In The Know: Special session bills would send money to OHCA, DHS

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

Special session bills would send money to OHCA, DHS: As word spread about FBI involvement in the Oklahoma State Department of Health investigation this morning, lawmakers moved two measures forward to appropriate state revenues for two other agencies. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority — the state’s Medicaid agency — would receive $17.7 million in SB 1XX, and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services would receive $26.5 million in SB 2XX. Both bills passed the Senate and House joint budget committees unanimously before noon Tuesday [NonDoc]. Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session [OK Policy].

Feds join Oklahoma health agency inquiry: The FBI and other federal officials are now part of the ongoing investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s finances. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced Tuesday that attorneys and investigators with his office will work with federal authorities and the state auditor’s office to scrutinize movement and management of both state and federal monies at the state Health Department [NewsOK].

After this week, lawmakers expected to return in January: The second special session that began Monday likely will extend into the new year, as lawmakers again try to fix long-standing issues with the Oklahoma budget. House Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said he has told fellow Republicans that after working this week, they should prepare to meet again sometime during the first two weeks of January. The regular session begins in February [NewsOK].

Oklahoma congressmen help pass Republican tax reform bill: All U.S. House members from Oklahoma voted Tuesday in support of a Republican tax reform bill. The House voted 227-203 along party lines, sending the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to the Senate for an overnight vote. All members of Congress from Oklahoma are Republicans. The bill will lower individual tax rates overall until 2025, when many of the cuts will expire [NewsOK]. How Oklahomans would fare under the Congressional GOP tax plan [OK Policy].

Advocates seek to make New Market Tax Credits permanent: Changes to proposed federal tax reform legislation won’t hurt health care nonprofits in the next two years. But local and national advocates are still pushing to make New Market Tax Credits permanent. That would create more certainty and allow Variety Care to continue to expand, said CEO Lou Carmichael. The U.S. House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would have eliminated that incentive. The Senate version would preserve it. When the bill went to reconciliation, the House removed the provision that would end the tax credits at the end of the year [Journal Record]. 

Auditor won’t step down after finance secretary calls for resignation: The state’s elected auditor said Monday he won’t be resigning the day after the state’s finance secretary demanded his resignation. On Sunday, Gov. Mary Fallin’s appointed finance cabinet secretary Preston Doerflinger attacked state Auditor Gary Jones on Facebook calling for the Republican auditor to step down. He said Jones waited too long to report troubles an audit uncovered at the state Health Department [CNHI]. 

Former Health official rooted out problems from the inside: A former high-ranking official at the Oklahoma State Department of Health says she worked from the inside for months to fix the agency’s financial problems and raise the alarm about a $30 million deficit. Deborah Nichols, who served as chief operating officer for about two years until she resigned in November, said Wednesday that she first learned there was a problem in January [NewsOK].

Arrests for possession of marijuana spiked in Oklahoma in 2016. What happened? In May, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) released official crime statistics for 2016. While most attention on crime rates is rightly devoted to serious crimes, OSBI noted an eye-catching development in a supplemental report: arrests for drug crimes increased by over 20 percent from 2015. Part of this may be the result of changes in reporting methods, as agencies switch from reporting totals to incident-based reporting. However, when viewed in light of other trends in the report, it suggests that some law enforcement agencies were devoting more resources to low-level drug crimes — possibly at the expense of investigating more serious crimes — in the run up to the November 2016 election [OK Policy].

Criminal justice council looks at cutting case delays: Local inmates tired of case delays may soon catch a break. On Monday, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council learned about possible funding for a data system assessment that would pave the way for various departments to share defendant information and push cases through more quickly. Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said such a system is needed “from the time the person’s picked up on the street by a police officer, all the way through the court system, so that every entity has access to that information.” [NewsOK]

Oklahoma opioid commission lays out legislative priorities: The Oklahoma attorney general’s commission fighting the opioid crisis proposed at a meeting Tuesday a mix of changes to law enforcement, new rules for prescribers and increased data collection. The commission, which has met multiple times this year under the direction of Attorney General Mike Hunter, laid out five initial recommendations for lawmakers when they return for regular session in February [NewsOK].

Slowing the use of seclusion rooms: Last year, I ran a piece of legislation scaling back corporal punishment for students with disabilities. It was important to me to protect these children from inappropriate disciplinary techniques. So when I learned about school personnel across Oklahoma using so-called “seclusion rooms” on those same students, it really upset me [Rep. Bobby Cleveland / NewsOK].

New Oklahoma drunken driving law ruled unconstitutional: The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a new drunken driving law as unconstitutional “in its entirety.” The 2017 Impaired Driving Elimination Act 2 would have revamped how drunken driving suspects are handled in several ways. The law was to have gone into effect Nov. 1 but justices blocked enforcement of its provisions until they ruled on the legal challenge. Justices found the law violates the single subject rule in the Oklahoma Constitution [NewsOK].

Former jail officers charged with assault in inmate’s death: Two former jailers face assault and battery charges after an inmate’s death in the Oklahoma County Jail eight months ago. Now the Oklahoma County District Attorney released video of what happened inside. One of the former employees, Brian Harrison, has turned himself in, the other, Colton Ray, has not. Pepper ball guns drawn, Oklahoma County Jail surveillance video shows former staff sergeant, Colton Ray and former detention officer, Brian Harrison, along with other staffers standing outside of Charlton Chrisman’s jail cell [KOKH].

University of Oklahoma regent apologizes for anti-gay remarks: A University of Oklahoma regent who likened gay people to pedophiles publicly apologized Tuesday during an appearance with the head of an LGBTQ advocacy group and reiterated that he doesn’t plan to resign. Kirk Humphreys, a real estate developer and former Oklahoma City mayor, said his comments during an Oklahoma City public affairs TV show that aired Dec. 10 went “off the rails” and that he regrets hurting people [AP].

Quote of the Day

“Without going ahead and saying that we’ll spend money, you’re looking at provider-rate cuts on Jan. 1. I mean, all of this is indicative of the fact that we don’t have the recurring revenue.”

– Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City), explaining the need to direct additional funds to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Human Services in the legislature’s second special session (Source)

Number of the Day

84 per 1,000

Arrest rate for black Oklahoma youth in 2014. The rate for white youth was 28 per 1,000

Source: Burns Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Effective Is Your School District? A New Measure Shows Where Students Learn the Most: In the Chicago Public Schools system, enrollment has been declining, the budget is seldom enough, and three in four children come from low-income homes, a profile that would seemingly consign the district to low expectations. But students here appear to be learning faster than those in almost every other school system in the country, according to new data from researchers at Stanford. The data, based on some 300 million elementary-school test scores across more than 11,000 school districts, tweaks conventional wisdom in many ways [New York Times].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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