In The Know: Thousands of Oklahomans will have less access to medical care, as state Health Department slashes budget

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 of Oklahomans will have less access to medical care, as state Health Department slashes budget: Thousands of Oklahomans will have less access to critical medical services, as the state Health Department is forced to slash its budget in response to the state fiscal crisis. Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health told the agency’s board Tuesday that, to ensure the agency has a balanced budget for the current state fiscal year, they must cut $4.2 million dollars by the end of June [NewsOK].

Oklahoma House not ready to tap state’s Rainy Day Fund: Oklahoma House Republicans aren’t ready to endorse a plan that’s backed by Gov. Mary Fallin and Senate Republicans to dip into the state’s Rainy Day fund to ease this year’s budget cuts to schools and prisons. House Speaker Jeff Hickman said after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Tuesday that there is no agreement to tap $72 million from the constitutional reserve fund. Fallin on Monday announced a plan to spend $51 million for public schools and $21 million for the Department of Corrections for the rest of the fiscal year [Associated Press]. OK Policy issued a statement last week in support of using rainy day money to ease mid-year cuts [OK Policy].

State Superintendent: Schools Won’t Make It Without Using Rainy Day Fund: The governor wants to tap into the state’s savings to keep schools going. The proposal has the support of the state school superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, who said schools can’t make it without it. Hofmeister said she’s traveling the state to report what’s happening with the budget crisis and public schools. Tuesday, she told the Tulsa County Republican Women the schools are in uncharted territory with both an immediate crisis of money and a longer term shortage of teachers [News On 6].

Off the mark? Economists and state leaders worry about budget forecast: Economists and lawmakers aren’t sure the $5.85 billion estimate given to lawmakers to draft the next budget is accurate. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has said no one knows if the estimate will hold or if the state will have to endure another year of budget cuts. If the falling price of oil or its effects haven’t leveled off, the certification approved in early February may not be sound, he said [Journal Record].

Oklahoma House passes pay equity measure: A coalition composed almost equally of Republicans and Democrats pushed through legislation Tuesday aimed at reducing pay discrimination, particularly against women. Twenty-nine of the House’s 30 Democrats joined 30 Republicans to pass House Bill 2929, by Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, 59-32. Ten members, including one Democrat, did not vote. All opposition came from Republicans. State law already bans wage discrimination against women, but a staff analysis of HB 2929 says no employer has ever been fined under the existing statute [Tulsa World].

Norman Superintendent, Cherokee Nation business leader join OK Policy Board: Oklahoma Policy Institute is pleased to announce that Dr. Joseph (Joe) Siano, Superintendent of Norman Public Schools, and Charles (Chuck) Garrett, executive vice president at Cherokee Nation Businesses, have joined our Board of Directors. “We are delighted to add two widely-admired and respected individuals who have made outstanding contributions to our state through their professional careers and community service,” said Ann-Clore Duncan, OK Policy’s Board Chair [OK Policy].

Former Oklahoma state House leader under investigation: A former leader of the state House of Representatives has come under investigation because of his travel expenses. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, on Tuesday denied wrongdoing and promised to cooperate fully. “He has not knowingly committed anything criminal or improper,” his attorney, Glenn Coffee, said. “We intend to cooperate” [NewsOK].

House passes bill to tighten DUI prosecution: The Oklahoma House has acted to remedy a problem that may allow people to escape prosecution for felony drunken driving. The problem, according to Rep. Mike Sanders, is that small city courts across the state aren’t considered courts of record, so DUI convictions in those jurisdictions can’t be used to enhance a subsequent DUI as a felony. Municipal courts could transfer the charge to a district court, under which a person could be prosecuted for felony drunken driving [NewsOK].

Despite optics, spending by Oklahoma DHS has been needed: During a time when Oklahoma state agencies are being forced to cut their budgets, expenditures on such things as consultants automatically raise concern. Yet in the case of the Department of Human Services, the spending has been necessary. When the state settled a federal class-action lawsuit in 2012, it agreed to overhaul its child welfare services agency. Part of that agreement included using three out-of-state experts, appointed by a federal judge in Tulsa, to monitor DHS’s progress and recommend reforms. That has cost money — big money [Oklahoman Editorial Board].

Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Flickering Lights of the U.S. Rural Hospital: Rural hospitals continue to drop off the map, with an average of 11 hospitals closing each year since 2010. As the rural healthcare system slowly erodes, the aftermath leaves permanent gaps for local services in the small communities left behind. Earlier this month, iVantage Health Analytics issued 2016 Rural Relevance: Vulnerability to Value Study, on rural hospitals. The study’s key finding is that 673 rural hospitals, two-thirds of which are Medicare-designated “critical access hospitals” (CAH), are vulnerable to closure. The CAHs identified as vulnerable comprise 35 percent of all critical access hospitals in the nation [Nonprofit Quarterly].

Senate OKs plan to suspend licenses of abortion doctors: Any physician who performs an abortion would be unable to obtain a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma under a measure the state Senate approved overwhelmingly Tuesday over the objection of some Democrats who insisted the measure is unconstitutional. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 40-7, mostly along party lines, to approve the bill by Broken Arrow Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm [Associated Press].

GOP Kansas lawmakers push bill to reverse key income tax cut: A tax break for Kansas business owners championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback would be reversed under a proposal introduced Tuesday by three influential GOP state senators. Senate Vice President Jeff King, of Independence, and Sens. Jim Denning and Greg Smith, both from Overland Park, described their proposal as a tax fairness measure that also would help the state balance its budget. Denning is vice chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, and Smith serves on two budget subcommittees [Lawrence Journal-World].

Quote of the Day

“We are in the unfortunate situation of having to eliminate programs, reduce services, regionalize statewide services and close county health department sites to meet the requirements of the revenue reduction. These are steps that are painful, but necessary in the current financial climate. Because of these cuts, we fully expect to see an erosion of the gains we have made in public health during the current decade.”

-State Health Commissioner Terry Cline (Source)

Number of the Day


Yearly state and local tax contributions by undocumented immigrants in Oklahoma

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Can a Four-Day School Week Actually Help Kids Who Are Struggling?: Last October, Texas voted to change the school year from the long-accepted norm of 180 days per calendar year to 75,600 minutes—hour by hour, roughly the same amount of instructional time, but now with more district-by-district say in how exactly those hours are distributed. The first school to take advantage of this new flexibility is in tiny Olfen, a rural West Texas district with a single K-8 school serving about 60 students. Olfen announced last month that, starting in the 2016–17 school year, it would offer a four-day school week, with 25 more minutes tacked onto each day—so approximately 77,000 hours over 160 days [Slate].

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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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