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 the Oklahoma Senate ended its session Friday with a rejection of Governor Fallin’s proposal for school storm shelters. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said the bill would not have accomplished anything. It would have allowed schools to go over their bonding capacity if local voters approve a storm shelter bond issue, but Bingman said 97 percent of districts already have enough bonding capacity to do that, and the remaining districts don’t have much interest in it. The Tulsa World gave an overview of the education debate in this year’s session, and profiled Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, who frequently writes about Oklahoma education policies at his view from the edge blog. A group of black church leaders who say public education is failing communities with the poorest and most vulnerable children invited Oklahoma’s state superintendent candidates to a forum on the issue.
Governor Fallin and House and Senate leaders Jeff Hickman and Brian Bingman said they will continue to work on finding the money to complete the half-finished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City, even though the Legislature did not approve funding this session. Native American seniors at Seminole High School are protesting being prohibited from wearing eagle feathers on their caps during the graduation ceremony. The school’s mascot wears a headdress and eagle feathers. A group concerned about school bullying and suicide rates among LGBT students is planning to open an LGBT-friendly private school in Tulsa.
The OK Gazette shared a journey down 23rd Street in Oklahoma City, a street that is sharply segregated by race and income. Oklahoma is among the worst states in the country at providing mental-health records to the FBI’s national database that is used for gun purchase background checks, according to a report released Thursday. A law passed this session will require Oklahoma court clerks to submit more records to the database. Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett is affecting death row cases nationwide as states try to avoid a similar spectacle and international scrutiny. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced a plan to try to block EPA limits on state carbon emissions.
The Number of the Day is the total number of mental health records Oklahoma has submitted since 1993 to an FBI database for gun purchase background checks. In today’s Policy Note, Jared Bernstein discusses why a higher minimum wage should be understood as a labor standard like laws against child labor, discrimination, overtime without extra pay, and wage theft.
In The News
Senate rejects Governor Fallin’s school storm shelter plan
A year and three days after seven children were killed when a tornado hit Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, the Oklahoma Senate ended its session Friday with a rejection of a proposal for school storm shelters. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said 97 percent of school districts already have the ability within their existing bonding authority to seek such public safety improvements. Among school districts that could benefit from the plan, there isn’t much interest in local school bond measures to fund tornado shelters, he said. Gov. Mary Fallin had lobbied hard for its passage, going to senators’ offices Friday to ask for their support.
Education a passionate issue in 2014 legislative session
The perseverance of Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, demonstrated the passion that drove education issues during the 2014 legislative session. In April, complications with Henke’s first pregnancy caused doctors to order bed rest. But with the session winding down and her bill modifying third-grade reading requirements languishing, Henke returned to the Capitol and ultimately won adoption of the measure over Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto. Henke said later she was dealing with what is sometimes called false labor while presenting the bill for the override attempt in the House.
Jenks’ Rob Miller uses his experiences to help students, spread message
Rob Miller, 53, was named Oklahoma Middle School Principal of the Year in March and was just awarded with the Advocate for Academic Freedom Award. His office is split equally between education texts, motivational posters and awards. His latest trophy sits in the middle of a table, likely because there’s nowhere else for it to go. The Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals, which awarded Miller with the principal of the year award in March, called him an “innovator,” a “great communicator” and a “strong leader,” and he is certainly that. He taught classes to Marines while he was actively serving, though he jokes teaching middle schoolers is “much more difficult.” Miller’s story is similar to other Oklahoma educators’, if not for a blog (viewfromtheedge.net) that started quietly enough. What began as sharing thoughts with people in his school district has become something far greater.
Black church leaders invite state Superintendent candidates to forum on education in low-income communities
A group of black church leaders that believes public education is failing communities with the poorest and most vulnerable children is calling on state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and her six challengers to address their concerns. The group, which includes leaders from Oklahoma’s largest networks of black denominations, has invited Barresi and her challengers to meet with them individually and then collectively June 8 during an “accountability session” at Oklahoma City University. The forum is sponsored by Voices Organized in Civic Engagement (VOICE), a coalition of 27 congregations and non-profit groups that work together on issues facing families in the Oklahoma City metro area.
State leaders say they’ll try to solve Indian museum funding issue
Three of Oklahoma’s top elected officials vowed to keep working on one of the biggest items left undone in the just-concluded session of the Oklahoma Legislature — finding the money to complete the half-finished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. On Friday, Gov. Mary Fallin listed this as one of the Legislature’s biggest failures this year and something she’s committed to seeing accomplished. Lawmakers had been asked to come up with $40 million in state funds that could be used to match $40 million in pledges to complete the $170 million museum. House Speaker Jeff Hickman acknowledged that the issue needs to be addressed. “We have to develop a plan that addresses the completion of that facility,” he said. “That’s another issue we’ll be working on in the interim.”
Oklahoma high school bans eagle feathers for caps of native grads
School officials in Seminole County, Oklahoma, told Native American seniors at Seminole High School that they are prohibited from wearing eagle feathers on their graduation caps for Thursday’s ceremony. The officials said that it would violate graduation guidelines. But 25 Native seniors will walk across the stage on Thursday night, some vowing to wear the feathers anyway. The fact that its mascot, the Chieftains, wears a headdress and eagle feathers seems contradictory to some.
