In The Know: Pair of DEQ staffers conspired with legislator to torpedo agency funding

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by and June 23rd, 2014 Posted in ,

In The KnowIn 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.

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Today you should know that a Journal Record investigation uncovered that a state representative who oversaw the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s budget conspired with two DEQ staff members to gut its funding as retribution against the agency’s new director. Researchers from OU and OSU who have criticized the state’s A-F school grading system say State Superintendent Janet Barresi made false claims about their work in recent campaign appearances. 

David Blatt wrote in the Tulsa World that proposed Medicaid copay hikes could seriously harm Oklahoma’s poorest and sickest citizens, without saving the state money over the long run. An OK Policy fact sheet explains why Oklahoma should not hike Medicaid copays and what you can do to take action. The Tulsa World praised Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s finding that lawmakers’ attempt to take money out of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship trust fund is unconstitutional. OK Policy first broke the new about this illegal budget maneuver.

An Oklahoma County election official said early-voting turnout has been similar to past primary turnouts. Tulsa World columnist Mike Jones argued that Oklahoma’s low voter turnout is empowering extremists. A new website at badvoter.org allows Oklahomans to look up their voting records as well as the records of friends, family, employers, elected officials and even famous Oklahomans. Key individuals involved in a so-called “dark-money” group supporting T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate this year have had close ties with the campaign or its main consulting firm, and the Oklahoma County District Attorney is investigating whether there has been illegal collusion.

On the OK Policy Blog, we shared video of a panel discussion featuring OK Policy’s Kate Richey on expanding economic opportunity in Oklahoma. An OK Policy report lays out recommendations for closing the opportunity gap for people of color in Oklahoma. Oil and gas companies have applied for more than 6,000 drilling permits in Oklahoma for the second consecutive year. Governor Fallin toured the Fort Sill Army barracks that is housing about 600 immigrant children and said they appeared to be healthy and in good spirits.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board praised a new law that establishes best practices for police officers to assess domestic violence situationsOklahoma’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent in May, as the nation as a whole posted a fourth straight month of solid hiring. After three years of choosing between the rival Tulsa Christmas Parade and the Downtown Parade of Light, Tulsans will once again have just one holiday parade — called the American Waste Control Tulsa Christmas Parade. OK Policy analyst Carly Putnam wrote in the Oklahoma Gazette why a novel that one legislator used as an example of the evils of Common Core should be read by all Oklahomans.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans with disabilities. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses what the budgetary disaster emerging from Kansas’ radical tax-cutting experiment should mean for other states.

In The News

Pair of DEQ staffers conspired with a state legislator to torpedo agency funding

A state representative who oversaw the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s budget appropriation conspired with two DEQ staff members to gut the agency’s funding this year. One staff member had been demoted and the other transferred, documents obtained by The Journal Record show. Emails and text messages show that state Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, removed more than $21 million from DEQ’s budget with the help of DEQ attorney Mista Burgess and Wendy Caperton, who had been demoted from her post as the agency’s director of policy and planning. Burgess and Caperton allegedly sought to dramatically reduce the agency’s state funding as retribution against new DEQ Executive Director Scott Thompson, whom both women saw as a threat.

Read more from the Journal Record.

Researchers decry Janet Barresi’s statements on A-F study

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University who have analyzed and tested the reliability and validity of the state’s A-F school grading system say State Superintendent Janet Barresi has made false claims in discussing their work in recent campaign appearances. In two studies of the two grading methods used by the Oklahoma State Department of Education since 2012 to grade public schools, the team of research scientists found that they mask schools’ student achievement disparities and mislead the public. But at multiple campaign appearances in recent days, Barresi slammed the research methods and claimed that OU and OSU had “disavowed” the research and that one top OU official had even apologized for it.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Proposed Medicaid changes could endanger lives, health

This year’s state budget has not been kind to the health-care safety net. Faced with a large shortfall in state funding, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid program, is struggling with a $225 million shortfall. The agency is looking at slashing rates paid to Medicaid doctors and hospitals and other options to cut costs. None of the options are good, but one proposal is especially troubling. OHCA has proposed hiking copayments for Medicaid patients to the federal maximum. This could seriously harm Oklahoma’s poorest and sickest citizens, without saving the state money over the long run.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: Act quickly to stop harmful Medicaid changes from the OK Policy Blog

