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 Oklahoma’s Medicaid agency is bracing itself for potential budget cuts, including slashing provider rates as much as 14 percent, if the agency receives flat appropriations or Governor Fallin’s proposed 5 percent cut. OK Policy previously looked at what Medicaid cuts could mean for Oklahoma patients and providers. The Tulsa World discussed disturbing stories from the sorely underfunded state Medical Examiner’s Office, where a femur bone was held in a crock pot during an autopsy because the office could not afford a proper holding pan.
The Oklahoma Senate voted to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that seeks to speed up approval for Oklahomans purchasing federally regulated firearms and equipment like silencers and fully automatic weapons. It was the first time the Legislature has voted to override a veto by Fallin. The Legislature is considering a bill (SB 1745) that would scrap local campaign finance laws and make them more closely match the rules for state campaigns. In an editorial, the Tulsa World argued in favor of pending legislation that would make police dash-cam videos a matter of public record (HB 2676) and allow people to recover their legal costs from successful suits against state or local governments for violating the Open Records Act (SB 1497).
The Tulsa World also noted that time is running short to reform Oklahoma’s third grade retention law, and praised Rep. Katie Henke’s bill (HB 2625) that would put the decision to promote or retain a student in the hands of a local committee that knows the student. OK Policy previously explained the reforms being considered at the 11th hour for the third grade retention law. In his Journal Record column, M. Scott Carter argued that Preston Doerflinger, Gov. Fallin’s secretary of finance and revenue, has been unfairly targeted for suggesting that Oklahoma eliminate incentives for horizontal drilling. A new infographic and video from Together OK explain why the tax break is past its purpose and should be eliminated.
On the OK Policy Blog, David Ocamb and Whitney Pearson explained why Oklahoma’s new distributed generation tariff will not necessary increase charges on households with their own solar panels or wind turbines. KGOU reported on the ways in which climate change is already affecting Oklahoma, and a state climate scientist is calling for the state to begin preparing for its further impacts. The Osage County Board of Adjustment voted to deny a Kansas-based wind energy company’s application for a permit to built a wind farm. An Oklahoma group is preparing a state question to legalize marijuana for personal use and export it as a cash crop. Tulsa’s first “homeless court” opened today. The court is designed to help break the cycle of a transient population repeatedly arrested and released instead of receiving help. Funding for Tulsa’s drug court will run out soon unless the state takes over from an expiring grant. Gov. Fallin has denied medical parole to a chronically ill inmate who has been incarcerated since 2000 on drug charges.
Oklahoma Watch examined the racial disparity in firearm deaths in Oklahoma, finding that African American Oklahomans were substantially more likely to be victims of gun violence than their white peers. Oklahoma’s congressional delegation voted against establishing a museum devoted to women’s contributions to American history. An advisory council advocating on behalf of Native American students in Oklahoma has been renewed for another six years. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a six-month stay of execution for the inmate who had been scheduled to die last week following a botched execution.
The Number of the Day is the number of gun deaths per 100,000 for African Americans in Oklahoma in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. In today’s Policy Notes, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examines the benefits that housing vouchers, which pay for housing for low-income families in the private market, have had for mothers.
In The News
Oklahoma Medicaid agency braces itself for potential budget cuts
The state’s Medicaid agency is exploring whether it will cut provider rates and other services if the agency does not receive the budget it requested from the state Legislature for the coming fiscal year. Leaders of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority discussed at Thursday’s meeting a range of options it might have to take, including decreasing services and cutting provider rates, if the Oklahoma Legislature does not fully fund its budget request. “What makes this a very difficult conversation is — there’s a lot of options and a lot of work still left to be done,” authority CEO Nico Gomez said. “So there’s still some level of detail that needs to be processed as we go through and ask, ‘Are there unintended consequences to our actions that we aren’t considering?’” If the Oklahoma Health Care Authority receives the same budget it did last year, it might have to cut provider rates between about 6 percent and 7 percent, decreasing the amount of money that it reimburses medical professionals for the health care services they provide to some of Oklahoma’s poorest residents.
