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.
The OK Policy Blog explained a new program that offers schools in low-income communities a more efficient and effective way to make sure kids have enough to eat. Emails reveal that Mustang school officials who approved a Bible-based curriculum broke into small groups for meetings with Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, who designed the curriculum, to circumvent a law requiring government bodies to meet in public. Legislative leaders have asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to study wind farm siting. The Senate passed a bill this year to put a moratorium on all wind farm development in Eastern Oklahoma, but it did not get a hearing in the House. A national audit team found Oklahoma VA hospitals are following appointment scheduling guidelines and are not one of the 26 hospitals being investigated by federal authorities.
The Number of the Day is the population growth from 2010 – 2013 in Owasso , which saw the largest percentage increase among Oklahoma cities during that time period. In today’s Policy Note, the Pacific Standard discussed political science research showing that much of the conventional wisdom about state politics is completely unsubstantiated.
In The News
Legislature overrides Fallin veto on reading bill; Barresi calls decision a ‘pathetic’ step back
The Oklahoma Legislature moved swiftly and decisively Wednesday to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill modifying the state’s third-grade reading-sufficiency law. The override motions passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate. Seventy-six “yes” votes were needed in the House and 36 in the Senate. The results were a sharp rebuke for Fallin and the state Chamber of Commerce, which came out in strong support of the governor’s veto. Fallin said the Legislature’s decision to uphold House Bill 2625 “returns us to a system that has failed Oklahoma children for decades.” State Superintendent Janet Barresi called it “pathetic.” But HB 2625 author Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, said such claims are unfounded and that her legislation will ultimately strengthen children’s reading skills.
Lawmakers override Fallin to rewrite literacy rules
Teachers and school officials will have their say over whether to promote third-graders still struggling to read, thanks to lawmakers who forced a rewrite of state literacy standards despite the protest of Gov. Mary Fallin. The Legislature on Wednesday upheld a law that allows literacy testing for third-graders but significantly reduces the stakes for those who fail. “Nothing was resolved today other than we decided we were going to throw out our standards for reading in the state of Oklahoma and go back to the way we used to do it in the past,” said Fallin, vowing to revive the debate next year. “We’re setting (our children) up for failure if they can’t read and they can’t learn the subjects they’re going to be moving onto in the fourth grade.” At issue was the 2011 Reading Sufficiency Act championed by state Superintendent Janet Barresi. Critics said the program over-emphasized testing and placed too much control in the hands of state education officials.
This afternoon, both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature voted to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, which amends the Reading Sufficiency Act. The vote in the House was 79-17. In the Senate it was 45-2. Many parents and educators lobbied for today’s action, even after Fallin waited until nearly midnight to officially notify the House of the veto she had announced hours earlier at a press conference. In the end, only a few changed their votes. Before the veto, the combined tally had been 132-7 in favor of the bill. Today, it was 124-19. Maybe the governor, the state superintendent, and their friends at the Oklahoman and OCPA can take solace in the fact that they nearly tripled their vote count from before. Even U.S. Senate candidate T.W. Shannon bothered to show up to vote today. On the other hand, maybe those supporting the veto were feeling a little sour after the vote. In particular, Superintendent Barresi took the news badly.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed seven pieces of legislation and vetoed one. Fallin took the action on Wednesday. She has now signed into law 319 bills passed by the House and Senate during the 2014 Legislature and vetoed another 27. One bill signed into law makes attempts to influence jurors by communications, threats or promises a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Another prohibits employers from requiring access to the personal online social media account of employees as well as prohibits retaliatory action against workers who not provide access to social media accounts.
The state Senate on Wednesday sent Gov. Mary Fallin a bill that would switch new state employees to a defined-contribution retirement system from a defined-benefit program. House Bill 2630 passed by a vote of 35-11 and is expected to be signed by the governor. Current state employees, teachers and those designated as “hazardous duty” workers will remain under the existing plan. “This legislation benefits our current state employees by ensuring we will honor the promises made to them by protecting their pensions,” said Sen. Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso, chairman of the Senate Pension Committee. “It benefits all Oklahomans by ensuring we can eliminate more than $11 billion in unfunded liability in our pension systems. It also benefits future employees, by giving them a 401(k)-style pension that they can continue to grow and take with them as their career paths leads them to new opportunities.”
Oklahoma Senate approves pay raises for targeted health care, public safety state workers
More than 12,000 state employees at 25 state agencies would receive a pay raise in July under a bill that has been approved in the Oklahoma Senate. The Senate voted 43-1 on Wednesday for the bill, which now heads to the House for consideration. The bill comes with a $36.8 million price tag and was part of a broad budget agreement between Gov. Mary Fallin and House and Senate leaders. The pay increases would range from about 5 percent to 13 percent.
