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 Zebre.
With the legislative session adjourning this week or next, lawmakers are still looking at passing a $120 million bond issue to repair the Capitol, an overhaul of the pension system for state workers, and adjustments to a tax break for oil and gas drilling. State labor officials are conducting investigations into prison safety across Oklahoma. Corrections officers say they are working in hazardous conditions that are getting worse. On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed why Governor Fallin should sign a bill to give decisions over whether to retain third-graders back to parents and educators. A parents advocacy group reported that to see if they would override her veto of the bill.
The Number of the Day is the forecasted decrease in Oklahoma wheat production from last year, from 105.4 million bushels to 62.7 million bushels. In today’s Policy Note, Vox makes the case for ending secrecy about pay in corporations.
In The News
FY15 Oklahoma budget deal a mixture of cuts and increases
Governor Mary Fallin yesterday released details of the appropriations agreement between her office and the Oklahoma legislative branches for Fiscal Year 2015. The information from the Governor’s office said the agreement would set a FY 15 appropriated budget of $7,121,723,873, which is $102.1 million, or 1.4 percent, less than the FY 2014 appropriated budget, which is $7,223,824,517 with supplemental funding included. The budget agreement uses targeted spending cuts, increases to others, flat appropriations to several, and a reconciliation of several state agency accounts to close a $188 million shortfall in funds certified for appropriations.
Reactions To Negotiated Oklahoma State Budget for FY15
Reactions so far to the announced budget deal between the Governor’s office the the Oklahoma House and Senate leaders are focusing on different aspects of the plan that require cuts for 52 state agencies, increases to others and flat spending to seven more. State Republican leaders are generally positive about the negotiated agreement while reactions from the Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma Sierra Club describe their concerns.
Oklahoma’s Republican leaders reached an agreement on how to divvy up the $7 billion state budget, but plenty of work remains as the Legislature races toward a planned early adjournment on Friday. The House and Senate still must pass the budget bill through both chambers, and there are several other big-ticket items they plan to cram into the final hectic week of session. Those include a new plan for a $120 million bond issue to repair the Capitol, an overhaul of the pension system for state workers, and adjusting a tax incentive for oil and gas drilling.
OK Department Of Labor Investigates Prison Conditions
State labor officials tell News 9 they are conducting investigations into prison safety across Oklahoma. The confirmation came days after the Department of Labor opened an investigation into conditions at the State Capitol Building. Department of Corrections (DOC) employees sounded the alarm, Friday, by calling for improved working conditions. Prison guards said they work in hazardous conditions, according to Oklahoma Corrections Professionals (OCP) director Sean Wallace. OCP is an association that represents the interests of DOC employees. “It’s a scary situation,” said Wallace. “It’s only getting worse.”
Governor should sign bill easing third-grade retention mandate
On May 9th, the State Department of Education announced that 7,970 third graders, or 16.4 percent of Oklahoma’s third grade population, scored unsatisfactory on the state’s standardized 3rd grade reading test, the OCCT. These children and their families will be anxiously waiting this week for word on what Governor Mary Fallin decides to do with HB 2625, the bill that would ease mandatory retention requirements for third-grade students who fail the OCCT. Under current law, the Reading Sufficiency Act provides that, beginning this year, students who score unsatisfactory on the OCCT must be retained in 3rd grade unless they qualify for a ‘good cause exemption.’
A bill banning employers from requiring current and prospective employees to disclose the user names and passwords on their personal online social media accounts was approved Friday by the state House of Representatives. House Bill 2372 passed the House 85-0 and will now go to the governor. The bill also would prohibit employers from requiring current or prospective employees to access their personal social media accounts so they could be viewed by the employer.
Health Officials Call Doctors ‘Selfish’ for Opposing Prescription Monitoring Bill
Oklahoma physicians are being “selfish and short-sighted” by opposing legislation that would require doctors to check an online database each time they write a prescription for narcotic painkillers and other controlled dangerous substances, health leaders say. A coalition of nine physician groups announced on Thursday that they had reached an impasse over legislation that would require them to check the state’s prescription drug monitoring program when writing prescriptions for some of the most abused drugs in Oklahoma. That announcement prompted a fierce response from Terry Cline, the state’s health commissioner, and Terri White, the state’s mental health and substance abuse commissioner, who denounced the physician groups for digging in their heels.
Doctors, Fallin’s Office Face Off Over Prescription Checks
Oklahoma’s doctors declared a deadlock Thursday in negotiations over a legislative proposal that would require them to check an online database before writing narcotic prescriptions. A coalition of nine physician groups said it had reached an impasse with state officials over how often doctors would be required to use the database, and how many drugs would be subject to the checks. The medical groups have been wrangling for weeks with Gov. Mary Fallin’s office and key lawmakers over a bill that would require doctors to check their patients’ drug-taking histories on the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program.