Medical Examiner needs funding now
Most Oklahomans don’t think about the state Medical Examiner’s Office until they need its services, essential in determining the cause of death in homicides, suicides, accidents and suspicious demise. For years, the beleaguered agency has been denied adequate funding, leading to the loss of national accreditation and a troubling backlog of 900 cases, down from 1,300 cases backlogged nine months ago. State lawmakers must come up quickly with the money to improve a situation that is leaving hundreds of families on hold. When autopsies are delayed these families must wait longer for settlement of estates, life insurance payments and other important benefits. It’s difficult to recruit qualified pathologists to work in what charitably could be called a dump. A recent story by Tulsa World Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter noted that a femur bone was held in a crock pot during an autopsy because the office could not afford a proper holding pan. Money is in short supply in every agency in state government this year but some agencies such as the ME’s Office provide core services to Oklahomans who should not be denied timely answers to their loved one’s death. Neither should law enforcement and the criminal justice system be kept waiting in order to resolve cases.
Oklahoma Senate votes to override governor’s veto on gun regulations bill
The state Senate in a historic move Thursday overrode Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a gun bill. It was the first time the Republican-controlled Legislature has voted to override a veto issued by Fallin, a Republican, said Michael McNutt, a Fallin spokesman. Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, moved that House Bill 2461 become law despite the objections of Fallin. Dahm is the Senate author of the measure. The motion passed by a vote of 39-0, with no questions and no debate. Only 32 votes were needed in the 48-member Senate. Fallin vetoed the measure last month, saying it attempted to regulate a federal agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and had no significant interest to the citizens of the state.
Local campaign finance law would be scrapped under bill pending in Oklahoma Legislature
Local campaign finance regulations in Oklahoma have become virtually impossible to enforce, say backers of a measure that would scrap these laws in favor of a new system. A bill pending in the Legislature would make often-confusing local rules more closely track with laws for state races, said Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, one of the bill’s authors. “It improves the transparency of the process and it minimizes any corruption, and that’s the goal here,” Griffin said. Laws governing things such as how much a political donor can contribute to a local campaign, how those contributions are reported and where the public can access those reports are contained in what is known as the Political Subdivisions Ethics Act. “This act was written in 1995 and has been amended very little since then,” said Lee Slater, executive director of the state Ethics Commission. “It would generously be described as flawed in that much of it is unclear and it is certainly out of date. This would allow for uniform interpretation and enforcement of campaign laws at all levels of government in Oklahoma.”
Dash cam bill, open meetings proposal should become law
Two proposed extensions of public transparency are pending at critical points in the legislative process. House Bill 2676 would give the public access to dash-cam videos from Oklahoma Highway Patrol cars while setting limits on the release of similar videos from all law enforcement agencies. That bill is on Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk. Senate Bill 1497 would allow people who successfully sue state or local governments for violating the Open Meeting Act to recover their legal costs. That bill is expected to be considered by the state Senate soon. In the best of all possible worlds, both would have been more air-tight. In particular, HB 2676 provides too many loopholes for law enforcement officials to deny or alter dash-cam videos. Police would be allowed to edit scenes with nudity or dead bodies or temporarily withhold videos involving disciplinary cases.
Time running short to reform third grade retention law
The results of Oklahoma’s first high-stakes reading test for third-graders are due out Friday, even as legislation that would restore control over the lowest-scoring students to parents and teachers is still clinging to life. “Of course every parent is going to want to know how their child did on the test as soon as possible. If I had a third-grader, I would be on the edge of my seat,” said Vickie Johnson, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Tulsa Public Schools. Because of an amendment to the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act passed in 2011, third-graders who score “unsatisfactory” in reading on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test risk not being promoted to the fourth grade. Those students must pass an alternate reading test, such as an Iowa Test of Basic Skills, or meet the qualifications for one of six exemptions allowed under the law, or they will be held back in the third grade. Meanwhile, state Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep alive House Bill 2625, which she co-sponsored with Sen. Gary Stanislawksi, also R-Tulsa.
See also: Mandatory retention down to 11th hour from the OK Policy Blog
Doerflinger took the right stance
Right now, life isn’t easy for Preston Doerflinger. Doerflinger, who serves as secretary of finance and revenue for Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, has spent much of his time lately trying to negotiate a tax deal with members of the Legislature and representatives of the oil and gas industry. It’s not an easy task. Last year, Doerflinger had the temerity to suggest that Oklahoma should stop offering incentives for horizontal drilling since the technique had gone from something unique to standard operating procedure in the oil and gas industry. His message was not well-received. Almost immediately Doerflinger started catching great amounts of hell for his suggestion that the 1-percent horizontal drilling incentive should be increased. Doerflinger became the political flak jacket, vilified because he wanted to start a dialogue about the issue. But Doerflinger was right.
