In 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
State’s Obamacare Waiver Would Assess Fee on 1.7M Oklahomans: Oklahoma is preparing to unveil a $350 million plan designed to reduce health insurance premiums and avert a scenario where the state is left with no provider offering plans on the federally run marketplace. But the effort comes with a catch: The more than 1.7 million Oklahomans who receive health insurance outside of the marketplace, including from employers, would pay more – a per-person fee of up to $60 a year. The fee is part of a federal waiver the state is seeking to begin a reinsurance program through the Affordable Care Act or the GOP’s proposed replacement plan [Oklahoma Watch].
Short-funded senior meal programs in Oklahoma face prospect of cutting back: Seniors in western Oklahoma are primarily at risk from budget cuts that might shutter meal sites. The cuts, announced this week at the Department of Human Services, will come at the expense of 277,000 meals that won’t be served during the next year. Debora Glasgow, executive director of the South Western Oklahoma Development Authority in Burns Flat, said her agency got the numbers from DHS on Wednesday. “We are currently looking at our budget to see what we’re going to have to eliminate or reduce, but we do know that there is going to be an impact to senior meals,” said Glasgow [NewsOK]. The Legislature’s appropriation to DHS wasn’t nearly enough to cover the agency’s obligations, which means vulnerable Oklahomans will feel the pinch [Editorial Board / NewsOK].
Minimum wage isn’t what it used to be – it’s worse: The federal minimum wage was established in 1938 at 25¢ an hour (about $4.26 in today’s dollars). Since then it’s been adjusted 29 times to keep up with inflation and rising living standards. The most recent change was in 2009, when the minimum wage increased to $7.25 an hour — but that hasn’t been enough to maintain the value of the wage. Adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is worth about 33 percent less than it was in 1968 (the year of its peak adjusted value). Simply put, the minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living in America or what our society views as the basic income that a job should provide [OK Policy].
OKC summit speaker calls for investing in early childhood development: Fixing some of Oklahoma’s biggest problems is best served by investing in early childhood development, especially in the first 1,000 days of life. That was the message from various children’s advocates Wednesday at the Oklahoma Early Childhood Coalition Business Summit in Oklahoma City, organized by the Potts Family Foundation. “If we are going to bend the curve on the problems facing kids in Oklahoma … the answer is to start early,” said Jim Priest, CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, who attended the summit [NewsOK].
Dental care an uphill battle for Oklahoma veterans: Less than 10 percent of the 61,000 veterans in Tulsa County are supplied with dental benefits through the VA, causing many to forgo dental insurance altogether, according to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. The need for this type of service is considerable. Of the 21 million veterans in the U.S., less than half are enrolled for health benefits with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and 1.2 million have no health-care coverage at all. Even among those with departmental benefits, very few actually qualify for dental care. The VA’s eligibility standards require that a veteran be 100 percent disabled, suffer from a service-related dental injury or have been a prisoner of war in order to qualify for dental benefits [The Frontier].
Interim study to examine benefits of passenger rail service: Several bills that attempted to ease budget reductions for the state’s only Amtrak line were introduced this year, and no one introduced bills to increase the program’s budget. Despite apparent lack of support, lawmakers requested an interim study on not only keeping the exchange between Oklahoma City and Dallas in place but also expanding the service to include other cities. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, requested the study, which would gauge passenger rail services’ effect on the state’s economy. House Speaker Charles McCall approved the study last week. Speakers will examine all passenger rail developments in Oklahoma over the past five years [Journal Record].
Rezoning permit proposes to take out notable OKC building: Preservationists began working Wednesday to try to save a building in north Oklahoma City that was the home of the Patio Restaurant for decades and continues to host several businesses, including the HiLo Club. Braum’s Ice Cream & Dairy Stores filed a rezoning application with the city of Oklahoma City on July 5 that appears to propose taking out that building and another on the same property to provide parking for a new restaurant it plans to build on the block’s east side [NewsOK].
State Finds No Evidence of Elevated Cancer Rates In Oklahoma Town Tormented by Coal Waste: The tiny community of Bokoshe is flanked by old mines, which companies are filling with thousands of tons of waste produced by the coal-fired power plant down the road. The coal waste — known as coal ash, or fly ash — is a powdery, pernicious dust that blows off trucks and pits. Residents worry about breathing the ash, fear it has contaminated local water supplies and have linked it to various medical problems, including cancer. There is little medical evidence for claims of health problems, but after an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and StateImpact last year, the Oklahoma State Department of Health launched a formal study of cancer rates in the area [State Impact Oklahoma].
