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.
Oklahoma Watch released the first part of a special report on how federal and state disaster aid is being spent in the wake of the violent tornadoes and storms of spring 2013. A study of the Gerber-Wellington aquifer, which covers 3,000 square miles of the most densely populated areas in Oklahoma, found that under current policies the water could be depleted in 35 to 41 years. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission plans to seek the public’s input in the placement of wind farms and the regulation of rooftop solar panels. Infectious diseases once unknown in Oklahoma are showing up because of changes in climate, the urbanization of previously forested areas and people traveling to once-remote regions.
Corrections officers concerned about Oklahoma’s understaffed, overcrowded prisons
Oklahoma’s prisons could end up dangerously understaffed if proposed cost-saving measures take effect, according to a group representing corrections officers. In a letter dated Thursday to Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton, the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals states it has “grave concerns” about plans to eliminate 12-hour shifts by reducing the number of officers required on security posts. Oklahoma has struggled to keep its prisons staffed while its inmate population rises. A 2013 survey showed the state’s ratio of correctional officers to offenders was the worst among at least 49 states. In recent years, DOC turned to 12-hour instead of eight-hour shifts to keep posts filled at several of the state’s prisons.
Oklahoma House speaker approves interim studies for everything from firing squads to cedar trees
Legislators plan to examine everything from lethal injection alternatives to better monitoring of prescription drugs in interim studies approved Friday. House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved more than 80 studies to be conducted in the interim period before the Oklahoma Legislature begins its session next year. Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, asked for the study on requiring doctors to check an online database before writing narcotic prescriptions. This is intended to cut down on fraudulent prescriptions for highly addictive drugs. His bill to do just that failed to gather support last legislative session amid opposition from doctors who said it would be time-consuming and take away from time they can spend with patients.
Ethics Commission To Consider Amendments To Rules That Take Effect In January 2015
The Ethics Commission will consider a series of proposed amendments to its new rules during upcoming meetings that will be submitted to the Legislature for consideration in 2015. The commission held a series of public meetings in 2013 before submitting a completely rewritten version of its rules to the Legislature at the start of the 2014 session. Those rules were adopted when the Legislature did not take action to disapprove or amend them before adjourning sine die. These new rules, largely, do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, to allow the current election cycle to be completed under one consistent set of guidelines. “I think we are going to need to consider some amendments to those rules to be considered in 2015,” Ethics Commissioner Executive Director Lee Slater told the commissioners during their meeting Friday.
Teachers’ jobs harder, but compensation remains stagnant
School districts in Oklahoma have been hit hard in recent years with retirement notices submitted from teachers in late spring. Others districts report a growing trend of teachers turning in their resignation at May and June school board meetings. Many of those resigning teachers are exiting the classroom, headed to industries that offer better pay and leaving behind the state’s educational landscape which has been a roller-coaster in recent years as the state legislature calls for changes in educational standards and implements a new teacher evaluation system. Hiring for teaching positions in the summer months is nothing new for superintendents, but dealing with fewer applicants applying for available teaching positions is a troubling trend that will likely continue, area superintendents say.
Oklahoma Education Department announces American Indian online resource guide
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and several educators on Friday praised a new online resource guide they said will strengthen American Indian education. The Oklahoma Indian Education Resource is available on the state Education Department website (ok.gov/sde/oier). It details the culture, traditions, history and governments of the state’s sovereign tribes. Oklahoma educates 130,000 American Indian students and has the largest such population in the nation, said Barresi, who called the impact of American Indian culture on Oklahoma “deep and enduring.”
When the Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic opened in 2000, the 53,504-square-foot building easily accommodated local veterans and their primary care, but that was before the United States went to war. Since then, the staff has more than doubled to treat more than 21,000 patients who visited the facility a combined 168,000 times in their last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. “I think we probably planned pretty well for 10 years out from 2000; however, there was no war going on during that planning phase,” said facility planner Bobbi Knack during a recent interview.
Five years ago I was serving on the advisory board for the Bristow Medical Center, a small rural hospital in Creek County. At that time, the hospital was sustaining monthly operating losses in excess of $200,000. Most of this loss was attributable to uncompensated care for uninsured patients who came to the emergency room for treatment. Hospitals are required to treat people in the ER even if they lack any ability to pay for the service. In rural Oklahoma, a very high percentage of the population is uninsured. The monthly loss on this care often was close to $300,000.
The Advantages Of SoonerCare For Native Americans And Other Stories
SoonerCare is Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. The tribal relations associate for SoonerCare is Katie Carden. Carden says more Native Americans and native veterans need to sign up because not only are there more services available for them to take advantage of, it will pay their tribal clinics for services received. In fact, SoonerCare is the third largest payer to Indian Health Service. Katie Carden, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, wants Native Americans to sign up for SoonerCare. Carden says the two services can work hand in hand to the patients benefit.
