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 Oklahoma parents and students reported high levels of anxiety going into statewide testing on Thursday. Third grade student performance on the language arts exam determines whether they will advance to fourth grade. House Democrats accused Senate Republicans of obstructing passage of a bill (HB 2625) that could have prevented students from being held back based solely on the results of the test. The Tulsa World reported that friction between House and Senate members is slowing down the Oklahoma legislative process, with each chamber accusing the other of mismanaged priorities.
Oklahoma Watch speculated that reinstated work requirements for able-bodied recipients without dependents may be pushing Oklahomans off food stamps. An OK Policy blog post explained proposals by President Obama and Congress to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, citing its success as a poverty-fighting tool and alternative to welfare. A new report found that despite recent gains, Oklahoma still lags behind the national average for children with health insurance coverage. The state DHS director said that too many children are going into state custody because inexperienced workers fear making mistakes and possibly allowing children to be harmed. Oklahoma is the 11th worst state for equal pay between men and women, according to the American Association of University Women. Their report says that women in Oklahoma make on average about 76 cents for every $1 earned by men.
State health officials reiterated that prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic in Oklahoma. Lawmakers may have reached a compromise on a bill designed to deter ‘doctor shopping’ by requiring doctors to check patients’ prescription history in state database of controlled substance prescriptions at least once every year. We’ve written about Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem before. Heroin addiction in Oklahoma is on the rise, according to state authorities. A medical marijuana advocacy group is filing an application for a petition to bring the issue to a statewide vote.
A swarm of earthquakes shook central Oklahoma late Wednesday and early Thursday. The largest had a reported magnitude of 4.1. State parks ceded to Native American tribes for management following cuts to the tourism department’s budget several years ago initially struggled in the transition, but are now thriving. Three conservation groups have filed suit to force full protection of the lesser prairie-chicken, a species native to Oklahoma, under the Endangered Species Act.
The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahomans with a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder who are uninsured. In today’s Policy Note, the Orlando Weekly reports how a young mother of three died of a treatable condition because her state refused to accept federal funding to expand health coverage.
In The News
Parents, students a little anxious as third-grade reading tests start
On Wednesday night, Gail Kamphaus-Crouch couldn’t get her third-grader, Avery, to calm down enough to go to bed early for the next day’s state standardized reading test. “She said, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to take the test. What if I get them all wrong? I always get them all wrong,’ ” Kamphaus-Crouch said. Avery, who attends Jenks Southeast Elementary, is on an individualized educational program because of her anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. “I just told her to do her best. I don’t put too much emphasis with her on the retention part of it, but I feel like it’s a punishment for kids,” Kamphaus-Crouch said.
Reading test relief derailed by Senate Republicans, House Democrats complain
House Democrats don’t often clamor for passage of Republican bills, but they did Wednesday. Specifically, House Democratic leaders chided Senate Republicans for loading House Bill 2625 by Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, with too much baggage to fly. “Instead of getting (the bill) to the governor’s desk, the Republicans are playing games,” said Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. Time is an issue with the bill because, as originally written, it would have prevented third-grade students from being retained solely on the basis of their Reading Sufficiency Act scores.
Friction between House and Senate slows down legislative process
Floor action in the Oklahoma Senate came to a screeching halt this week as members of the upper chamber tried to send the House a message. The Senate is considering House bills while the House is considering Senate bills, and the Senate appeared to be unhappy with how some of Senate bills were handled. “I think mad is a strong word,” said Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus. Friction between the House and Senate is common every year, but it appears to have happened earlier this year, he said.
Top Democrat Urges House Speaker To Allow Vote On Unfinished Native Museum
The Oklahoma House’s top Democrat says the chamber should vote on whether to provide funding to complete the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City urged the House to take action on Thursday, a day after the House Appropriations and Budget Committee approved a plan to take $40 million from the Unclaimed Property Fund to complete the unfinished structure.
