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 Senator John Sparks has been replaced as minority leader-elect after a column was published under his name backing continuation of the rapidly growing tax break for horizontal wells. Sen. Randy Bass is now set to replace Sen. Sean Burrage, who is not seeking re-election. Read more about the tax break for horizontal drilling here.
Gov. Fallin and all five members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation seeking re-election were among the hundreds of candidates who filed for state or federal office on Wednesday. Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and Richard Prawdzienski, a Libertarian-leaning independent from Edmond, also filed to run for governor on the first of a three-day filing period. You can see a list of all candidate filings so far here. Since announcing his Senate candidacy just after this legislative session began, former House Speaker TW Shannon has missed 305 of 385 votes in the House.
A House committee passed a bill that would change how Oklahoma appoints judges. Under the bill, lawyers on the Judicial Nomination Commission would be appointed directly by legislative leaders instead of being elected by the Oklahoma Bar Association. A bill to use $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property fund to help pay for the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City was approved in House Committee. The committee also approved a $160 million bond issue to repair the state Capitol. Wayne Greene discussed a pending court decision that could increase Oklahoma’s $188 million budget shortfall by another $450 million.
Governor Fallin is asking for federally subsidized loan assistance for businesses that have been damaged by the temporary closure of the bridge that links Lexington and Purcell. Bounty hunters will be licensed to carry weapons, pursue fleeing felons into private homes and wear “bail enforcer” badges under new rules approved by the state. An Oklahoma appeals court is denying a request for stays of execution by two inmates who are scheduled to die this month with a new three-drug procedure developed by the state.
The federal government paid 35 Oklahoma physicians more than $1 million each last year to treat patients in the Medicare program. Oklahoma Watch and the OU journalism school have won a $35,000 grant for a project focused on poverty in Oklahoma City. The Number of the Day is 419. That’s how many Oklahoma candidates filed to run for state or federal office on Wednesday. Filing continues through 5pm on Friday. In today’s Policy Note, the National Priorities Project lays out the differences between budget proposals by President Obama, House Republicans, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In The News
Sen. Sparks out as choice for minority leader after backing tax break for wells
A disagreement over how much taxes should be paid on horizontal wells has cost the incoming leader of the Senate minority party his job, sources said Tuesday. Senate Democrats had tapped Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, to be the minority leader to replace Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, who is not seeking re-election. But they changed course following a guest column that Sparks penned in the March 21 Journal Record. The Senate Democratic Caucus then tapped Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton, as its new leader, according to sources.
Fallin joins hundreds of candidates filing for state, federal offices
Gov. Mary Fallin and all five members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation seeking re-election were among the 419 candidates who filed for state or federal office on Wednesday. The total was the most for the opening day of the three-day filing period since at least 2000. Filing continues through 5 p.m. Friday. The day had something of an anti-establishment flavor about it, with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe drawing two primary opponents and 2nd District Congressman Markwayne Mullin and state Sen. President Pro Tem Brian Bingman drawing one each.
Gov. Mary Fallin has filed paperwork to seek another four-year term as the state’s chief executive officer, and she’s not the only one seeking the state’s top post. Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and Richard Prawdzienski, a Libertarian-leaning independent from Edmond, also filed to run for governor on Wednesday, the first of a three-day filing period for state offices.
State Rep. T.W. Shannon is running for the U.S. Senate. Shannon, former speaker of the state House, also represents House District 62 in southwest Oklahoma, although not so much anymore. Since announcing his Senate candidacy just after this legislative session began, Shannon has missed 305 of 385 votes in the House. He has been absent 11 of the 36 days the House has met. On the days he was present, he often didn’t vote. His main opponent in the primary, U.S. Rep. James Lankford has been present for 129 of 131 roll call votes taken since he opened his campaign for Senate. Lankford had to take time to travel to Washington, D.C. Shannon, campaigning in Oklahoma, only had to make it to Oklahoma City.
Education follows the ROADS to guaranteed funding growth
A decade ago, following the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to boost state taxes on motor fuels, supporters of increased transportation funding hit on a new approach. In 2005, the legislature approved HB 1078, creating the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund dedicated for maintenance and repair of state highways and bridges. State dollars would be allocated directly to the ROADS fund “off the top” from income tax collections without going through the appropriations process, and the fund would be guaranteed an automatic annual increase until it reached an overall cap.
Three years ago, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a law requiring students who score unsatisfactory on a standardized reading test to repeat the third grade unless they meet limited criteria for exemption. As testing nears for the first class of third-graders subject to this law, a growing chorus of parents, educators and policymakers is looking for ways to revise the law to ensure that the ultimate decision remains with schools and families. Strong reading skills are crucially important to educational success. Oklahoma should seek to identify and assist students with reading deficiencies. However, the current law is deeply flawed.
Inhofe, Coburn Among Politicians Working To Separate Federal Funds And Common Core
Both of Oklahoma’s senators are among a cadre of lawmakers asking that the U.S. Department of Education stop tying federal funding to the implementation of Common Core standards and related curriculum. The U.S. Department of Education has been a supporter of Common Core State Standards, and has included their adoption as criteria for federal Race to the Top grants. Oklahoma has never won Race to the Top funds, but Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn are part of a push to end the practice.