Oklahoma Corporation Commission studies emergency rules for long-lateral drilling law: The battle over extended drilling laterals in Oklahoma is far from over — it’s just moved from the Capitol to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission across the street. The commission held a technical meeting Thursday to gather comments for emergency rules to implement Senate Bill 867, the Extended Horizontal Well Development Act. At the Capitol, the bill pitted larger companies drilling horizontal wells against a group of longtime smaller, vertical producers worried about how horizontal wells and associated hydraulic fracturing would affect their well production [NewsOK].
New campaign confronts Islamophobia by introducing Oklahoma Muslims to their neighbors: Oklahoma Muslims are sharing glimpses into their lives with a new awareness campaign by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The Islamic civil rights group’s #TheMuslimNextDoor campaign shares both uniquely American and uniquely Muslim experiences — including those of Edmond North High School junior Mehak Alia; third-grade teacher Nadira Choudry and her husband and Special Care autism program director Mansur Choudry; and “Okie since birth” Mikael Bryant, a third-year law student — via forums, billboards, social media, videos and a photo campaign [Oklahoma Gazette].
Latino leaders say Brooks-Jimenez will represent constituents well: Oklahoma City’s Latino community leaders said they welcomed Michael Brooks-Jimenez’s election, and not just because of his heritage. Brooks-Jimenez was elected to Senate District 44 on Tuesday, garnering 54.6 percent of the votes. The special election was held to fill state Sen. Ralph Shortey’s vacant seat, which represents south Oklahoma City. There are two Latino members in the House of Representatives – Ryan Martinez and Charles Ortega. Brooks-Jimenez will be the only Latino in the Oklahoma Senate. That means the Oklahoma Legislature’s population is 2 percent Hispanic, while the state’s is 10 percent [Journal Record].
Person of Interest in Custody After Explosion at Oklahoma Air Force Recruiting Center: The authorities said on Tuesday that they had taken a person of interest into custody as they continue to investigate an explosion outside an Air Force recruiting center in Bixby, Okla., a suburb of Tulsa. The explosion occurred around 10:30 p.m. on Monday, and no injuries were reported, Jessi Rice, an F.B.I. special agent, said. The center was closed at the time, she said, adding that the device that set off the explosion appeared to be a pipe bomb. The agency did not name the person or say whether any charges had been placed [New York Times].
A reminder of the value of education: Is a second American Know-Nothing Party in the offing? It’s not an idle thought given the release this week of a Pew Research Center poll that found nearly six in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents think colleges and universities are bad for the country. Not long ago, it was an article of American faith that higher education was a golden ticket, an invaluable step in becoming all one’s creator intended. It also was enshrined in public policy – tax dollars steered to colleges and universities, the federal treasury backed low-cost student loans, and the GI Bill offered a brighter career future for returning war heroes [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record]. Oklahoma already led the nation in cuts to K-12 education. Now we lead in cuts to higher ed too [OK Policy].
Scott Pruitt Desperately Wants To Be Loved: Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt did something out of character this week: He gave a wide-ranging interview to a few mainstream media outlets in which he discussed a number of policy issues he’s largely avoided talking about publicly since taking over the EPA. The EPA’s public affairs staff now focus on promoting mostly right-wing outlets, some with ties to the Trump administration, on the EPA’s social media feeds and in news releases. The result? An echo chamber cheerleading the EPA’s regulatory roll backs, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and its newfound anti-science denial [Mother Jones].
Proposals aim to avoid climate disaster: What if farmers could have predicted severe drought before the Dust Bowl? Would they have become better stewards of the land and changed techniques to prevent topsoil erosion, thus lessening the disaster? Or would they have continued with business as usual until disaster hit? We are now like the pre-Dust Bowl farmers in that scenario. Scientists have given us clear warning of a disaster we can still avert, but this time it involves our atmosphere rather than our soil [Clint Givens / NewsOK].
Quote of the Day
“Children are your future citizens, your employees, your job creators, your inventors. If you don’t invest in the early brain you are saying you don’t think your society has a future.”
-Pediatrician Dipesh Navsaria, who was the keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Early Childhood Coalition Business Summit in Oklahoma City (Source).
Number of the Day
Percentage of low-income adults with disabilities who are covered by Medicaid in Oklahoma, the lowest percentage in the US.
The Conservative Myth of a Social Safety Net Built on Charity: Ideology is as much about understanding the past as shaping the future. And conservatives tell themselves a story, a fairy tale really, about the past, about the way the world was and can be again under Republican policies. This story is about the way people were able to insure themselves against the risks inherent in modern life. Back before the Great Society, before the New Deal, and even before the Progressive Era, things were better. Before government took on the role of providing social insurance, individuals and private charity did everything needed to insure people against the hardships of life; given the chance, they could do it again. But this conservative vision of social insurance is wrong [The Atlantic].
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