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders announced a long-awaited agreement on the fiscal year 2015 budget. While negotiators were clearly dealt a tough hand, the results were disappointing for anyone hoping for a budget that meets the state’s critical obligations in a responsible and sustainable way. In building next year’s budget, the state started with some $188 million less revenue than this year, largely due to bad decisions made in years past. “These revenue issues are the creation of government, not the economy,” Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said. “Off-the-top apportionments, corporate income tax declines, tax credits and other tax and budgeting choices that in some cases date back decades are the reason this situation exists.”
Oklahoma House votes to modify Quality Jobs Program Act for Tinker
A bill that would modify Oklahoma’s Quality Jobs Program Act to help Tinker Air Force Base add 1,300 jobs was approved Tuesday by the state House of Representatives. House Bill 1416, which now will go to the Senate, would assist Tinker in the $44 million purchase of the 175-acre BNSF Railway yard so the property can be used to construct an aircraft maintenance facility for the military’s new KC-46A refueling tanker, said state Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville. Average pay for the new jobs is expected to be about $62,000, Sears said.
Backers make last-minute push for prescription drug bill
Gov. Mary Fallin’s office and key lawmakers battled Wednesday to prevent the death of a bill intended to crack down of prescription drug abuse, but its prospects appeared shaky as the 2014 session neared its end. Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said late in the day he had secured the support of only six committee members to advance the measure, which would require doctors to check an online database before writing narcotic prescriptions. Cox, the bill’s House author, needed the support of nine of the House Public Safety Committee’s 17 members to keep the bill alive. He had until mid-day Thursday to win over three more lawmakers, and the prospects appeared dicey.
Oklahoma women are living shorter lives than men in most counties
Women in Oklahoma are living shorter lives in more than half of the counties in Oklahoma, life expectancy data shows. It’s a pretty jarring number, especially when compared to life expectancy trends among men in Oklahoma. From 1985 to 2010, the life expectancy among women in 48 of Oklahoma’s counties decreased, according to data collected by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. The decreases ranged from -0.1 years in Pawnee County and Kay County to -3.4 years in Beckham County and Harmon County. Meanwhile, during the same time frame, the life expectancy for men decreased in only one county – Creek County by -0.7 – and stayed the same in Pawnee County. What’s happening to Oklahoma’s women?
Oklahoma is a hungry state. A 2011 study ranked Oklahoma 15th nationwide for food insecurity; one in six Oklahomans lacks consistent access to adequate food. And food insecurity is higher for children than adults: one in four children was food-insecure in the same time period. The impacts of childhood hunger are significant and lasting, from lasting physical and mental health problems to difficulty focusing and interacting with peers. Meals in schools are one way of helping food-insecure students have access to nutritious food on a regular basis. Free and reduced lunch programs help schools identify students in need and provide them with affordable meals, and the USDA reimburses schools in turn. However, a new meals program may provide high-poverty schools a better mechanism for fighting hunger while reducing costs.
Emails Reveal Public Meetings Law Avoided By Mustang School Officials
Emails to school board members and school administrators in a district that approved a Bible-based curriculum show that they broke into small groups for meetings with the program’s chief backer to circumvent a law requiring government bodies to meet in public. The emails obtained by The Associated Press show that the April 14 meetings with Steve Green and other members of the Museum of the Bible curriculum team, the president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store chain, occurred just hours before the Mustang School Board approved the course as an elective.
Legislative leaders ask Oklahoma Corporation Commission to study wind farm siting
Legislative leaders have asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to study wind farm siting after issues were raised earlier in the session over developments planned in the eastern half of the state. Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, sent a letter to corporation commissioners Monday asking its public utility division to start a notice of inquiry into wind farm siting and the decommissioning of old wind farms. The letter comes after a bill to impose a moratorium until 2017 on wind farms east of Interstate 35 appears to be dormant for the session. Senate Bill 1440 passed the Senate but didn’t get a hearing in a House committee.
Last week, a national audit team found the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center and the outpatient clinic in Tulsa are compliant in the scheduling process and are following policy guidelines, according to a statement from the hospital. It is not one of the 26 hospitals being investigated by federal authorities. In response to questions from the Tulsa World, hospital director James Floyd noted the negative reports about other hospitals are still just allegations. “At VA, our most important mission is to make sure Veterans know VA is here to care for them and provide the high quality care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” he said in an emailed statement.
“I think with this particular bill, people just stuck with it because of the parents and their local educators.”
-State Rep. Katie Henke, author of HB 2625, which gives the decision of whether to retain or promote a third grader who failed the third-grade reading test back to parents and educators. The legislature overrode Gov. Fallin’s veto of the bill on Wednesday afternoon (source: bit.ly/1k77igx).
Number of the Day
Population growth in Owasso from 2010 – 2013, the largest increase among Oklahoma cities during that time period.
10 things you probably didn’t know about state politics
I just came back from the 14th annual State Politics and Policy Conference, held this year at Indiana University. What’s so great about this conference is that the presenters are usually some of the smartest and most sophisticated members of the political science discipline and their research truly informs how we can reform American governmental institutions to improve democracy. However, much of this research also shows that conventional wisdom about what works and what doesn’t is completely unsubstantiated.