In The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.
Today you should know that Attorney General Scott Pruitt is rewriting an initiative petition to permit the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana. Once a final version is submitted, supporters have 90 days to collect 155,216 voter signatures needed to get it on the ballot. The New York Times examined Oklahoma’s rapidly growing use of e-cigarettes. On May 1st, OK Policy executive director David Blatt will participate in a debate between supporters and opponents of accepting federal funds to expand health coverage for Oklahomans.
With nearly the lowest pay in the U.S., school districts across Oklahoma are facing large teacher shortages. NewsOK reported that mold problems in the state Capitol have caused employee health problems and come close to violating Health Department standards. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White said the agency needs $26.5 million in additional funds just to maintain existing services and will have to make cuts with a flat budget. The Enid News & Eagle wrote that lawmakers need to reign in tax breaks to stop a self-inflicted budget crisis.
The Tulsa World discussed how huge health disparities still remain between rich and poor areas of Tulsa County, but intensive efforts by community health clinics and funders are beginning to make a difference. A group protested outside the Governor’s mansion against Governor Fallin’s approval of a ban on minimum wage increases in Oklahoma cities. A high school curriculum adopted in Mustang Public Schools, billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories, also tells students God is always there in times of trouble and that sinners must “suffer the consequences” of disobeying. NBC News reported on the last few residents of Picher, Oklahoma, which was abandoned due to severe pollution from lead and zinc mining.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt to rewrite medical marijuana petition
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has found problems with the ballot title of an initiative petition seeking to let voters decide whether medical marijuana should be legalized. On April 11, Oklahomans for Health gave notice to the secretary of state that the organization was seeking to circulate an initiative petition to get the issue on the November ballot. The group needs 155,216 signatures to put its measure on the ballot. In an April 18 letter to Secretary of State Chris Benge, Pruitt outlined several problems with the wording of the ballot title.
Nick Whitson, who is 32 and covered with enigmatic tattoos — the number 13, an upside-down cross — stood in front of a table scattered with dozens of bottles of colorful liquids and a handful of syringes, preparing to mix Trevor Curren his usual. Mr. Whitson manages a small shop called Vaporlicious in an Oklahoma City strip mall. He sells flavored nicotine liquids for devices known variously as e-cigarettes, vape pens, tank systems and e-hookahs. In the last 18 months, the number of vaping shops in the state jumped from a handful to 300, with names like Vapor Haven, the Vape Hut, Vapor World, Creative Vapor and Patriotic Vapes.
Upcoming event: David Blatt debates health care reform and Medicaid expansion
On May 1st, supporters and opponents of expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act will participate in a debate sponsored by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Speakers will include David Blatt, Executive Director of OK Policy.
Like leaks in a levee, teacher shortages are springing up faster than Oklahoma school districts can respond. Now instead of shortages mainly in math, science and special education, schools are grappling with vacancies in all departments and grade levels, according to lawmakers and district recruiters. Oklahoma City Public Schools has 403 teaching vacancies that need to be filled before next school year, up from levels three years ago, recruiters said. Tulsa Public Schools is struggling to fill 84 positions, up from the typical 30 to 40 vacancies.
Oklahoma Capitol building has sewer smells, electrical issues and falling limestone, but funding for fix remains elusive
Smelly water is seeping from the floor near Douglas Kellogg’s office in the basement of the state Capitol. Kellogg, the building manager, thinks a clogged pipe is forcing water to back up through an old drain now covered by flooring. A power drain cleaner should take care of the problem, but, like so many issues with this 96-year-old building, there is a catch. The original cast iron pipes below the building are so fragile that the cleaner, called a “K50,” could easily punch a hole through the side of the pipe and cause an even bigger problem. Nothing is easy in a building where major maintenance has been deferred for years.
Mental health commissioner talks about budget cuts
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needs $26.52 million of additional appropriations to maintain programs at current levels, said Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. ODMHSAS is saving money for the state, but also has been given additional tasks that cost money, she said. “When you look at our budget last year compared to what we’re going to have to pay next year,” White said, “we have no choice. We have to pay $21 million next year over-and-above what we paid this year just to serve the same number of people.”
On one hand, Oklahoma is riding an oil boom with revenue flowing into our state’s economy. On the other hand, the Oklahoma Legislature is suffering a self-inflicted budget crisis that could cause cuts to education, public safety and health care. It’s all about earmarks and tax breaks. The problem is legislators made numerous financial commitments to special projects that took away funds for basic services. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin pledges to cut the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent to “stimulate the economy.”
Tulsa World: Some hope in troubling health disparity findings
A recent Tulsa County Health Profile is further evidence of the crying need for adequate health care in the parts of the community plagued by poverty, but there is some preliminary evidence that efforts to meet that need are showing results. The report compared the health of Tulsa County by ZIP code and some of the differences were stark. If you live in poverty, you are far more likely to die of stroke, cancer or heart attack, the report shows.
Group protests at Governor’s mansion over minimum wage increase ban
Protestors wanted to make sure the Governor heard them Saturday morning. So they brought the issue of raising the minimum wage to her. “The Governor lives in a mansion but that’s a mansion owned by the people and she needs to remember the people that sent her there. The people need a decent wage, a living wage so they can support their families,” said attorney David Slain. The hike ban the Governor recently signed into law prevents cities and counties in our state from raising the federal minimum wage.
Bible curriculum at Oklahoma public school says sinners suffer for disobeying God
A high school curriculum supported by Hobby Lobby chain president Steve Green, billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories, also tells students God is always there in times of trouble and that sinners must “suffer the consequences” of disobeying. The Mustang School Board in suburban Oklahoma City voted this month to place the Museum of the Bible’s curriculum in its schools as an elective for a one-year trial after being assured that the intent is not to proselytize but to use the Bible to explain key principles in the arts and sciences. While the course does explain the inspiration behind famous works of art and holds a prism to historical events, it also endorses behavior for religious reasons and implies that bad things happen as a direct result of disregarding God’s rules.
Last Residents of Picher, Oklahoma Won’t Give Up the Ghost (Town)
Thirty years and hundreds of millions of dollars since work began to clean up this former lead and zinc mining boomtown, progress is still being measured in inches or feet. That gauge is provided by the towering but slowly diminishing piles of “chat,” or tailings, that still loom over what is now a virtual ghost town. Picher, which in its heyday in the 1920’s boasted a population of nearly 20,000 people, no longer exists as a town. After being labeled one of the most polluted places in America by the EPA, declared a federal “Superfund” hazardous waste site, and also getting hit by a destructive tornado, it ceased municipal operations in 2009.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is the most important economics book of the year, if not the decade. It’s also 696 pages long, translated from French, filled with methodological asides and in-depth looks at unique data, packed with allusions to 19th century novels, and generally a bit of a slog. The good news is that there’s no advanced math, and anyone who puts in the time can read the book. But if you just want the bottom line, we have you covered.