Shedding some sunlight on Oklahoma’s new solar and wind energy law
Governor Fallin recently signed into law SB 1456, which repeals the prohibition against utilities charging customers with distributed generation more from other customers. Now, utilities are required to create a tariff for these customers that reflects cost of service. The Governor took the rare step of issuing a signing statement filed as an executive order alongside the bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and with only five opponents in the House. Because of the anti-solar rhetoric surrounding this bill, including a political TV commercial by the bill’s author, many people have come away wondering what this new law means for the future of distributed generation in Oklahoma. This bill is part of a nationwide attack on renewable energy by ALEC and the Koch Brothers. Lobbyists from PSO and OG&E, Oklahoma’s largest utilities, pushed hard for the bill. The intent of the bill’s backers is clear: to increase the costs on individuals who choose to produce their own power with solar or wind so as to keep more customers reliant on their businesses. The Governor’s signing order highlights the fact that the actual language of the bill is more nuanced.
Drier, Hotter, More Extreme Weather: How Climate Change Is Already Affecting Oklahoma
A new federal report bluntly warns that every region of the United States is already observing climate change-related affects to the environment and economy. In Oklahoma and other Great Plains states, climate change from carbon emissions is changing crop growth cycles, increasing energy and water demand, altering rainfall patterns and leading to more frequent extreme weather and climate events, the report concludes. The magnitude of those changes is expected to increase throughout Oklahoma’s region, according to the report. And researchers say current planning efforts to respond and adapt to climate change are “inadequate.” More than 300 experts contributed to the National Climate Assessment, which took three years to compile and was reviewed by a panel of the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences. Explaining the report’s findings on a conference call with reporters, Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor at Texas Tech University and director of the school’s Climate Science Center, said climate change is a “present reality” for Oklahoma and its seven regional neighbors.
Oklahoma must begin preparing now for the impact of climate change, state climate scientist says
Facing a future with longer, more intense droughts and more frequent heat waves, Oklahoma needs to begin working now to adapt to the effects that global climate change will bring to the Great Plains, a state climate scientist said Wednesday. The White House on Tuesday released a report saying the effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation and that residents of the Plains should expect hotter, drier conditions as those effects intensify. Mark Shafer, a researcher at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey in Norman, was one of 300 experts who contributed to the study. Shafer said Oklahomans could expect to see hotter summers within the next few decades. By 2050, the state could see an entire month of high temperatures above 102 degrees during the summer. By century’s end, daily high temperatures could top 102 degrees for the entire summer, he said. That extreme heat will intensify evaporation, making droughts more severe, Shafer said.
Osage County wind farm permit denied
Many in the crowd cheered Thursday evening as the Osage County Board of Adjustment voted to deny a Kansas-based wind energy company’s application for a permit to build a wind farm on sections of tallgrass prairie near Pawhuska. After returning from a roughly 20-minute executive session that board Chairman Mike Render said they took to discuss legal issues, three of the board’s four voting members decided to deny TradeWind Energy a conditional-use permit to build the 16,000-acre Mustang Run wind farm. Terry Loftis, the board’s other voting member, abstained, clearly disappointed in actions taken — and not taken — by both those supporting and opposing TradeWind Energy construction. “There has to be a way for better communication and better levels of cooperation on both sides, where both sides not only take but both sides give and try to reach an accommodation,” Loftis said. “There has to be.”
Oklahoma Initiative Would Make Pot a Legal, Exportable Cash Crop
Marijuana reform advocates hope Oklahoma will live up to its nickname – the Sooner State – by becoming the first U.S. jurisdiction to both legalize cannabis for personal use and allow it to be exported as a cash crop. In the best-case scenario for pro-pot campaigners, there will be two initiatives on the November ballot: One that would allow medical marijuana and another more far-reaching initiative that would comprehensively dismantle status quo pot policies. The medical marijuana initiative is further along. On May 18 supporters will begin collecting the required 155,216 signatures for ballot access – if opponents do not file a challenge with the state’s supreme court. The outright legalization initiative is currently being finalized and its backers – led by state Sen. Connie Johnson, a Democrat – hope to file it with the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office as early as Friday.
Tulsa’s first homeless court docket to start gateway to help
Tulsa’s first municipal “homeless court” docket will be called Friday, and about a dozen people ticketed for relatively minor offenses will go before a judge. Prosecutors hope it will stem the cycle of a transient population being repeatedly jailed instead of receiving help. Some Tulsans are cautiously optimistic as the court nears its inaugural gavel bang in municipal court Judge Gerald Hofmeister’s courtroom. Hugh Robert, a Tulsa attorney and Iron Gate soup kitchen board member, is representing one of the people listed on Friday’s docket. Somewhere between 10 to 15 names are expected to be on the finalized docket when it’s called Friday. There are a variety of complaints on the docket, ranging from trespassing to public intoxication to assault and battery.
