in supermarkets and convenience stores under a Senate-passed resolution that cleared a state House committee Wednesday. The measure, which now goes to the full House, would ask voters in November to approve a constitutional amendment to change the current law, which permits sales of such items only in liquor stores [NewsOK].

Lawmakers look to crack down on internet sales tax: Lawmakers are trying to crack down on internet sales and collect at least $150 million in uncollected state taxes. Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City) has authored a bill that will require companies that do not have a presence in Oklahoma to send a letter to its customers who have made purchases online [KFOR].

Potential solutions to Oklahoma budget crisis struggling to find legislative support: Oklahoma’s state budget crisis and falling tax revenue are squeezing education at all levels, and ideas to raise revenue are struggling to gain traction in the legislature. Though countless other sources support education funding, state taxes are significant contributors to education. Income tax, sales tax and gross production tax, which comes from oil and gas production, are the three biggest contributors, said Gene Perry, policy director with the Oklahoma Policy Institute [OU Daily]. Our balanced solutions for the budget crisis are here.

Not Just Numbers: Institutional callousness was averted last month when the State Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted against HB 2665, an inexplicably heartless piece of legislation that would have eliminated Medicaid benefits for any “non pregnant able-bodied adults under sixty-five years of age.” I shudder to think how ‘able-bodied adults’ would have been defined. But I digress [Barry Friedman / Tulsa Voice]. The state’s budget cuts has Oklahoma thinking the unthinkable with proposed health care cuts [OK Policy].

Williams Cos. Sue ETE, Chairman Over Stock Offering: Tulsa’s Williams Companies has sued Energy Transfer Equity and its chairman to “unwind” a private unit offering that Williams says interferes with a planned merger of the two firms. In a suit filed in Delaware, Williams says Energy Transfer’s recent offering of convertible preferred units breached a merger agreement and gives ETE investors preferential treatment [NewsOn6].

Jobless rates rise in 68 counties: Unemployment rates increased in 68 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties in February from January, according to a monthly report from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. McIntosh County had the highest jobless rate for the month, 8.7 percent. Latimer County was second with 8.1 percent and Haskell County was third with 7.7 percent [Journal Record].

Incarceration costs continue to rise in state: It costs roughly $20,000 a year to incarcerate an individual in Oklahoma compared to $6,000 a year for treatment and supervision in the community, said former House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. Steele is chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition of community leaders and experts working to pass a ballot initiative to reduce the prison population and save money, he said. The group focuses on the root causes of crime and seeks to help low-level offenders to make a positive change in life [Edmond Sun]. Governor Fallin’s new, inclusive approach to criminal justice reform is bearing fruit [OK Policy].

Jail squabble likely leading to court, county officials say: Tulsa County should more aggressively demand more money for keeping city of Tulsa prisoners in the county jail, even if it means settling the issue in court, two county officials said Wednesday. “If we go to court, we go to court,” said County Treasurer Dennis Semler. “It will probably be decided by the (Oklahoma) Supreme Court anyway” [Tulsa World].

If predatory lending is restricted, Oklahomans will find better alternatives: Whenever advocates argue for stronger regulation of payday loans or for preventing the introduction of new high-cost loans, defenders of the high-cost loan industry commonly argue that without these products, Oklahomans would either turn to loan sharks or be left without any way to cover their unexpected expenses. Yet numerous states have much stricter rate caps and other regulations on payday loans than Oklahoma, and families in those states are not running to loan sharks [OK Policy].

“This is devastating:” Catoosa superintendent discusses switch to four-day schedule: Catoosa Public Schools will make the move to a four-day week starting next school year. The district’s Board of Education approved the move at a special meeting earlier this week. The move is expected to save the district about $200,000, said Superintendent Rick Kibbe. Catoosa has been considering the option since early October [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

Jenks Schools To Cut Teacher Jobs Due To Budget Crisis: Jenks is the latest school district to say it will cut teacher jobs because of the state budget crisis. While we don’t have an exact number of how many jobs, the district estimates anywhere from ten to 20 could be cut. The teacher-student ratio that Jenks Schools shoots for is one teacher for every 26 students; but because of state cuts to education funding, the ratio will be more like one teacher to every 30 students [NewsOn6].

The Transportation Department’s New Plan for Inspecting Bridges After Earthquakes: The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has changed its post-earthquake bridge-inspection plan after a year-long study showed no structural damage from seismic activity. Under the new plan, which went into effect April 1, ODOT will only inspect bridges after magnitude 4.7 or greater quakes. Regions where bridge inspections are required will expand as earthquake intensity increases [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Oklahoma roads costing drivers, ODOT says improvements are coming: A new national study shows that driving on Oklahoma roads and bridges is costing drivers thousands of dollars per year. Oklahoma’s roads have become the focus of a lot of jokes and Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Mike Patterson has heard them all. “It’s a little depressing, because I know it’s getting better, but it’s not where it needs to be.” Patterson said [FOX25]. Read the report here.

With Vision in the bag, USA BMX announces move of headquarters, training facility to Tulsa: The American Bicycle Association and USA BMX officially announced their move to Tulsa on Wednesday, a day after voters approved $15 million in funding for a new BMX stadium and headquarters. The move is projected to bring more than 50 jobs and $10 million in additional economic impact each year to the Tulsa area, according to a joint news release from the Tulsa Sports Commission and USA BMX [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“Schools have maybe more money than they’ve ever had before, and that’s what the state will tell you, but what they don’t tell you is that they don’t match the increasing enrollment.”

– Jenks Public Schools spokesperson Rob Loeber, on news that the district will cut between 10 and 20 teachers due to the state funding crisis (Source). 

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma adults reporting binge or heavy drinking in 2014. The US median is 17%

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

For low-income smokers, calling a quitline may cost too much: Telephone quitlines offer free and effective treatment for tobacco dependence, but for low-income smokers who only have a cell phone and don’t have unlimited minutes, calls to the quitline may take a substantial portion of their cell minutes for the month, according to a new study. The researchers didn’t ask smokers if this limitation affected whether or not they used the quitlines, but estimated for how many smokers this might potentially be an issue based on phone ownership and service plans [Reuters].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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