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 Zebre.
Today you should know that the proposed Tulsa city budget for fiscal year 2015 would eliminate 228 positions, including 66 school crossing guards. The results of Oklahoma’s first high-stakes reading test for third-graders are due out Friday, but legislation (HB 2625) that would restore control to parents and teachers over whether to retain students is still in limbo. In the latest story for OK Policy’s “Neglected Oklahoma” series, an Oklahoma mother explains how taking a payday loan to keep the heat turned on during the winter has left her buried in debt.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Oklahoma must respond by Thursday to a death row inmate’s request for at least a six-month delay of his scheduled execution pending a review into the state’s botched execution last week. Attorneys for the inmate who died during the botched execution say they plan to have a second autopsy conducted by a private doctor. University of Oklahoma law professor Joseph Thai wrote that Oklahoma should stop hiding executions from public scrutiny.
After 11 years of litigation, a federal judge said he will soon decide whether the Cherokee Nation can bar citizenship to descendants of slaves who had been owned by tribal members. The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s unemployment trust fund balance, the 4th highest in the US. In today’s Policy Note, Al Jazeera America reports on how industry lobbying groups are pushing to ban mandated paid sick days, minimum wage increases, and other pro-worker policies.
In The News
Tulsa budget plan will cut 228 jobs, including 66 school crossing guards
The proposed fiscal year 2015 city budget could still result in layoffs despite a message from the mayor that it is the city’s mission to avoid them at all costs. Jarred Brejcha, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the city will be working hard to move employees whose positions are on the chopping block to other positions, but the approach would still lead to layoffs if an employee was unable or unwilling to move laterally or down to an open position. The proposed city budget includes the elimination of 228 positions, the transfer of 21 positions in consolidation efforts and the hiring of 34 new employees across all departments, according to a Tulsa World analysis.
Crucial third-grade reading test results due Friday; Tulsa lawmaker still works for local option
The results of Oklahoma’s first high-stakes reading test for third-graders are due out Friday, even as legislation that would restore control over the lowest-scoring students to parents and teachers is still clinging to life. “Of course every parent is going to want to know how their child did on the test as soon as possible. If I had a third-grader, I would be on the edge of my seat,” said Vickie Johnson, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Tulsa Public Schools. Because of an amendment to the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act passed in 2011, third-graders who score “unsatisfactory” in reading on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test risk not being promoted to the fourth grade.
Paying a poverty tax: The high cost of being poor in Oklahoma
“Ordinary things cost more when you’re poor,” Sophia Foreman told me. She has three kids, three jobs and not enough money to pay her bills. Sophia works part time at a big box store in a Tulsa suburb and has a second part-time job at a call center. On Sundays she works in a church nursery – altogether 50 hours most weeks at $9 and change per hour. Things got rough for Sophia this winter. Heating bills were high and she lost time from work due to bad weather. Facing a cutoff of her gas service, Sophia went to a payday loan company. “I knew it was going to cost a lot but what choice did I have? We couldn’t live without heat.” She borrowed enough to pay the gas bill and buy warm boots for her family.
Fallin signs bill requiring students to recite Pledge of Allegiance
Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday signed a measure requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. Senate Bill 1143 would also let students not wishing to say the Pledge of Allegiance to opt out. “In most schools, it is not necessary (to require it), but there are some schools that don’t do it for different reasons,” said Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton, the Senate author. “I never thought we would have to make a requirement out of it.” Fallin also signed Senate Bill 1372 that would lower the age requirement for joining the Oklahoma Highway Patrol from 23 years old to 21.
Legislation would subject Oklahoma Highway Patrol dashboard video to state’s Open Records Act
Videos shot from the dashboards of Oklahoma Highway Patrol cruisers or cameras worn by troopers would be subject to the state’s Open Records Act under a bill that is heading to the governor’s desk. The House voted 76-6 on Tuesday to accept Senate amendments to the bill by Tulsa Republican Rep. Ken Walker and sent it to the governor to sign or veto. The bill eliminates a current exemption to the state’s Open Records Act that allows the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to keep its recordings secret. The measure also includes exceptions to allow law enforcement to keep from public view portions of recordings that showed nudity, minors, fatalities, or officer conduct that is subject of a current investigation, until such an investigation is completed.