Funding at risk for drug court that helps keep people out of prison
FOX23 found out the vast majority of crimes the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office prosecutes are drug-related. FOX23’s Janna Clark looked into another idea, other than prison time that some say is a smarter way to fight crime. When Nick Shaffer came to court with a record of drug charges, Judge Dawn Moody thanked him. Tulsa county prosecutors gave Shaffer a choice: drug court or prison. “It’s an amazing opportunity because prison’s pretty bad,” said Shaffer. He’s one of about 700 in the drug court, an option prosecutors like Steve Kunzweiler use to fight crime. “We’re trying to guide them back to being productive citizens (and) can’t do that by slapping a sentence on them and saying ‘don’t do it again,’ he said.
Chronically ill Oklahoma inmate denied medical parole
Gov. Mary Fallin sentenced an Oklahoma inmate serving time on drug charges to life in prison when she denied his medical parole, the offender’s sister says. Mary Ladd said her brother, Wendell Green, has cirrhosis of the liver, among other ailments, and was told by doctors early this year he would likely not live past May. Green has been incarcerated since 2000 on two drug charges. Ladd said her brother was caught in 1999 with methamphetamine and the tools necessary to manufacture the drug. He is due for release in 2019. Green also served time on convictions in Arkansas throughout the 1980s and 90s, including burglary, battery, and possessing a firearm after a felony conviction, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction. He is incarcerated at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center. In March, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend Green for a medical parole. Ladd said she had arranged for her brother’s hospice care, and the plan was for him to live out his remaining days in her home. Motions were made to send Green home, but Fallin eventually denied his medical parole.
Native American education council extended
An advisory council that advocates on behalf of Native American students in Oklahoma is continuing for another six years. Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed into law a bill that renewed the Oklahoma Advisory Council on Indian Education. The council makes recommendations to the state’s Board of Education and the state superintendent about education issues affecting Native American students. It also promotes education opportunities for Native American students.
Oklahomans vote against museum for women in Washington, D.C.
Of the 33 votes in the U.S. House yesterday against building a National Women’s Museum in Washington, D.C., three came from the Oklahoma delegation. The Oklahoma delegates voting no are Reps. John Bridenstine, Frank Lucas and James Lankford. Reps. Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole supported the measure. The legislation, HR 863, still passed with 383 in support of a bipartisan committee determining whether the museum should be located on the National Mall or part of the Smithsonian. A women’s museum foundation based on Arlington, Va., has raised about $14 million of the $400 million in construction costs. No federal money is being spent on the museum.
Oklahoma, Investigating Failure, Extends Delay of Execution to November
Oklahoma on Thursday delayed the execution of Charles F. Warner by six months, to allow time for a review of lethal injection procedures that was started after a bungled execution last week left a prisoner writhing in pain before he died of heart failure. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued the stay after the attorney general’s office said it would not object. Mr. Warner’s execution is now scheduled for Nov. 13, and the attorney general said the office would be open to further delays if the investigation was not completed by then. Mr. Warner, who was convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl, was originally scheduled to die April 29, two hours after the execution of another convicted murderer, Clayton D. Lockett. The executions had been the subject of last-minute legal battles, with lawyers for the two prisoners objecting because the state had refused to reveal the source of the drugs it would use.
Quote of the Day
“It’s a vicious cycle with some people. Many of them have alcohol or other problems, and they’ll go to jail for a couple days intentionally just to sober up. They end up with court costs they will never pay, and we end up having to arrest them again, when what they really need is help or mental health help.”
– Tulsa City Prosecutor Bob Garner, one of the creators of Tulsa’s first municipal “homeless court” (source: http://bit.ly/1nuA3Ur).
Number of the Day
Gun deaths per 100,000 African-Americans in Oklahoma in 2011, compared to 2.26 per 100,000 whites
A Million Things That Housing Vouchers Are Doing for Mothers on Their Day
With Mother’s Day approaching — and the House considering cutting funding for housing assistance — we’d like to celebrate that roughly 1 million mothers use housing vouchers to help them keep a roof over their kids’ heads. But many more mothers (and other low-income people) who are in great need of housing assistance don’t receive it due to scarce funding, as these state-by-state data show. And the proposed cuts would make things worse. Vouchers, the main form of federal housing assistance, help pay for housing that low-income families rent in the private market. Studies show that vouchers sharply reduce homelessness, lift more than a million people out of poverty, and enable many families to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods.
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