Bill banning e-cigarette sales to minors clears Oklahoma House
A bill that would make it illegal to sell electronic cigarettes and similar vapor products to individuals younger than 18 years old was approved Thursday by the state House of Representatives. The vote was 87-0. Senate Bill 1602 was amended in the House so it will now go back to the Senate for consideration. The bill was supported by both health professionals and the tobacco industry after compromise language was reached so that the bill is now essentially silent on whether electronic cigarettes should be classified as tobacco products — a designation that would have major taxation and regulatory consequences.
Two leading legislators say they love schools, but they don’t love them so much that they’re willing to break the iron grip of road funding on the state budget. Scott Inman, the Democratic leader in the state House, and Sen. Brian Bingman, the Republican president pro tem of the Senate, both oppose a bill that would increase education funding at the rate of $29.85 million a year until schools are receiving $600 million a year more than now. The move would include an extra school day for every additional $60 million in new funding meaning standards and results could rise with funding. But the new funding would require the state Transportation Department to give up half of the $59.7 million increase in earmarked state funding it has been getting to improve roads and bridges, which seems to be the sticking point.
A group representing Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry organized its first rally at the state Capitol Wednesday, calling for a continuation of tax breaks for horizontal drilling. The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association reportedly bused 1,000 people to take part in the event, which they dubbed the “rally for the rigs.” The debate over whether to allow the tax incentive to expire in 2015 has divided Oklahoma lawmakers and voters. While the tax issue was one of the primary drivers of the rally, former OIPA chairman Mike Cantrell said it did not constitute a protest. “We’re not here to protest anything. We’re not mad about anything,” said Cantrell. “We’re just here to remind our legislative friends, as they take up policies, … of how important our industry is.”
Work Requirement May Be Pushing Oklahomans Off Food Stamps
The number of Oklahomans receiving food stamp benefits has declined by 5 percent since it hit a record high in September, and officials attribute the drop to a reactivated work requirement. Around 604,775 Oklahomans received food stamps in February, a decline of 32,654 recipients from the program’s peak number of 637,434 in September, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. In 2013, then-Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon authored a bill that passed and required able-bodied adults without dependent children to work at least 20 hours a week to receive food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The work requirement existed before, but the Department of Human Services received a waiver from the federal government for those requirements in 2009 in the wake of the Great Recession.
We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program
In his budget plan for next year, President Obama has proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to improve and strengthen the tax credit. Adopting these proposals would be a sensible move to reduce poverty while bolstering the economy.
Despite health gains, Oklahoma still trails nation in insured children
The rate of Oklahoma children with health insurance increased between 2008 and 2012, but the state still lags behind the national average for children with coverage, according to a report released Thursday. The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that although the number of children with private coverage in Oklahoma dropped, it was more than made up for by an increase in the number of children with public health insurance like Medicaid, according to the report. The percentage of Oklahoma children without health insurance dropped to 10.6 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, from 12.4 percent in 2008, according to the report.
Inexperienced staff removing too many kids from homes, Oklahoma DHS director says
The director of the state Department of Human Services acknowledges too many children are going into DHS custody. “When you take the child out of his or her world, bad things happen to that child emotionally,” Director Ed Lake said. “So we can protect children physically sometimes and damage them further emotionally.” DHS had 11,434 children in its custody on Thursday, a DHS spokeswoman said. The number of children in DHS care has fluctuated in the past 10 years, records show. The total was as high as 12,222 at the end of the 2007 fiscal year. It was as low as 7,970 at the end of the 2010 fiscal year, but has increased every year since.
American Association of University Women ranks Oklahoma 11th worst state for equal pay
A political battle over equal pay for women is heating up as a new report finds Oklahoma has much to do to narrow the pay gap between sexes. That report says women in Oklahoma on average about 76 cents for every $1 earned by men, making Oklahoma the 11th worst state for equal pay. The report from the American Association of University Women looked at the pay gap between men and women in all five of Oklahoma’s congressional districts.
