In The Know: Thousands with mental illness will lose services in Oklahoma

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

Thousands with mental illness will lose services in Oklahoma: More than 73,000 Oklahomans with mental illnesses and substance use disorders will lose access to state-funded services in the coming days, the result of continued state budget cuts. Leaders at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services announced Friday that they will cut an additional $13 million from the agency’s current operating budget, which will affect thousands more low-income children and adults that depend on state-funded care. [NewsOK]

DHS facing severe budget cutbacks: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is facing severe budget cuts as the state continues to report revenue failures, prompting the departure of five employees from the local DHS office. Officials at DHS say workforce reductions are unfolding at offices throughout the state. In Pittsburg County, five employees were dropped from the payroll since August. “In the last year we have lost one supervisor, two workers and then a customer service representative and one clerical staff member,” Pittsburg County DHS County Director Donna Province said. [McAlester News-Capital]

Election landscape creeps into support for taxes: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says many of her ideas for shoring up a $1.3 billion budget hole remain in play this session, but that some Republican legislators are hesitant to embrace major proposals like a tax hike or bond issue until they know what kind of opposition they face in an election year. The filing period for candidates seeking office was moved from June to April a few years ago. As a result, legislators will know before the session is over whether they’ll have a primary or general election opponent. If unopposed, the lawmaker might be more willing to make a politically tough vote to raise taxes or eliminate a popular tax exemption. [Associated Press]

Time running out for legislators to come up with a budget plan: Because the legislative session began on February 1st this year, the calendar has given legislators an extra week to solve the state’s challenges. They may need it. The first seven weeks of the session are now in the past with ten weeks to go before the last Friday in May, the constitutional deadline for adjournment. The overriding issue that must be faced is funding for state government. There are few bills still alive that point to how legislators plan to do that. One is pretty much driven to conclude that that’s because as yet there is no plan. [OK Policy]

Bingman: Despite Slow Progress, Tax Credit And Exemption Talks Underway: Senate leaders say they’re still discussing changes to state tax credits and exemptions, despite the fact that legislation with most of those changes still hasn’t been heard on the chamber’s floor. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, told reporters this week lawmakers are continuing to work through their caucuses to make sure the members have the details about legislation dealing with tax credits and off-the-top spending. [KGOU]

Legislators divided over online sales tax bills: Inside the Oklahoma Legislature, lawmakers have crafted measures that could help collect taxes from out-of-state retailers. The bills would redefine what constitutes a place of business in Oklahoma by expanding the definition to include offices, warehouses, distribution centers or any other place of business in the state – regardless of whether the retailer owns or occupies the property. The Oklahoma Retail Protection Act was introduced by Enid Republican Chad Caldwell. That proposal, House Bill 2531, narrowly passed the House of Representatives this month. It could face some opposition in the Senate as well, considering that a similar measure, Senate Bill 1301, passed with just 25 votes, the minimum necessary. [Journal Record]

Top 2 leadership posts in Oklahoma Legislature opening up next year: As leaders in the Oklahoma House and Senate struggle to close a $1.3 billion budget hole, Republicans behind the scenes are jockeying for powerful state government positions that will be vacant after this fall’s election. Leadership in the Senate is likely to pass from President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, who is term-limited, to No. 2 Republican leader Mike Schulz of Altus, who has two years left on his term. But in the House, a spirited race is developing to replace outgoing Speaker Jeff Hickman of Fairview. [Tulsa World]

Economic cleansing in Oklahoma or willful, selfish neglect?: A health care advocate used a very harsh phrase to describe Oklahoma’s health funding policy in a recent conversation. He called it “economic cleansing.” As in “ethnic cleansing,” the sort of systematic attack on minority groups that created a nightmare in the Balkans in the 1990s. Except in economic cleansing, the targets aren’t the Serbs or the Croats, but the poor people of Oklahoma. [Wayne Greene / The Tulsa World]

State Chamber CEO: Oklahoma hospitals must have new sources of revenue: Like all businesses, hospitals cannot continuously provide services in excess of revenue. Unlike most businesses, hospitals can’t turn anyone away. So if someone shows up at the hospital without health insurance, hospitals are obligated to provide care with no way to cover those costs. In a state like Oklahoma with no additional source of funding to fill in the gaps, the economic engine sputters. To avoid closing, often the only options for hospitals are to shift costs to the private sector, increase costs for those with insurance — or shut down [Fred Morgan / Tulsa World]. The refusal of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the Legislature to accept billions of dollars in federal funding to expand health coverage for uninsured residents is a political ploy devastating for low-income people and smaller medical facilities [Tahlequah Daily Press]. The successful track record of Medicaid expansion in states similar to Oklahoma shows that we are making the wrong choice to reject health coverage. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma school district placed under state Education Department intervention: More bad news surfaced this week for Grant-Goodland Public Schools, where $200,000 went missing, the administration building was raided by federal investigators and the superintendent was suspended. State Education Department workers in town to inspect the district’s financial operations, found special education student files on the floor, preschoolers without a certified teacher and 15-year-old algebra textbooks still in use. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma Education Funding Gets Support As Thousands Sign Petition: The push to get $615 million for Oklahoma education is closer to becoming a reality. For about a month, petitions have been circulating across the state to get State Question 779 on the November ballot. Thursday night, the petition organizers announced they reached their signature goal but urge the push for State Question 779 and more money for schools is just starting. [NewsOn6]

Owners of Oklahoma liquor stores challenge alcohol laws ballot initiative: Oklahoma liquor-store owners have filed a court challenge to the proposed ballot measure on wine in grocery stores filed by the group Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom. In court documents filed Thursday at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association claims the initiative petition is unconstitutional. “Our opinion is basically that it creates an uneven playing field and puts retail package stores at a seriously unfair advantage,” said Bryan Kerr, president of the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association. [NewsOK]

Energy Department Supports $2.5 billion Wind Power Project in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee: Even as Oklahoma City billboards attack the wind industry and its tax credits in Oklahoma, the U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz says the Department of Energy will take part in the development of a $2.5 billion project to deliver wind-powered electricity from Oklahoma’s Panhandle to Tennessee. The 700-mile Plains and Eastern Clean Line project will be privately funded and deliver nearly 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy. The project will cross 14 counties in Oklahoma and makes its way across northern Arkansas and end just north of Memphis, Tennessee. [OK Energy Today]

Senate Bill Would Bar Non-Citizens, Undocumented Residents From Becoming Legal Guardians: When it comes to who becomes the guardian of a minor or an incapacitated person, Oklahoma’s court system has the final say. But a bill by state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, would prevent non-citizens from becoming a guardian. Senate Bill 902 also puts the same restrictions on people who aren’t legal residents of the United States. Immigration attorney Milissa Tipton-Dunkins said she’s worried that if a young child needs a guardian – a grandmother, an uncle or even a family friend wouldn’t be able to step in if the adult isn’t here legally. [KGOU]

Quote of the Day

“I think there are some members who are waiting to see if they draw an opponent during filing in April. They’re slow playing things.”

-Governor Mary Fallin, speaking about why Oklahoma lawmakers have made little progress in coming up with a plan to solve Oklahoma’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans who say they attend religious services at least weekly.

Source: Pew Research Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How to Help More College Students Graduate: In families with college-educated parents, important information is delivered every day, often in small, casual conversations, during the car pool ride to school, while running errands or during meals. College-educated family members can steer students toward institutions that match their interests and majors that suit their strengths. … First-generation students, who don’t have a de facto college adviser at home, would benefit from some extra support. Researchers are uncovering promising interventions that help get these students to graduation. [New York Times]

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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