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.
Oklahoma’s General Revenue Fund collections for the full Fiscal Year 2014 came in barely above prior year collections and 4.8 percent below the official estimate. With a critical shortage of judges for deportation hearings, all of Oklahoma’s hearings have been moved to Dallas. President Obama has put forward a plan to appoint additional judges, but it still needs Congressional approval. In a continuing series on federal and state disaster aid in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Watch examined how thousands of disaster aid requests end in rejection.
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma just wrapped up the largest distribution year in its history. The food bank provided 17.3 million meals this year, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed a new school meals program that provides a more efficient way to feed kids in poverty. The Oklahoma City Jesus House’s Adopt-A-Block initiative is sending a group of people enrolled in the homeless shelter’s sobriety program into low-income communities to mow lawns, provide emergency food aid, and deliver box fans for people without air conditioning. The Oklahoma City Council voted to allow northeast Oklahoma City hospital to continue housing adult psychiatric patients, despite protests from residents who said they were afraid of people with mental illness.
The Cherokee Nation is constructing a new 28,000 square-foot health center in Washington County. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is reaching out to people who have completed a firearm safety training course but have not yet applied for a handgun license because time is running out on their certifications’ validity. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded three more earthquakes yesterday in Oklahoma, including one that shattered windows and put cracks in the wall of the Harrah police station.
State Supreme Court finds Common Core repeal constitutional
Only a few hours after hearing oral arguments, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon ruled a bill repealing Common Core standards constitutional. The court’s ruling, which is available on its website, states that House Bill 3399 does not violate the Oklahoma Constitution and “having found HB 3399 constitutional, there is no need to address the issue of severability.” The court record states that Justice Noma Gurich “concurs in part and dissents in part,” while all of the others were in total concurrence. The plaintiffs had contended that HB 3399 was an “unprecedented expansion of the power of the legislative branch and interference with the executive branch.” The court disagreed.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi asks parents, educators to help develop new state standards
State Superintendent Janet Barresi on Tuesday urged Oklahoma parents and educators to help create new academic standards as required by a law that repealed Common Core standards. “These new academic standards will be by Oklahomans and for Oklahomans. They will reflect Oklahoma values, principles and commitment to excellence,” she said in a news release. Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 3399 in early June requiring Oklahoma to throw out the Common Core math and English standards that were to be implemented by the 2014-15 school year. The law directs the state Board of Education to revert to Oklahoma’s Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS, standards for two years until new ones can be developed.
Oklahoma Secretary of Education, CareerTech director resigns
CareerTech Director Robert Sommers, who serves as Oklahoma’s secretary of education and workforce development, announced Tuesday he will resign both positions Aug. 15. Sommers found the work “personally rewarding,” but he decided to return to Ohio because of increasing responsibilities with elder family members, said Paula Bowles, CareerTech chief communications officer. Bowles said Sommers told senior staff members of his decision Monday and told full staff Tuesday morning. Sommers became Oklahoma’s seventh CareerTech director in April 2013.
Oklahoma General Revenue up for FY 14, but 4.8 percent below estimate
Oklahoma’s General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections for Fiscal Year 2014, which ended June 30, came in .03 percent above prior year collections and 4.8 percent below the official estimate. As state government’s main operating fund, the GRF is the key indicator of state government’s fiscal status and the predominant funding source for the annual state budget. Made up of nearly 70 revenue sources, the GRF is where all taxes flow except those dedicated to specific programs. FY 2014 gross collections to the state treasury totaled $11.7 billion and grew $469.3 million, or 4.2 percent, above FY 2013. The GRF’s share of those collections totaled $5.6 billion, which was just $1.5 million, or .03 percent, above prior year collections.
Oklahoma deportation hearings canceled due to judge shortage
As the debate over immigration reform rages across the nation, the country faces a critical shortage of judges for deportation hearings. In Oklahoma, all of those hearings have been canceled. “We hear every day that someone says ‘put them on a bus and send them home’, well they’re here and you can’t, the U.S. Supreme Court says you can’t,” Immigration attorney Doug Stump said. A 2008 law grants some immigrants from South America the right to a deportation hearing, but judges to hear the cases are in short supply.
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma just wrapped up the largest distribution year in its history, providing 20.8 million pounds of food, or 17.3 million meals. That’s a 21 percent increase over the last fiscal year. That year’s 17.2 million pounds, or 14.3 million meals, had been the largest for the agency, which distributes food to 450 partner agencies in 24 counties in eastern Oklahoma, according to Eileen Bradshaw, executive director. “We are still not meeting the full need,” she said. “I wish I could tell you that with this increase we are, but we are not. Most of our partners tell us they are just not seeing the lines shorten.”
Thousands of disaster aid requests end in rejection
Although millions of dollars in federal aid money began pouring into Oklahoma shortly after the spring 2013 storms, not all who asked for help received it. The Oklahoma National Guard sought $22,074 for taking Gov. Mary Fallin on a helicopter survey of the damage from the May 20 tornado, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the request. Mid-Del Public Schools had seven of its requests denied for roof repairs and other projects — the most rejected among applicants as of early June — because inspectors found the damage was unrelated to the storms.