Authorities Say Prescription Drug Abuse Is Growing Problem in Oklahoma
It’s being called an epidemic by some healthcare authorities. Oklahoma state health officials are concerned about the growing problem with prescription drug abuse. State health directors convened at the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center to discuss what they describe as a prescription drug abuse epidemic. “Prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma is a silent cancer,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. “It’s really sneaking up on us.”
Possible compromise is reached on ‘doctor-shopping’ legislation
Doctors would be required to check their patients’ drug histories only once a year before writing a narcotic prescription under a potential compromise reached Thursday at the state Capitol. The latest measure is a far cry from the bill Gov. Mary Fallin first supported that would have required doctors to check the Prescription Monitoring Program database before writing any new or refill prescriptions for narcotics such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. “We are confident the Legislature will continue working towards the governor’s goal of passing a meaningful, workable prescription drug monitoring program that serves as an effective tool in the fight against prescription drug abuse,” Fallin’s communications director, Alex Weintz said.
Heroin ‘epidemic’ hits Tulsa streets, a survivor speaks of recovery
“Just find more.” “Where’s my next high coming from?” Those are the thoughts Kelly Houghtaling says she faced for 10 years. “I’ve always been surrounded by heroin and the addiction,” she said. “It just brings you down, really low. It gets you loaded to where you’re not feeling anything and you don’t have to deal with life around you.” Houghtaling says she began abusing drugs several years ago and transitioned to heroin. Over a 10-year span, she estimates she shot the drug thousands of times. “On a daily basis, sometimes it was up to 10 times a day,” she explained.
Group Pushes To End Oklahoma’s Ban On Medical Marijuana
An Oklahoma group is taking a step toward legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Oklahomans for Health will file an application for petition with the Secretary of State Friday, hoping to put the legalization of medical marijuana up for a statewide vote. “The time is right now in Oklahoma to really get this going,” said Oklahomans for Health chairman, Chip Paul. Paul said the non-profit group has made it easy for lawmakers, by drafting a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. “We’ve done a lot of research in other states — what worked, what didn’t, what’s the most effective way, from a state perspective, to manage this and we’ve put that language in this initiative, so it should be a very easy thing for the state of Oklahoma to manage,” Paul said.
Cast-off State Parks Thrive Under Tribal Control, But Not Without Some Struggle
When budget cuts led the Oklahoma tourism department to find new homes for seven state parks in 2011, two of them went to Native American tribes. Both are open and doing well, but each has faced its own difficulties in the transition. Of the seven former state parks, only Wah-Sha-She Park near Pawhuska closed during its transfer to new management. From fall 2011 until spring 2012, no one could enjoy the unique Hula Lake sunsets from the park’s rocky shoreline, or camp at the handful of sites in this remote patch of well-maintained land carved into the wilderness in northern Osage County. “We had some difficulty, internally — our own branches of government,” Rick Lasley, Executive Advisor of Programs for the Osage Nation, says. “Members of congress were saying, ‘Why would we want to take on a park that loses money annually?’”
No injuries or damage were reported after a series of earthquakes rattled central Oklahoma overnight, including a 4.1-magnitude temblor that woke many residents near Guthrie. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded four earthquakes near Perry late Wednesday and early Thursday, and two more earthquakes near Guthrie early Thursday.
Three conservation groups today announced a legal challenge to force full protection of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision last week to protect the highly imperiled bird only as “threatened” while providing special exemptions that would allow ongoing destruction of the birds and their dwindling grassland habitat.
The perils of Florida’s refusal to expand Medicaid
Charlene Dill didn’t have to die. On March 21, Dill was supposed to bring her three children over to the South Orlando home of her best friend, Kathleen Voss Woolrich. The two had cultivated a close friendship since 2008; they shared all the resources that they had, from debit-card PINs to transportation to baby-sitting and house keys. They helped one another out, forming a safety net where there wasn’t one already. They “hustled,” as Woolrich describes it, picking up short-term work, going out to any event they could get free tickets to, living the high life on the low-down, cleaning houses for friends to afford tampons and shampoo. They were the working poor, and they existed in the shadows of the economic recovery that has yet to reach many average people.