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 officials have signed a confidentiality agreement with railroad companies to keep information about large crude oil shipments passing through Oklahoma on freight trains secret. The federal government ordered railroads to disclose the information to state authorities after several accidents and explosions involving rail shipments of Bakken oil, including one in Canada last year that killed 47 people. After several years of crippling drought, a wetter-than-average spring in southwest Oklahoma is bringing hope to farmers. NewsOK examined the runoff for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination between perennial candidate Jim Rogers and state Senator Constance Johnson.
Federal highway funds to Oklahoma to be reduced beginning August 1st
Federal reimbursements to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and their counterparts in other states will be reduced beginning August 1 unless the Federal Highway Trust Fund receives an infusion of cash, ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson told the Transportation Commission during its meeting Monday. The department was informed July 1 that the U.S. Department of Transportation would begin taking a number of steps to address what U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox called the insolvency of the fund.
Common Core repeal leads to legal and regulatory limbo
A new law repealing Common Core standards has led to a tangle of legal challenges, regulation changes and financial costs that has injected uncertainty among Oklahoma school districts about the coming school year. On June 5, Gov. Mary Fallin signed HB 3393 requiring Oklahoma to toss the Common Core math and English standards that were to be implemented by the 2014-15 school year. The law directs the state Board of Education to revert to Oklahoma’s Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, standards for two years until new ones can be developed. But at the June 26 meeting, the state board tabled votes on everything related to adopting PASS and removing Common Core from rules language and tests in light of a legal challenge to the law’s constitutionality filed the previous day.
Invalidated appropriation leads to $6.7 million budget cut
The state’s new fiscal year began on July 1st with most state agencies funded slightly worse than they had originally expected. Last month, OK Policy broke the story that this year’s General Appropriations (GA) bill diverted $7.9 million out of the trust fund for Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships. In accordance with state statutes, each year the State Board of Equalization certifies an amount to transfer to the trust fund to cover scholarships for the coming year. In December, the Board certified $57 million for Oklahoma’s Promise in FY 2015. However, the Legislature attempted to order the Board to reduce the transfer by $7.9 million so that it could be used to balance the overall FY 2015 budget. Responding to a request from House Minority Leader Scott Inman, Attorney General Scott Pruitt issued an opinion on June 19th ruling this move unlawful.
Oklahoma town divided on influx of immigrant kids to Army base
It was noon on Sunday when Jose Luis, a 38-year-old construction worker who stopped for lunch at Aranda’s Mexican Grill, finished his menudo, a traditional Mexican stew of beef tripe in a red chili pepper broth. Mexican music blared from a corner jukebox. Jose Luis, an undocumented immigrant who declined to provide his last name, said he first crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso, Texas, when he was 19. He has since crossed more times than he can remember. On those treks to the U.S., he said, he often saw unaccompanied children trying to cross the border — children like the 1,158 that are currently being housed in short-term shelter just a few miles away at Fort Sill. While Jose Luis doesn’t know much about the children at the Army base, he knows their journey was treacherous. “The process is ugly, scary and sad,” he said.
Regional Food Bank Feeds Record Number Of Kids For Summer Food Program
The Regional Food Bank is feeding hungry kids in the metro at a record rate this year. The food bank is partnering with more organizations than ever before to help with their special summer food program. The Regional Food Bank estimates one in every four children in Oklahoma struggles with hunger. “They’re excited just to have free lunch,” said Sarah Bainter, Boys & Girls Club Kitchen Coordinator. “A lot of them don’t have as much to eat as the rest of us at home.” Bainter said the club serves more than 250 kids a day, but their services are extending beyond the boundary lines thanks to the Regional Food Bank.
As Oklahoma considers reopening prisons to accommodate a burgeoning inmate population, the time is ripe for state leaders to apply their principles of limited government and personal responsibility to criminal justice reform. The Sooner state has the nation’s fourth-highest per capita incarceration rate and the highest female incarceration rate. State taxpayers pay dearly for this. If Oklahoma could simply lower its incarceration rate to the national average, it would save $100 million annually on corrections. Some argue that continually increasing incarceration is necessary to reduce crime, but the data shows otherwise.
Oklahoma state Rep. Lee Denney seeks interim study on routine DNA testing after arrests
State Rep. Lee Denney hopes to use an interim study to educate lawmakers on the role expanded DNA testing can play in taking criminals off the street and in helping prevent innocent people from being placed behind bars. For the last several years, Denney has backed measures aimed at forcing people arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples for a law enforcement database. Current law requires people to submit such samples, but only after they have been convicted. So far, the Cushing Republican has been unsuccessful in her proposals to collect these samples after arrest but before conviction.
Proposed Strip Club Prompts Legislator To Request Special Legislative Session
A Democratic state representative from Chouteau wants Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders to call a special legislative session to deal with a strip club that he says is rumored to be coming to Mayes County. Rep. Ben Sherrer said Monday in a news release that he plans to submit a formal request to Fallin and the leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature. Sherrer says his request was prompted by rumors in his northeast Oklahoma district that plans are underway to open an all-nude strip club near one of Oklahoma’s largest Amish communities near the towns of Inola and Choteau. Sherrer says he wants the special session to pass a law prohibiting any sexually-oriented adult businesses from opening near a church or residential property.