EMSA fees are set to rise in September about a year after city officials discussed how extending allowed response times would lock in fees. Kelli Bruer, EMSA spokeswoman, said the changes were part of two different issues: The first was a contract issue between EMSA and the city, and the second involved the city approaching EMSA with a fee increase during wrangling with the next budget. “They came to us about increasing the fee,” Bruer said. “Our board didn’t vote on it. It was not under our purview.” Starting Sept. 1, EMSAcare, formerly known as TotalCare, will cost residents enrolled in the program about 50 percent more. The $3.64 monthly charge to each household’s utility bill will increase to $5.45.
Special Report: Auditing the Disaster Aid for 2013 Tornadoes and Storms
The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years. To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help rebuild damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks, according to data, documents and interviews compiled in a joint investigation by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio. The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion.
Oklahoma has water, but will it be enough to meet needs?
Hundreds of thousands of people in central Oklahoma depend on underground water that is plentiful but requires careful management to ensure supplies remain adequate for the region’s growing population. That’s the message from Oklahoma Water Resources Board officials after a ground-breaking study of the water system beneath 3,000 square miles of the most densely populated area of the state. It revealed more accurately than ever before just how much water can be drawn from the Garber-Wellington Aquifer before it essentially runs dry. The study by the board and the U.S. Geological Survey determined that if a maximum number of wells were placed in the aquifer and water was pumped at the maximum rate now permitted, the water would be substantially depleted in 35 to 41 years. It also showed that certain areas dotted by domestic wells could have localized supply issues depending on future development and use.
Corporation Commission Will Ask For Public’s Input on Wind And Solar Issues
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission plans to seek the public’s input in the placement of wind farms and the regulation of rooftop solar panels. The commission’s public utility division held the second of two meetings last Friday that lay the groundwork for issuing a notice of inquiry on wind and solar issues. Among the issues to be discussed are what kinds of notification landowners near wind farms should get before the projects start, as well as how to strengthen Oklahoma’s existing law for the decommissioning of wind farms. Other concerns include the impact on wildlife, property values and the economic benefits of wind farms.
Take a Tulsa Transit bus to a destination just once
Plunking down $1.75, I traversed an odyssey from 71st Street and Yale Avenue to downtown in a mere two hours on a city bus. With the help of two seasoned riders on a different day, I cut that down to 1½ hours for a one-way trip. Here’s a challenge for every person in Tulsa: Go to the nearest bus stop and take a bus somewhere specific — work, a store or your kid’s school. As you make your way across the city, think about people who have no option but the bus. Think about how to pick up groceries, get a child to football practice or an elderly parent to a medical clinic on a daily basis. Think about going out for movies, dinner or even a date. After a couple of times on Tulsa Transit, you will come away with a new perspective.
Prevalence of infectious diseases like West Nile, chikungunya, Heartland virus up in Oklahoma
Infectious diseases once unknown in Oklahoma are now a threat to the health of its residents as maladies such as the West Nile virus, chikungunya virus and Heartland virus spread across the globe, according to state health officials. The Oklahoma Department of Health reported in May that a Delaware County resident died from complications of the Heartland virus, the first recorded case of the tick-borne virus in the state and only the second person to die from the disease in the nation. State epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley says the diseases are showing up in Oklahoma because of changes in climate, the urbanization of previously forested areas of the world and people traveling to once-remote regions.
“It used to be if you posted a middle school teaching job with a coaching position attached to it or an elementary school job, you would get 40 applicants for the job. Now, we are getting four, maybe five. And some of those haven’t even passed their certification test yet. It has become a game of making sure you are staffed and dealing with it early because the later it gets the harder it gets to fill those spots.”
-Todd Garrison, superintendent at Lone Grove Public Schools, who said low pay and lack of respect for the teaching profession in Oklahoma is making it difficult to fill vacancies (Source: http://bit.ly/1qzHtX3)
Number of the Day
Average time patients with broken bones had to wait before receiving pain medication in Oklahoma emergency rooms.
Cory Booker and Rand Paul team up on criminal justice reform
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are set to introduce legislation Tuesday that aims to break the cycle of incarceration for nonviolent offenders. The REDEEM Act takes aim at policies that affect both children and adults. Criminal justice reform was central to Booker’s Senate campaign, and Paul has championed the issue while in the Senate. The two also recently teamed up on an amendment barring the Justice Department from spending money to combat medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Last month, Paul also introduced a bill to restore voting rights for people who are in prison for minor drug offenses.