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 the House approved a bill (SB 1023) to prohibit municipalities in Oklahoma from establishing a minimum wage or number of vacation or sick days. Although Monday was the official deadline to enroll in health-insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, many Oklahomans are still trying to sign up. For people who tried to enroll on the website by March 31, the deadline to complete enrollment is April 15. The OK Policy Blog discussed how Community Health Centers are scrambling to stay afloat with the state’s uncompensated care fund running dry halfway through the year.
State lawmakers committed nearly $350,000 for building improvements at a Claremore gun museum. Gov. Fallin met behind closed doors with Republican House members to generate support for funding completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. Gov. Fallin signed more than two dozen bills into law Monday and issued her first veto of the session. She vetoed a bill that removed the notification requirement when law enforcement officers fail to complete their annual 25 hours of continuing education. KTAL summarized the continuing political wrangling over efforts to install tornado shelters in schools.
A Senate committee has passed a proposal to reduce the number of signatures needed to form a new political party in Oklahoma. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Oklahoma provides some of the fewest tools of any state for voters to look up registration and voting information online. Oklahoma ranked 49th for voter turnout and 46th for voter registration in the 2012 election cycle. You can see the full study here.
The Department of Corrections will begin repopulating a private halfway house that was closed after an investigation found organized inmate fights and rampant drug use at the facility. Avalon, the private prison company that runs the facility, agreed to add and upgrade security cameras, increase drug testing, and pay an on-site monitor selected by DOC.
The city of Bethany is concerned that pollution from a shut down Gulfstream Aerospace plant is contaminating its water supply. Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm is being questioned after audits found $5 million in FEMA funds were unaccounted for. There have been more earthquakes strong enough to be felt in Oklahoma this year than in all of 2013, overwhelming state officials who are trying to determine if the temblors are linked to oil and natural gas production.
The Number of the Day is how many earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher have been felt in Oklahoma so far this year. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how many low-income Americans with chronic diseases have trouble paying for both their medicine and healthy food.
In The News
State House Votes To Deny Cities Wage Setting Power
The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 68-22 in favor of a bill (SB 1023) to prohibit municipalities in the state from establishing a mandatory minimum wage or number of vacation or sick days. Republican Rep. Randy Grau of Edmond said the legislation prevents higher minimum wages in different parts of the state, which he said could harm consumers and businesses and could drive up inflation. Those opposed to the bill said state government shouldn’t legislate decisions that should be left up to individual communities across the state.
Health insurance enrollment is still available to some
Although Monday was the official deadline to enroll in health-insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, many Tulsans who were unable to complete the process by then continue to seek help from local organizations. Meanwhile, representatives from about a dozen area health, government and social service agencies met recently to make plans for the next open-enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15, 2015.
“I don’t know where we go from here”: Community health centers caught in limbo
Community Health Connection, a Tulsa-based community health center, uses a sliding scale to determine patient payments. The minimum is $25 per appointment. Jim McCarthy, Community Health Connection’s CEO, estimates that more than two in every three patients seen by his clinic qualify for the $25 minimum. However, even that small amount can be a hardship; some aren’t able to pay $25 in full. Community Health Connection allows such patients to pay in installments when they can. “If somebody’s here,” McCarthy says, “we need to treat them.”
State lawmakers have committed nearly $350,000 in building improvements for a Claremore museum. As recommended by the Long Range Planning Commission, the Oklahoma Legislature OK’d funding for the Capital Improvements Plan for the fiscal year 2015 budget, which includes $346,200 in upgrades for the J.M. Arms and Historical Museum.
Governor prods House Republicans to finish American Indian museum in Oklahoma City
Gov. Mary Fallin met behind closed doors with Republican House members on Monday to generate support for a funding plan for the mothballed American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. The Senate has passed Senate Bill 1651, which would tap the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund for $40 million that would be matched with $40 million in private donations. The measure is pending before the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, which meets Wednesday. It must clear that committee before it can be heard on the House floor.”
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signs 25 bills, issues first veto of the 2014 legislative session
Gov. Mary Fallin has signed more than two dozen bills into law and issued her first veto of the session. Among the bills signed she Monday were new laws regulating sex offenders in Oklahoma and a weapons measure that allows non-operational firearms, knives or bayonets on school campuses for ceremonial or educational purposes. The bill Fallin vetoed dealt with employer notification of law enforcement officers who fail to complete their annual 25 hours of continuing education. The bill removed the notification requirement that Fallin said could result in police departments unknowingly employing an officer unlawfully.