Insure Oklahoma is only a first step toward insuring Oklahoma
We sincerely congratulate Gov. Mary Fallin for successfully convincing the Obama administration to extend the life of Insure Oklahoma through the end of 2015. The popular program — which combines federal Medicaid funding, state tobacco tax revenue and contributions from employers and individuals to purchase private health insurance— is essential to making sure thousands of working poor Oklahomans don’t go without coverage. Fighting for the program shows Fallin has compassion for those in need and clout with federal officials, despite deep policy disagreements. But as any hospital administrator in the state will tell you, Insure Oklahoma is only the first step.
Oklahoma officials agree to railroad demands to keep oil train shipments secret
Oklahoma residents curious about the number of trains shipping oil through their communities will have to stay in the dark after state officials decided to keep the information secret. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said a state commission acting as the clearinghouse for emergency response information entered into confidentiality agreements with several railroad companies in June. The federal government in May ordered railroads to disclose information to state authorities about crude oil shipments from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. The emergency order came after several accidents and explosions involving rail shipments of Bakken oil, including one in Canada last year that killed 47 people.
Drought continues to retreat in Oklahoma, but dry conditions persist
A month and a half ago, Matt Muller spent a lot of time looking at his bone-dry fields and feeling glum. But as he stood at the end of a row of green, healthy-looking cotton plants Tuesday afternoon, Muller looked like the happiest man in Jackson County. “We think it looks like the Garden of Eden,” Muller said. Muller grows cotton, grain sorghum and mung beans on his farm near Martha, about 8 miles north of Altus, in an area that has been in persistent drought since 2010. Muller hasn’t had water to irrigate his fields for years, and in early May, the ground was so dry that he wondered whether planting sorghum and beans was even worth the trouble.
Reclusive, perennial candidate faces longtime state Senator in US Senate primary
Standing on a busy street corner in Midwest City, Jim Rogers, waves to passing cars as he fights to hold on to two large handmade campaign signs in the Oklahoma wind. The signs Rogers holds are white poster board scrawled with various political messages written in black permanent marker. Emblazoned in white letters on his bright red sweater, its shoulders beaten by the sun, are the words “Oklahoma Jim Rogers U.S. Senate 2004.” “I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and on the street by 5 o’clock, and I campaign at restaurant centers and on the corner and wherever I can find a crowd gathering or leaving,” Rogers said. “I stay with it all day.” Rogers, 79, faces state Sen. Constance Johnson in a runoff election Aug. 26 for the Democratic nomination in a U.S. Senate race that is garnering national attention.
El Taco Loco closes; kid-owned eatery seeks new location
El Taco Loco, 728 W. 23rd St., the west-side eatery operated by a young brother-sister team, has closed. The closing comes on the heels of a Tulsa World Scene article on Sunday recounting how 11-year-old Ashley Vargas and her brother, 16-year-old Henry Vargas, had solved many problems they had with the restaurant over the past six months. Henry is the owner of record, and Ashley is the manager. They have received help from their mother and a family friend who has restaurant experience. Recently, the air-conditioning went out, and other issues have cropped up. Henry Vargas said he expects an outdated exhaust system will have to be replaced, as well.
Street Level: Peoria – Everybody needs a community
The sun is low and it shines on workers sprung from their jobs and enjoying happy hour on patios and rooftop bars. “Take a breath. Keep going. One minute and you’re done. You got it Vicki,” trainer Emily Smith says from nearby 918 Crossfit. Kristi Perryman leaps into the air and grabs a pull-up bar. She works in the oil and gas industry. Her job can be stressful, so at the end of a long day, instead of heading to a bar to drink or home to sit on the couch she works out. Her muscles bulge, and she begins to sweat.
“It is not just about being fiscally responsible, but also about redeeming lives through faith-based programs, keeping families together and turning more ex-offenders into productive, taxpaying citizens. Moreover, for nonviolent offenders, watching television and receiving ‘three hots and a cot’ in prison does far less to advance personal responsibility than paying restitution to the victim, performing community service, holding a job and paying child support.”
-Former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, writing in support of a “Right On Crime” initiative to create more alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders in Oklahoma (Source: http://bit.ly/1qeWWf0)
Number of the Day
Number of Oklahoma K-12 students that qualified for special education programs during the 2011-12 school year.
So Close and Yet So Far: How the Three- and Ten-Year Bars Keep Families Apart
Most Americans take it for granted that marriage to a U.S. citizen and other family relationships entitle an immigrant to a green card, but there are barriers that often prevent or delay these family members from becoming lawful permanent residents, even if they are already in the United States. Among these barriers are the “three- and ten-year bars,” provisions of the law which prohibit applicants from returning to the United States if they were previously in the U.S. illegally. Thousands of people who qualify for green cards based on their relationships to U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relatives leave the U.S. to obtain their green card are caught in a Catch-22—under current law they must leave the country to apply for their green card abroad, but as soon as they leave, they are immediately barred from re-entering the U.S. for three or ten years.