As Leslie Stickney gives a box of food and bottled water to a man in the Orchard Park neighborhood, a big smile lights up her face. “With my drug addiction, I stole, I lied, I did all that. This is just a way for me to give back,” she said. Stickney, 42, is part of the Jesus House’s Adopt-A-Block initiative. The three-year-old project sends a group of people enrolled in the homeless shelter’s sobriety program out of the shelter on Saturday mornings and into the nearby neighborhoods of Orchard Park and Westlawn Gardens, formerly known as Mulligan Flats.
Oklahoma City Council grants psychiatric hospital permit for adult patients over protests of residents
The Oklahoma City Council has voted to grant Cedar Ridge Hospital a permit to house adult psychiatric patients at its northeast Oklahoma City campus after a tense hearing Tuesday morning where residents said they feared runaway patients and mental health officials spoke about a lack of psychiatric beds in the community. Cedar Ridge has been approved to house 36 adult patients at its in-patient psychiatric hospital at 6505 NE 50. Although Cedar Ridge has accepted adults for in-patient treatment for the past decade, its previous special permit with Oklahoma City allowed the facility to house only adolescent patients. Cedar Ridge officials have said they were unaware of the permitting issue until recently.
Oklahoma City school district welcomes new teachers from Spain
Rocio Alejos has traveled the world. She’s been to the biggest cities — such as New York — and to the biggest countries — such as China. For the next three years, the Barcelona native and 14 other teachers from Spain will call the Oklahoma City area home. Seeking to fill dozens of vacancies in time for the start of school Aug. 4, Oklahoma City school district administrators looked to another country for quality teachers after the state Education Department and Spain signed a memorandum of understanding to bring guest teachers to Oklahoma.
The volume of payday lending in the state and number of lenders has declined over the past two years after spiking in 2011, according to data released by the Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit. Oklahomans took out 803,675 deferred deposit loans in 2013 totaling more than $383.9 million, compared to 975,970 payday loans that added up to $399.1 million in 2012. The number of payday lenders in the state also are in decline — from 356 in 2010 to 290 in 2013, the data shows.
Health-Care Access, Medicaid Expansion Among Key Issues in Oklahoma Gubernatorial Race
On November 4, Oklahoma residents will make a choice for governor between incumbent Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and Democratic nominee Rep. Joe Dorman (Rush Springs). Fallin has focused her campaign on her record as governor, including her legislative achievements and economic improvements in the state. (Since she took office, the unemployment rate in the state has fallen from 6.6 percent to 4.6 percent.) Dorman’s campaign messaging has also centered on economic issues—in his case, issues such as rising income inequality in the state. Dorman has also focused on state issues such as the lack of storm shelters at public schools.
Cherokee Nation Officials Celebrate Health Center Topping Out
Cherokee Nation celebrated the topping out of a new health center currently under construction in Washington County. The 28,000-square-foot health center in Ochelata, just south of Bartlesville, will replace the existing 5,000-square-foot Cherokee Nation Bartlesville Health Center. The new health center will accommodate a wide range of new health services, including primary care, dental, optometry, radiology, behavioral health, public health nursing, pharmacy with mail order, laboratory, nutrition, WIC, contract health and diabetes care.
New certification law may affect handgun license applicants
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday reached out to people who have completed a firearm safety training course but have not yet applied for a handgun license because time is running out on their certifications’ validity. State law requires that applicants for a license to carry concealed and unconcealed firearms pass an Oklahoma Self-Defense Act gun-safety course. Prior to the enactment of House Bill 2874, which overwhelmingly gained approval from state lawmakers during the latest legislative session, no limits were placed on the life of the certification. HB 2874 will enact a three-year limit on gun class certifications. The measure goes into effect Nov. 1.
Three Oklahoma earthquakes recorded today; damage reported in central Oklahoma
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded three more earthquakes today in Oklahoma. A 3.8 magnitude quake recorded 2:19 a.m. about 3 miles north-northeast of Harrah, a city of about 5,000 people about 20 miles east of Oklahoma City. A few hours later, a 3.9 magnitude quake recorded 4:08 a.m. about 5 miles north-northeast of Harrah. Then, a 3.0 magnitude quake recorded 5:47 a.m. about 5 miles south of Medford. The Harrah quakes were strong enough to knock merchandise off the shelves at an Ace Hardware store along with tiles from the ceiling.
“It’s tragic that you can move 21 million pounds of food out into these communities and it’s still not enough.”
- Eileen Bradshaw, executive director of the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. She said the food bank distributed a record amount of food but is still not meeting the full need (Source: http://bit.ly/1oXNptm).
Number of the Day
Number of journalists reporting full-time from the Oklahoma statehouse. Oklahoma ranks 15th nationwide.
‘We’ve got ‘em on the run’: Texas cities work to rein in payday loans
In late 2012, Gail Rowland’s eyesight was dimming. She was in her late 60s, and knew she’d need a cataract surgery — but the insurance deductible was going to be $1,000. She’d lost most of her savings going through a divorce, and needed the rest for daily expenses, so the rest had to come from somewhere. That’s when she noticed an ad in Greensheet, a listings site, for The Cash Store. She thought the ad said she could pay back the loan at her own pace, and so she didn’t think too much about walking into one of their 15 Houston locations, handing over pay stubs and her bank account information, putting down the names of five friends and relatives, and leaving with $1,455 in crisp bills. The APR was 581.72 percent. And that’s some very expensive money: If she made all 10 payments as scheduled, it would have cost $2,831.54 on top of what she borrowed.