Oklahoma politics snarl push for tornado shelters at schools
It’s tornado season again in Oklahoma. The ominous clouds and warm air one day last week reminded Danni Legg of the afternoon last May when a twister laid waste to the city of Moore and killed her 9-year-old son. “Your heart drops,” she said. Legg and the families of six other children killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore helped gather more than 100,000 signatures last year for a ballot initiative to equip the state’s 1,800 public school buildings with storm shelters. But a rewrite of the ballot language by the state attorney general led to a fight in court, and now the dispute has landed in the middle of the race between Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican running for re-election, and her Democratic challenger, state Rep. Joe Dorman.
The Senate Rules Committee has passed a proposal to reduce the required number of signatures needed to form a new political party in the state. New parties received official recognition — meaning they have a spot on the state ballot and state funding for their primaries — through a petition process. Currently, parties seeking recognition have to obtain the signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the most recent general election. That currently works out to 66,744 petition signatures. House Bill 2134 would cut that requirement in half.
Oklahoma ranks poorly in election performance study
Oklahoma’s 2012 election cycle ranked near the bottom of the nation for voter turnout and voter registration, according to a study put out Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The study found Oklahoma ranked 49th for voter turnout and 46th for voter registration and lacked in online voter information tools. “In 2012, Oklahoma provided just one of five possible online voter information lookup tools on its state elections website, making it one of only five states to provide one or none of these tools,” the study states. “Online lookup tools help voters access the information they need where they are most likely to look for it: online.”
The Department of Corrections will begin repopulating Avalon Tulsa Halfway House Monday afternoon, officials told the Tulsa World. Director Robert Patton said his agency will begin filling the men’s halfway house with offenders Monday afternoon, after deciding that Avalon Correctional Services had made significant changes to the facility and its operations. Between 25 and 150 offenders will be moved to the halfway house, which now has a full-time on-site monitor selected by DOC but paid for by the private for-profit halfway house operator.
Old aircraft factory raises pollution concerns in Bethany
The old Gulfstream Aerospace plant at Wiley Post Airport has been closed for more than a decade, but remnants of the aircraft manufacturing operation still linger in the water around the old factory. Low-level plumes of pollution from solvents trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene have been found in the groundwater just to the west of the old aircraft plant. The chemicals are commonly used to degrease metal parts in manufacturing. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality says that the levels of pollutants from the Gulfstream plant found in Bethany’s groundwater all fall bellow federal clean water standards.
Rogers County Residents Want Answers After Audits Reveal Missing Money
The Rogers County Commissioners had their first meeting on Monday since the state auditor released an audit that revealed the possible mishandling of millions of tax dollars. Now, many people in the county are demanding answers. The commissioner at the center of the allegations in the audit is Mike Helm. Many people are wondering if he will resign, if in fact, the allegations are true. It was standing room only as Rogers County residents packed the County Commissioners meeting. Many wanted answers after two state audits showed problems with the way county officials were handling money.
Oklahoma officials swamped by surge in earthquakes near fracking
There have been more earthquakes strong enough to be felt in Oklahoma this year than in all of 2013, overwhelming state officials who are trying to determine if the temblors are linked to oil and natural gas production. The state Sunday night experienced its 109th earthquake of a magnitude 3 or higher, matching the total for all of 2014, according to Austin Holland, a research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey. More quakes followed, including a magnitude 4 near Langston about 40 miles north of Oklahoma City.
The 38-year-old man entered the hospital with a big toe oozing pus and a blood sugar that was three times the normal level. After treating a bone infection and amputating his toe, his doctors and nurses taught him how to manage his diabetes, including what foods to eat. The man told them that the infection was a wake-up call and vowed to follow a diabetic diet and take his medicine. Two years later, he appeared in my clinic, clutching a bottle of red Gatorade. He had been sleeping on his brother’s couch and was only taking two of the five medications he had been prescribed. He told me not to bother renewing the other three, since he couldn’t afford the $20 co-pay for them at the charity pharmacy.