A group is set to open up the first LGBT friendly school in Oklahoma. The goal behind the Oklahoma Alliance Academy is to provide a safe, bully-free environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender teens. The school is for those who feel they just are not comfortable in a normal school setting. They say everyone who embraces equality and inclusion is welcome to attend. The idea came to its founder CC Lawhon a couple of years after she heard the suicide statistics for transgender students and knew something had to be done.
Uninsured Norman man dies because he feared cost of calling 911, neighbor says
It was only about a month ago when a Norman police officer came to Lori’s door and told her that her friend was dead. Lori’s friend, Allen, a 53-year-old therapist, had lived next to her for about six months, and the two had become close. They enjoyed talking about movies and books. It was nice to find someone she connected with. In late April, Lori realized she hadn’t heard from Allen in a few days and worried something was wrong. She banged on his door, trying to get his attention and tried to reach him several times. She even put a rock behind his car’s tire to make sure she wasn’t just missing him when he was home. But the rock never moved.
John Silva: Health care disparities create perfect storm
Throughout the state, storm clouds gather. The perfect storm is forming and Oklahomans are the architects. Health-care disparities grow in poor urban neighborhoods and rural communities. Oklahomans have watched these events for many years and we remain unmoved, preferring instead to allow others to influence events and establish priorities. We tacitly support continuation and expansion of millions of dollars of corporate tax breaks for our most affluent industry, while silently watching the collapse of our state’s infrastructure. We have signed onto the mantra that corporate tax breaks for our energy industry will somehow improve the quality of our lives, regardless of what our eyes and the facts tell us.
Oklahoma Legislature OKs new abortion restrictions
A bill that would impose strict new state regulations on abortion providers in Oklahoma is heading to the governor’s desk. In the waning minutes of the legislative session Friday, the House gave final approval to a bill that requires the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish standards regarding equipment and supplies that might be needed in a medical emergency. Abortion clinics would also be required to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is performed.
There is more than one Oklahoma City along 23rd Street. In fact, there are numerous communities, each representing a piece of the city’s mosaic not always visible from the postcard images of a sparkling downtown or those in a chamber of commerce promotional video. A 10-mile stretch of 23rd Street cuts through the hubs of OKC’s three largest minority groups and includes blocks of decay and blocks of urban renewal. 23rd Street is home to a cupcake shop that caters to uptown’s young upper class that is flowing back into the urban core, and just a few blocks down is a soul-food restaurant that serves mostly blue-collar workers getting off the bus from work.
Gun background checks: Oklahoma on ‘worst’ list for mental health data submission
Oklahoma is among the worst states in the country at providing mental-health records to the FBI’s national database, according to a report issued Thursday. The database is used for background checks for potential gun purchasers. Those checks include mental-health records, but Oklahoma has provided few of those records. Since a law was enacted in 1993 requiring background checks for firearm purchasers, Oklahoma has submitted 25 mental-health records to the FBI database, according to the report. As a result, background checks reviewed in the database rarely reflect whether a person has been ruled incompetent or has been involuntarily placed in a mental-health facility.
Experts say Oklahoma’s botched execution affecting cases in other states
Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett is affecting death row cases nationwide as states try to avoid a similar spectacle and international scrutiny, experts say. No executions have occurred nationally since Lockett’s execution April 29, which was halted after 43 minutes. Executions scheduled May 13 in Texas and Wednesday in Missouri were stayed by judges to allow more time for appeals. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that while reasons for the Missouri and Texas stays varied, judges seem to be proceeding with more caution since Lockett’s execution.
Oklahoma Attorney General aims to block limits on state CO2 emissions
A plan to stop the US federal government from imposing limits on states’ carbon dioxide emissions is being launched today by the Republican attorney-general of Oklahoma, in a sign of the battles looming over the centrepiece of President Barack Obama’s climate policy. The Environmental Protection Agency, the US regulator, is expected on June 2 to set out its proposed regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, which will be the administration’s most ambitious attempt yet to address the threat of climate change. Mr. Pruitt, however, argued that even if the EPA had a mandate to regulate carbon dioxide, it had no legal authority to impose limits state by state, but could only demand emissions controls “inside the fence” at individual plants.
The minimum wage isn’t just a wage. It’s a standard.
Arguments about minimum wages tend to be about two things: will it hurt its intended recipients and the businesses that employ them by raising labor costs, and is it well targeted? These are, of course, important questions. But while they were certainly entertained by the framers of the national policy back in the 1930s, their motivation went beyond these narrow questions. They viewed the minimum wage as a new, national standard. Labor markets, like the broader economies in which they exist, are social and political constructs. They operate as much by laws, rules, and standards as by supply and demand. Laws against child labor, discrimination, overtime without extra pay, wage theft, and more are examples of hard fought standards that most Americans today recognize as integral to the functioning of labor markets. The minimum wage was conceived in this same spirit.