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 an Oklahoma City attorney who has successfully sued the state in the past is threatening another lawsuit if Gov. Mary Fallin signs into law a bill setting a revised tax rate for oil and natural gas wells. Towering scaffolding around the state Capitol will be the first indication that the biggest repair, refurbishment and remodel in the 96-year history of the landmark building is under way. House Minority Leader Scott Inman expressed disappointment in the just-ended legislative session, due to bad legislation and infighting between the governor and House Republicans.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing a risk-assessment on the Tulsa area’s nearly 20-mile levee system along the Arkansas River. The system was identified as being among the top 5 percent of levees in the nation with potential for damaging floods. Five Girl Scouts from Tulsa met with President Obama to demonstrate a project at the White House Science Fair. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is planning a series of meetings throughout June to hear what residents in communities around the state believe are their most critical health needs. Variety Care, a nonprofit, family-based Oklahoma healthcare center, is working to increase the number of clinics that will offer free books and literacy-rich environments to children.
Ardmore school district is planning to apply for a new federal program that will allow it to serve school breakfast and lunches to all students at no charge. OK Policy previously discussed how the community eligibility program offers a more efficient and effective way to make sure kids in low-income communities have enough to eat. A group is kicking off a petition drive to get medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Oklahoma with a rally at the state Capitol.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case in which OG&E and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt unsuccessfully challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for reducing regional haze. OG&E will now be required to install scrubbers at its coal-fired plants to reduce pollution. Residents of Osage County are concerned that several large wind farm developments could endanger the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts is partnering with a private oil and gas pipeline company to help protect the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken.
The Number of the Day is the amount of precipitation in Oklahoma from January to March this year. It has been the 6th driest year in Oklahoma going back to 1895. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how being poor can make you sick.
In The News
Oklahoma City attorney threatening lawsuit over gross production tax bill
An Oklahoma City attorney who has successfully sued the state in the past is threatening another lawsuit if Gov. Mary Fallin signs into law a bill setting a revised tax rate for oil and natural gas wells. Jerry Fent delivered a letter to the governor’s office Tuesday saying the bill fails to meet requirements in the Oklahoma Constitution for revenue measures. Specifically, he said House Bill 2562 violated requirements that revenue bills be approved by three-fourths of the membership of the House and Senate and that such bills should not be passed in the last five days of a session.
Towering scaffolding around the state Capitol will be the first indication that the biggest repair, refurbishment and remodel in the 96-year history of the landmark building is under way. Many details of the project are yet to be worked out, but some facts are clear. Overall funding will be $120 million under a bond measure that was given final approval Friday by the Oklahoma Legislature. The governor is expected to sign the measure.
Legislative session a disappointment, House minority leader says
House Minority Leader Scott Inman on Tuesday said the most recent legislative session was a disappointment. Lawmakers adjourned a week early last Friday after passing a $7.1 billion state budget. “On the whole, we think it was a pretty disappointing session, marked by not only bad legislation, but also marked by some real ugly infighting between the governor and House Republicans,” Inman said. Toward the end of session, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed 15 House bills, telling lawmakers to quit wasting time and focus on big issues. The Legislature overrode one of those vetoes and revived a number of bills in different legislation.
Governor Fallin’s Open Records Policy Creates Transparency Concern
Mounting criticism is being aimed at Governor Mary Fallin for a perceived lack of transparency. A backlog of open records requests at her office is keeping Oklahomans in the dark.News 9 has experienced its own issues in its attempts to obtain public records in recent months. A February 2014 News 9 request to the governor’s office seeking a list of open records requests and responses had not been answered as of late May 2014. Fallin staffers told News 9 it could take more than half a year to receive the records. On top of the delays, Fallin is facing additional criticism over being the only Oklahoma governor to claim executive privilege on an open records request.
Last month Clayton Lockett was executed by the state of Oklahoma. It did not go as planned. Rather than succumbing quickly to an intravenously administered lethal drug cocktail, Lockett expired from a heart attack after 43 minutes. Governor Fallin suspended further executions pending the results of an investigation into execution procedures. More than just an investigation into execution procedures is needed, however. Questions of morality and justice surrounding the death penalty will continue to be debated, but it’s worth looking at the fiscal costs and benefits to taxpayers. Our legal system tries to be absolutely certain before sentencing someone to death (although the system is still not fool-proof). As a result, death penalty cases require significantly more time and money than other cases.
For Young Black Men, a Persistent Tragedy: Death by Firearm
Few acts of violence seize the public’s attention like mass shootings. But day in and day out, the more devastating trend is the often overlooked toll of fatal shootings of young black men. Young black males in Oklahoma are being killed in crimes by firearms at rates far higher than those of other racial and ethnic groups, a phenomenon that experts attribute to a combination of poverty, societal ills and a pervasive sense of hopelessness among impoverished youths. In 2011, the most recent year for which statewide data is available, Oklahoma logged 68 firearm homicides involving African-American victims, close to nine in 10 of them males. The total count for white victims was the same.
Suit alleges Avalon halfway house inmates groped, assaulted at work-release job
A sandwich shop operator sexually abused and harassed female inmates who worked there while serving time at a Turley halfway house, according to new details in a lawsuit filed by the women. Although the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office originally declined to file criminal charges, it is reconsidering that decision “based upon new information” after the Tulsa World asked why charges were never filed in the case.Tulsa County Chief Prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler told the World he reviewed the new allegations revealed in the civil suit and contacted the Tulsa Police Department investigator about the additional information.
