In The Know: Budget cuts threaten future of over two dozen Oklahoma driver’s license exam sites

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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Budget cuts threaten future of over two dozen Oklahoma driver’s license exam sites: Many Oklahomans living outside the state’s largest metropolitan areas may soon find themselves driving up to 100 miles to apply for a driver’s license. Department of Public Safety officials confirmed Monday that potential 15 percent budget cuts threaten to shutter more than two dozen driver’s license exam sites across the state. That would leave fewer than a dozen locations open [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Wind-generation tax credits could end soon: A measure that would end tax credits for all wind-energy generation facility placed in operation after July 1 was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. House Bill 2298 won approval in that chamber March 9 by a by 69-25 vote, was signed and sent to the Senate on March 20. The zero-emission tax credits were scheduled to expire at the end of 2020, but lawmakers singled it out early in the legislative session as a way to help fill an $878 million hole in the state budget [Enid News]. Oklahoma’s wind subsidies are dwarfed by subsidies to the oil and gas industry [OK Policy].

DHS walking budgetary tightrope; some fear service cuts: With the Oklahoma Legislature facing a large revenue shortage for the fourth consecutive year, state agencies are steeling for another round of cuts to allocations. Among the agencies is the Department of Human Services, which administers services ranging from child care benefits and services for parents to child protective services and foster care. Federal assistance is often disbursed through DHS programs, and the agency is one of Oklahoma’s bigger budgetary tickets. The Legislature must find nearly $900 million in cuts or revenue before Memorial Day weekend to cover a hole in the state budget [Tahlequah Daily Press]. DHS is about to run out of money to pay for care of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities [OK Policy].

Drug abuse is behind Oklahoma syphilis outbreak, officials say: Drug abuse is one of the driving factors for the largest syphilis outbreak in recent state history, health officials say. On Friday, state health officials confirmed that Oklahoma County is in the midst of a syphilis outbreak, with about 80 residents infected over the past few months. The most common risk factors associated with the outbreak include drug use, exchanging sex for money or drugs, or having multiple sex partners. The majority of those identified were drug users, many of whom were using heroin or meth [NewsOK].

Why everyone missed the Rainy Day borrowing story: About a month ago, Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger reported to senior state officials that he had to borrow money from the Rainy Day Fund to keep the government afloat. He didn’t use those exact words, or else the dozen or so reporters in the room (including me) might have taken notice. As far as I can tell, no one covered that bit of news. That’s why it was a bit surprising Monday when Senate Democrats, who were questioning a mid-year appropriation from the fund, asked how much had been borrowed [NewsOK].

Oklahoma veterans center woes a sign of legislative apathy: Members of the Oklahoma Senate recently voted to relocate the Talihina Veterans Center after two residents in the span of five months died from alleged neglect. Senate Bill 544 authorizes the state Department of Veterans Affairs to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the relocation. The bill’s author, Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, notes the center in Le Flore County “has too many problems to name but among the worst is the age of the crumbling nearly 100-year-old building, the inconvenient location, continual staff shortages, unethical nepotism and lack of proper training.” [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Budget Cuts Force Oklahoma to Rely on Other States to Fight Most Dangerous Wildfires: Years of cuts in funding appropriated by the Legislatures means Oklahoma is unable to replace retiring or exiting wild land fire experts and increasingly relies on other states to fight its largest, most dangerous wildfires. On the March 24 episode of Oklahoma News Report, I told OETA host Susan Cadot that reduced funds to Oklahoma Forestry Services aren’t likely saving money, interviews and data suggest, because the state is forced to hire out-of-state crews to fight fires like the vast March 2017 fire that torched more than a thousand square miles in northwestern Oklahoma [StateImpact Oklahoma].

State testing set to start with changes at Oklahoma schools: State testing begins in just a few days in Oklahoma but this year will be different for students and testing administrators. Graduation is no longer tied to the performance on end-of-instruction tests. Students will still be tested in math, English, science and history, but they will not face the possibility of not graduating because of the test. Also this year, high school juniors will take the SAT college prep test, when last year they were all given the ACT. The college prep exams are a standardized way to judge student’s academic progress and provide them with a tool for higher education [KTUL].

OK PolicyCast Episode 27: So You Want To Effect Change: Today on the OK PolicyCast, we speak with Shay White, a social worker and advocate with Together Oklahoma and ACTION. She spoke to us about what motivated her to get involved with policy change, what keeps her going, and finding “that one thing that gets us up every morning.” [OK Policy]

Pensions key to recruiting, retaining Oklahoma teachers: Oklahoma lawmakers are being told that the guarantee of a well-funded pension system will help solve the state’s teacher shortage issues. With the release of a new report, Retirement Security for Oklahoma Teachers Still Overlooked (embedded below), teachers from across the state gathered at the Oklahoma State Capitol today to explain how important their own pensions have been toward keeping them in their jobs. They also explained why attacks on pensions by lawmakers ultimately hurt recruitment efforts of new Oklahoma teachers [NonDoc].

Some health groups fear language from failed bill could resurface: A bill that could change how hospitals and insurance carriers negotiate contracts with doctors died last week, but some trade group representatives said they’re concerned similar language could be resurrected in another bill. Oklahoma Association of Health Plans Executive Director Laura Fleet said House Bill 1709 would prohibit an insurance company from requiring a physician to have hospital admittance privileges. Her trade group members are opposed to that bill, authored by state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow [Journal Record].

Tulsa County residents are getting healthier, state survey suggests: Tulsa County notched its best score so far in a county-by-county ranking of health factors and outcomes in the state. Tulsa County ranks 18th among the state’s 77 counties, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2017 County Health Rankings. The county saw improvements in the majority of the categories — enough to move it up two spots from the No. 20 ranking it held for the last two years and up nine spots from where it was in 2011 [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma may legalize hog hunting from helicopters: Oklahoma could soon join Louisiana and Texas in allowing hunters to shoot feral hogs from helicopters. Aerial gunners are already used to help control feral swine in Oklahoma. But that work can only be done by trained, licensed contractors with support from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry. Lawmakers are considering a bill to expand the law to private operations. Under the proposal, private landowners, companies and pilots would have to apply for a state license and be responsible for the activity [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“The sad thing about this list of budget options is that we serve people who are even more vulnerable. They are not on the list because they are so vulnerable, they would be on the street or their lives would be in danger without services. But we are reaching a point where if we keep cutting so deep, we will get to where we are cutting into child welfare, safety and placement services. Cuts would limit options for placement.”

-Sheree Powell, DHS state communications director, on the cuts the agency would have to make with a flat funding appropriation this year. They include cuts to early childhood school readiness programs, developmental disability programs, child care subsidies, and in-home services for seniors (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma household with savings accounts in 2013. The national average was 68.8%

Source: CFED

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Crime Hotspots Need Investments, Not Just Policing: On the last day of 2016, a solemn procession made its way across Chicago. Hundreds of mourners and their supporters marched together, carrying 762 wooden crosses — one for each victim of the year’s terrible homicide toll.Had the marchers ended the demonstration by planting those crosses at the site of each murder, they would have clustered in a few areas of the sprawling city, creating a haphazard array of miniature cemeteries. This is because many of those homicides, 90 percent of them shootings, occurred on a handful of blocks, in a handful of neighborhoods [Marshall Project].

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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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