Pruitt protects scholarship money from unconstitutional money grab

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt made the right call Thursday when he blocked an unconstitutional money-grab by the Legislature that put funding for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program in peril. In an official opinion, Pruitt said a law passed in the Legislature’s final days unconstitutionally sought to take almost $7.9 million from the scholarship program’s trust fund and use it to balance the state budget. The money was part of $57 million previously apportioned by the state Board of Equalization to fund next year’s scholarship needs. The program, which helps pay college costs of qualifying Oklahoma students whose families earn up to $50,000 a year, gets its funding off the top of state revenue — before the Legislature starts spending on other things.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise from the OK Policy blog.

Oklahoma’s early-voting turnout lines up with past primary elections

The early voting period to decide the candidates for Oklahoma’s governor, U.S. senator, state superintendent and other primary races saw more than 1,400 people in Oklahoma County fill out a ballot, according to the county election board. Doug Sanderson, with the Oklahoma County Election Board, said the numbers are similar to past primary turnouts and he expects the election day numbers should be similar, as well. In 2012, about 25 percent of the county voted while about 23 percent voted in 2010.

Read more from NewsOK.

Mike Jones: Reasonable people need to take back elections

Voters have another chance Tuesday. It’s a primary election and, as always, hope springs that there will be a good turnout. I’m not asking for a great turnout (although that would be welcome surprise) but a good turnout. I might even settle for a fair turnout. Sadly, I won’t be surprised if it’s the usual poor turnout. Primary election turnouts remain an irritant and mystery for me. It’s difficult to understand why citizens, a lot of them, simply don’t seem to care who runs their governments. They don’t seem concerned about who is making the decisions that will affect them and their pocketbooks for anywhere from two to six years.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Website hopes to shame people into voting

Toby Keith, the country music star who regularly sings about America’s greatness, has been less than patriotic when comes to voting. The BadVoter site is now live. Photo by Lauren Hamilton The Norman resident last voted 596 days ago, according to data from the Oklahoma Election Board that is organized on a new website called BadVoter.org. The website allows any Oklahoma resident to look up their own name to see how many days it has been since they last cast a ballot. The catch? You can also look up the name of your friends, family, employers, elected officials and even famous Oklahomans.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Election Records: ‘Dark-Money,’ Campaign Groups Have Close Connections

Key individuals involved in a so-called “dark-money” group supporting T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate this year have had close ties with the campaign or its main consulting firm, according to state, federal and other public documents. Those same individuals helped lead a separate independent political group in 2012 that had close connections to the consulting firm representing some state candidates also supported by the political group. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said this week his office is looking into possible criminal conduct stemming from allegations that the campaign of former state House Speaker Shannon, who is running against initial frontrunner U.S. Rep. James Lankford in the GOP primary for Senate, improperly colluded with an outside group that has spent more than $1 million on advertising to benefit Shannon.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Watch This: Expanding Opportunity in Oklahoma

OK Policy staffer Kate Richey recently participated in a panel discussion in Oklahoma City titled “Expanding Opportunity in Oklahoma: Earned Success and the Paths to Prosperity.” Kate coordinates Oklahoma Assets Network (OAN), which represents individuals and organizations working to promote proven tools for all Oklahomans to build stronger financial foundations. Watch the clip below for a discussion on opportunity in Oklahoma which also included Ryan Kiesel (Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma), Jonathan Small (Vice President for Policy, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs), and Dr. Jason Sorens (Lecturer, Department of Government, Dartmouth College).

Watch the video on the OK Policy Blog.

See also: Closing the Opportunity Gap: Building Equity in Oklahoma from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Horizontal drilling fuels Oklahoma’s latest oil boom

More than 4,600 oil and natural gas wells were completed in Oklahoma last year, according to reports filed with state regulators. Companies had applied for more than 6,000 drilling permits for the second consecutive year, according to records from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. That is up from about 4,100 in 2009, as many parts of the country are contributing to a domestic oil and natural gas boom. “Horizontal drilling has opened vast new resources across the country and has renewed activity in Oklahoma’s historic oil fields,” said Mike Terry, president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.