The Tulsa area’s nearly 20-mile levee system is among the top 5 percent of levees in the nation that have drawn the concern of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because of the potential high risks associated with them, officials said last week. To help address those concerns, the Corps has chosen the Tulsa levee system — along with eight others from around the nation — to be part of a risk-assessment pilot program to identify problems in the levees and prioritize rehabilitation projects.
Tulsa Girl Scouts show invention to Obama at White House Science Fair
Five young Girl Scouts from Tulsa met President Barack Obama on Tuesday at the White House Science Fair. Avery Dodson, Natalie Hurley, Miriam Schaffer, Claire Winton and Lucy Claire Sharp, all 8-year-old members of Girl Scouts Troop 2612, showed off their Lego bridge creation at an event focused on girls and STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education. Ingrid Williams, director of communications for Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma, said the local Girl Scouts were among the youngest at the event.
Statewide Meetings To Focus On Oklahoma Residents’ Health Needs
The Oklahoma State Department of Health wants to know what residents in communities around the state believe are their most critical health needs. The OSDH plans a series of meetings throughout the state through the month of June. Public feedback will be used to update the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan, which first launched in 2009. The plan was mandated by state lawmakers in 2008 and directs health officials to prepare a report outlining how to improve the wellbeing of all Oklahomans. The current version of the plan focuses on three initiatives: improving children’s health, preventing tobacco use and reducing obesity.
Variety Care, a nonprofit, family-based Oklahoma healthcare center, is working with Reach Out and Read to triple the number of clinics that will offer free books and literacy-rich environments to children. To head up this initiative, Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit organization of medical providers that promotes early literacy, has donated more than 2,100 books to Variety Care’s pediatric patients up to age 5 at locations in Oklahoma City, Norman, Tipton, Grandfield, Fort Cobb and Thomas.
The days of students being served a cheese sandwich and milk because they forgot their sack lunch or money could be over at Ardmore City Schools’ cafeterias. The district will apply this month for the Community Eligibility Provision tool through the Oklahoma State Department of Education and, if approved, cafeteria staff will dish out nutritious meals to all students at no charge. “What this means for us is that we can serve 100 percent of our students breakfast and lunch for free,” says Jennifer Roach, director of child nutrition. Districts have until the end of June to apply for the program.
Petition drive working to make medical marijuana legal in Oklahoma
A Tulsa-based organization announced they will be kicking off their petition drive for getting a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Oklahoma. Oklahomans for Health will kick off their official petition effort with a rally at the State Capitol in Oklahoma on Wednesday, May 28. “This will be our official kickoff and will begin this historic campaign in Oklahoma,” said Chip Paul, a representative from Oklahomans for Health. “We need everyone’s help with this effort to make this successful. We need to gather 160,000 signatures and have to raise a significant amount of money.”
U.S. Supreme Court rejects Oklahoma appeal on EPA rule
Without comment, justices declined to review a case in which OG&E and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt unsuccessfully challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for reducing regional haze. North Dakota’s appeal of a regional haze ruling was also rejected Tuesday by the high court. OG&E warned last year that the EPA’s plan could require an investment of more than $1 billion to reduce emissions at coal units in Red Rock and Muskogee. OG&E spokesman Paul Renfrow said Tuesday that the utility would announce soon how it will comply with the EPA mandates.
Osage County wind projects split neighbors and families
Longtime ties to the prairie are splitting neighbors and families alike in Osage County, home to the southern gateway of one of the last unspoiled ecosystems in North America. But it’s what’s planned for above the land that’s causing all the friction. At least two wind farms are expected to tower over the rolling hills, limestone outcrops and tallgrass prairie in Osage County. Another project is in the early stages of development. For the wind companies, the allure of northwestern Osage County is a simple one. It’s windy, and it has ready access to a network of electricity transmission infrastructure built to serve one of the largest oil discoveries in the country, the once-prolific Burbank Field.
Oklahoma Pipeline Company Seeks To Protect Prairie Chicken
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts is partnering with a private oil and gas pipeline company to help protect the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken. The association announced on Tuesday its plans to work with OklahomaCity-based Access Midstream Partners. The plan calls for Access Midstream to donate funds that will be used to provide incentives to landowners to preserve the bird’s habitat in western Oklahoma. The colorful grouse was listed as an endangered species in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“When we talk about societal ills, when we talk about gangs, violence and homicide, when are we really going to look at the problem? Much of that starts in elementary and middle schools with lack of achievement, lack of really good schools and resources. …Society has just gotten used to, ‘Oh, that’s just how black males are,’ or, ‘They’re dying at an alarming rate, but that’s just how it is’ — instead of saying, ‘Let’s fix the school systems, let’s fix the neighborhoods.’”
- Sharri Coleman, adjunct professor of African-American Studies at OU, speaking about Oklahoma’s disproportionately high rates of gun violence against African-American men (source: bit.ly/1os2FR0).
Number of the Day
Precipitation in Oklahoma from Jan-Mar this year, compared to a 6.32 inches 30-year average. It has been the 6th driest year since 1895.