Attorneys would be appointed to Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission by leaders of the House and Senate under legislation adopted by a House committee. The House Rules Committee voted 6-1 for the bill Wednesday and sent it to the full House for a vote. The 15-member commission nominates candidates for gubernatorial appointment to fill judicial vacancies. Six members are lawyers who are elected by members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. The measure would allow the speaker of the House to appoint three and the president pro tem of the Senate to appoint three.
Bill to fund Indian museum clears Oklahoma House committee
A bill to use $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property fund to help pay for the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City was approved Wednesday by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The vote was 16-10. The measure, which previously cleared the Senate, now heads to the House calendar, where it faces an uncertain future. House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, previously has said he doesn’t plan to bring it up for a vote on the House floor unless museum backers can show they have vote pledges from 51 House Republicans — which would be enough to pass the bill without support from any House Democrats.
House committee passes bill authorizing $160 million bond issue to repair Oklahoma State Capitol
An Oklahoma House panel has passed legislation that authorizes a $160 million bond issue to repair the nearly 100-year-old state Capitol. The House Appropriations and Budget Committee voted 16-8 for the Senate-passed measure Wednesday and sent it to the full House for a vote. The building’s interior features polished marble floors, valuable artwork and a dome that was added in 2002. But behind the walls are major problems that include a plumbing system with rotting pipes that has never been completely restored and a hodgepodge of electrical systems.
Fiscal time bomb ticking for state before Oklahoma Supreme Court
There’s a fiscal time bomb ticking away in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Currently, legislators are trying to figure out how to deal with a $188 million budget hole — the difference between how much money they have to appropriate next year and the amount they appropriated for this year. That’s not easy, but imagine how much more difficult if the hole gets $450 million deeper. That’s one very possible scenario, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on a long-pending case involving how capital gains are figured.
Governor Fallin seeks loans for Oklahoma businesses hurt by bridge closure
Governor Mary Fallin announced Wednesday that she has asked for federally subsidized loan assistance for businesses in McClain and Cleveland counties that have been financially damaged by the temporary closure of the bridge that links Lexington and Purcell. Transportation officials shut down the bridge over the South Canadian River on Jan. 31 after cracks were discovered in its truss structure following a bridge rehabilitation project that went awry. Repairs to the 76-year-old bridge currently are underway with a targeted completion date of June 14, the governor said.
Conservative, environmental groups blast solar surcharge bill
They aren’t exactly teaming up, but an unlikely coalition of conservative groups, solar advocates and environmentalists are fighting a solar surcharge bill that could be up for a vote today in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Senate Bill 1456 would allow regulated utilities to charge customers extra if they install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines and want to be able to send excess electricity back to the grid. The bill wouldn’t apply to customers who have already installed the distributed generation systems.
New rules grant powers to ‘bail enforcers’ in Oklahoma
Bounty hunters will be licensed to carry weapons, pursue fleeing felons into private homes and wear “bail enforcer” badges under new rules approved by the state. The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training approved more than 30 pages of rules governing bail enforcers last week. A state law approved last year allowed the state agency, known as CLEET, to begin licensing and regulating bail enforcers. Steve Emmons, executive director of CLEET, said the rules were developed by a committee that includes representatives of bail bond companies, private security firms and law enforcement agencies.
An Oklahoma appeals court is denying a request for stays of execution requested by two death row inmates who are scheduled to die this month with a new three-drug procedure developed by the state. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order Wednesday denying the stays sought by Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett. Lawyers for the inmates contend the state has not provided adequate time for them to research the method of execution.
35 Oklahoma physicians earned more than $1 million from Medicare in 2012
The federal government paid 35 Oklahoma physicians more than $1 million each last year to treat patients in the Medicare program, according to data released Wednesday. The 35 physicians include oncologists, ophthalmologists and other specialists who were reimbursed for treating patients with expensive patented drugs, one doctor on the list told the Tulsa World.
A team from Gaylord College is among the first winners in a national competition to fund innovative news experiments that serve communities, the Online News Association has announced. The college will receive a $35,000 grant to work with the nonprofit investigative journalism organization Oklahoma Watch, students and faculty, and university and community partners on a project focused on poverty in Oklahoma City. Students will use mobile video and geographic data to experiment with the idea that creating a conversation in Oklahoma City between residents of low-income neighborhoods and area leaders will raise the issue of poverty on the public agenda.
“The increase in travel time has created an undue financial burden for the residents and small business owners in both counties and communities. … The major decline in revenue has led to businesses moving or closing their doors permanently in order to avoid further indebtedness.”
- Governor Mary Fallin, in a letter asking for federally subsidized loan assistance for businesses that have been damaged by the closure of the bridge that links Lexington and Purcell. The bridge has been shut down for repairs since Jan. 31 after numerous cracks were found (Source: http://bit.ly/Q96agk)
Number of the Day
The number of Oklahoma candidates who filed for state or federal office on Wednesday. Filing continues through 5pm on Friday.
Competing Visions: President Obama, Rep. Paul Ryan, and House Progressives Release Budget Proposals for 2015
Yesterday we released our fourth annual, one-of-a-kind Competing Visions analysis, which compares the president’s budget proposal to two significantly different alternatives – the House Republican budget resolution, introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, and an alternative introduced by the House Congressional Progressive Caucus. The analysis highlights issues that matter most to Americans and, using opinion polls, shows how each proposal stacks up against what Americans want.