As Oklahoma added dozens of tribal casinos over the past decade, the number of licensed counselors for the state’s tens of thousands of gambling addicts has not kept pace, addiction groups say. Only 45 certified counselors are available at about a dozen treatment facilities that receive state money — which are often 50 to 100 miles from where many problem gamblers live in rural areas. Addiction recovery specialists say Oklahoma should have at least double the number of counselors.
Oklahoma’s unemployment rate inched down to 4.6 percent in April, down three-tenths of a percentage point from 4.9 in March, according to numbers released Friday by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. The April data paints a strong picture of the local economy for the most part, said Lynn Gray, chief economist for OESC. “There was large decline in the number of unemployed Oklahomans, continuing a trend now seen for several months,” Gray said.
Was Oklahoma School Destroyed by Tornado Built Right?
A year ago this week, Briarwood Elementary was torn apart — and Amanda McCalister’s three kids somehow survived. “That day was the most terrifying day of my life,” she said, choking back tears as she remembered the panic of that afternoon. “You have to prepare yourself because you don’t know what you’re going to see.” The EF5 tornado that swept through Moore on May 20, 2013 killed 25 people — including seven children — and injured nearly 400 others. An engineer at the University of Oklahoma, Chris Ramseyer, told the state legislature he spotted possible construction flaws at Briarwood, which had been built about 30 years ago.
In Boise City, Oklahoma, over the catfish special at the Rockin’ A Café, the old-timers in this tiny prairie town grouse about billowing dust clouds so thick they forced traffic off the highways and laid down a suffocating layer of topsoil over fields once green with young wheat. They talk not of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but of the duster that rolled through here on April 27, clocked at 62.3 miles per hour. It was the tenth time this year that Boise City, at the western end of the Oklahoma panhandle, has endured a dust storm with gusts more than 50 miles per hour, part of a breezier weather trend in a region already known for high winds.
City of Duncan Water Rationing Unchanged as Waurika Lake Withers
In October 2013, Waurika Lake, a source of water for Lawton, Duncan, and surrounding communities in southwest Oklahoma, was at 44 percent of its conservation pool. As of Tuesday, the water level was at 39.53 percent, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lake is the main source of water for Duncan, which is already rationing. A city ordinance says when levels drop below 40 percent, even stricter conservation measures are supposed to go into effect. But as The Duncan Banner‘s Steve Olafson reports, Stage 4 rationing — which would ban all outdoor watering, period — is being put on hold for now.
Victor Ford was 7 when he learned to be a gang member, but it took him nearly another two decades to learn how to read. “I grew up around it. I had trouble reading and stuff, so I just felt like I gave up because nobody wasn’t trying to help me,” said Ford, now 26. But Ford has enrolled in the M.A.N. 101 program. He’s since learned to read and is able to send text messages while he coordinates his days, which include frequent library trips. The program seeks to make responsible men out of people with troubled pasts or who need mentorship on how to become a citizen.
The City Council spelled out stipulations on Tuesday night for its $500,000 incentive to Macy’s Corporate Services for construction of a $160 million distribution center just west of the city. The Owasso Economic Development Authority approved the contract on Thursday. City staff have recommended a budget amendment to transfer money from the hotel tax fund to the authority to provide the inducement. That item is scheduled to be placed on the June 3 City Council agenda. Macy’s broke ground last month on the 1.3 million-square-foot facility on unincorporated land on 76th Street North east of U.S. 75.
“Do I blame Larry Nichols for doing what he’s doing? No, it’s his job to negotiate as good a deal as he can. But it’s also Mary Fallin’s job and the Legislature’s job to represent our interests and negotiate as good a deal as we can… I’m urging the governor and I’m urging the Legislature, don’t blame Larry for doing his job, but you do your job, and you be as tough as he is.”
-Former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys, speaking about negotiations between lawmakers and oil industry leaders about extending a tax break for horizontal drilling (Source: http://bit.ly/1qOZYuN)
Number of the Day
Forecasted decrease in Oklahoma wheat production from last year, from 105.4 million bushels to 62.7 million bushels.
No one knows exactly why Jill Abramson was fired as editor of the NYT. But one thing is clear: she was fired not long after she started asking questions about the amount that she had been paid, over the course of her career in NYT senior management, compared to the amount that her male predecessor was paid. Very few people like to talk about how much money they make — especially not people who earn a lot of money. Since companies tend to be run by people who earn a lot of money, the result is a culture of silence and secrecy when it comes to pay. Such a culture clearly served the NYT ill in this case. Indeed, secrecy surrounding pay is generally a bad idea for any organization.