Read more from NewsOK.

Governor Tours Child Immigration Housing At Fort Sill

Governor Mary Fallin says 600 immigrant children being cared for in Army barracks at Fort Sill appeared to be healthy and in good spirits. Fallin and U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe visited the barracks Friday to view conditions for the children, who are between the ages of 12 and 17. They toured the shelter at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the children’s care. Fallin said the boys and girls are being housed separately, and were visiting with case workers or playing games like “Twister” during her visit.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Domestic violence law could save lives in Oklahoma

Amid the political grandstanding that tends to take center stage during any legislative session, lawmakers do occasionally get it right. This was the case in the 2014 session, when a bill designed to reduce domestic violence got the nod from the Legislature. House Bill 2526 by Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. David Holt, R-Bethany, takes effect Nov. 1. It will require police officers to ask suspected victims of domestic violence a series of questions. The “lethality assessment protocol” will help officers determine the level of danger that victims might be facing and require officers to contact a victim advocacy organization.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma jobless rate stays steady at 4.6 percent in May

Oklahoma’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent in May, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Labor Department. The national jobless rate also stayed at 6.3 percent in May, unchanged from April. Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate among the states in May at 8.2 percent. North Dakota had the lowest jobless rate at 2.6 percent. Unemployment fell in 20 states last month and nearly three-quarters of the states added jobs, as the nation at large posted a fourth straight month of solid hiring.

Read more from NewsOK.

New ‘unified’ Tulsa Christmas parade to replace two predecessors

After three years of choosing between rival parades, Tulsans celebrating the holidays will once again have just one. Two previous local parades — the Downtown Parade of Lights and Tulsa Christmas Parade — will give way this year to what organizers are calling a newly “unified parade.” The American Waste Control Tulsa Christmas Parade has been scheduled for Dec. 13 in downtown Tulsa. More details will be revealed at a press conference set for 10:30 a.m. Monday at Tulsa Press Club. Josh McFarland, founder of the previous Tulsa Christmas Parade and chairman of the new one, said he believes supporters of the previous parades will rally behind this one.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Suggested reading — for everyone

In the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 Oklahoma legislative session, in the midst of the debate over Oklahoma’s education standards, Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, used a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye as an example of the “evils” of Common Core. Common Core doesn’t require schools to teach this book, as he acknowledged. It’s a suggested text, alongside more commonly known classics like Pride and Prejudice. But this didn’t stop Brecheen from giving a dramatic reading from the book on the Senate floor. Brecheen read an excerpt that he said proved the book was too “miserably graphic” to be taught in Oklahoma schools. He even chose to spell some words (“g-e-n-i-t-a-l-s”), perhaps to avoid offending his fellow legislators or small children.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Quote of the Day

“In one of the hottest primary contests of 2012, Jim Bridenstine upset incumbent Rep. John Sullivan when 25 percent of the District 1 Republican voters showed up in the primary. It gets worse. In 2009, Dewey Bartlett and some city councilors were elected by 30 percent of the voters, and that was in a general election. Then, in 2011, one of the biggest turnovers in City Council history was decided by 16 percent of voters. That was followed in 2013 when 36 percent of the electorate re-elected Bartlett over former Mayor Kathy Taylor.”

-Tulsa World columnist Mike Jones, who wrote that low turnout in Oklahoma elections is empowering extremists (Source: http://bit.ly/1wmygVz)

Number of the Day

15.6%

Percentage of Oklahomans with disabilities.

Source: Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

What does Kansas’ botched tax cut experiment portend for other states?

The budgetary disaster emerging from Kansas’ radical tax-cutting experiment is making pro-tax-cut elected officials in other states uneasy. The Wall Street Journal reports this week that leaders in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and other states are expressing concern about the Kansas results and distancing themselves — at least rhetorically — from the Kansas failures. Despite their rhetorical backtracking, however, the tax cuts that policymakers in Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states are pursuing aren’t all that different from the Kansas plan. As we’ve explained, these states should consider Kansas a cautionary tale.

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