Oklahoma is already seeing longer dry spells, shorter winters and a lot more ragweed pollen because of global climate change, according to report released Tuesday by the Obama administration. The 821-page National Climate Assessment, compiled by more than 300 experts in the field, says 2001-2012 was the warmest period globally on record, with each year warmer than the 1990s. And each year of the 1990s, in turn, was warmer than each year of the 1980s, which was the warmest decade on record up to that time. Closer to home, the report says the ragweed season in northeastern Oklahoma grew an average of 14 days a year, and the length of time between the last freeze of spring and first freeze of autumn increased 10 days.
Large fire in far northwest Oklahoma prompts evacuations
A large grass fire northwest of Woodward on Tuesday prompted numerous evacuations and closed a stretch of U.S. 183. The fire started about 12:30 p.m. and was four miles northwest of Woodward. The fire moved rapidly about 13.5 miles toward the northeast and was about 3.2 miles in width. By Tuesday evening, about half of the fire had been contained. “The fire grew really quick. I mean, we are used to big fires up here, but we weren’t expecting this,” Woodward assistant Fire Chief Todd Finley said. “We’re still not sure how this fire started.”
Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma have until Thursday to respond to a death row inmate’s request for at least a six-month delay of his scheduled execution pending a review into the state’s botched execution last week. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday directed the state to respond to the request by inmate Charles Warner, who currently is scheduled to be put to death by lethal next Tuesday for the 1997 killing of an 11-month-old. Warner’s attorneys contend the state can’t ensure a “humane, constitutional execution.”
Second autopsy to be conducted on executed inmate, attorneys say
Attorneys for an inmate who died during a botched execution say they plan to have a second autopsy conducted in Oklahoma. Defense Attorney David Autry said the second autopsy of inmate Clayton Lockett’s body will be conducted by a private doctor “just to have a fail-safe or double check.” Gov. Mary Fallin had ordered that Lockett’s autopsy be conducted outside of the state, saying the move would ensure an independent process. Lockett’s autopsy is being conducted by the Southwestern Institute for Forensic Science in Dallas. Officials have said the autopsy report is expected to be complete in eight to 12 weeks. Autry said state officials “have been agreeable” to defense attorneys arranging for a second autopsy by a doctor of their choosing.
Last Tuesday night, the machinery of death in our state horribly malfunctioned. Oklahoma put to death Clayton Lockett, a convicted killer, but not in the silent, antiseptic way the state intended. Instead, the experimental three-drug cocktail procured in secrecy by the state for Lockett’s lethal injection exploded his femoral vein. Lockett writhed, convulsed, gasped, mumbled “man,” and died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes later, after state officials had closed the curtains on witnesses to the botched execution. Those curtains needed to stay open. Though I am both a law professor and a lawyer, I write as an Oklahoma citizen and taxpayer. Our state executes more of its citizens per capita than any other state. Because Oklahoma imposes capital punishment on behalf of its citizens, and because its taxpayers bear the costs, the state must not shroud its executions from public scrutiny.
Federal judge promises quick decision in Cherokee freedmen case
After 11 years of sometimes contentious litigation, a federal judge said here Monday that he will soon decide whether the Cherokee Nation can bar citizenship to descendants of slaves who had been owned by tribal members. Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan made the announcement after a hearing on the core issue in the case: whether an 1866 treaty between the tribe and the U.S. government means Cherokee freedmen descendants must always have the same rights as native Cherokees. Hogan voiced skepticism on Monday that the treaty allows the tribe to change its constitution to require tribal blood for citizenship. Cherokee voters approved such a change in 2007, and tribal attorney Diane Hammons argued Monday that the Cherokee Nation — the biggest tribe in the United States — has the right to define its own citizenship.
“That loan was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. It made my credit even worse. I lost my bank account. I’m paying over 400 percent in interest plus fees. Trying to keep up with these loan payments means going deeper in the hole every payday. Also I pay higher fees for a prepaid debit card, money orders, wire transfers and other financial services. It’s an extra tax on poor people.”
-Oklahoma mother Sophia Foreman, who works 3 jobs but ended up taking out a high-interest payday loan to keep the heat turned on for herself and her 3 kids during the winter (Source: http://bit.ly/1sgwxz2)
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s unemployment trust fund balance, the 4th highest in the US.
On March 20, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a bill expanding the city’s paid-sick-day law, giving an additional 500,000 workers the right to take up to five sick days in a year to care for themselves or sick family members without losing pay. Other cities — including Seattle; Washington; Portland, Oregon; Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey; and San Francisco — have passed similar mandates (as has the state of Connecticut), creating a benefit that voters support and employees need and that many employers say is economically sustainable. In places without such laws, an estimated 40 percent of the workforce has no paid sick days, meaning that restaurant servers and retail employees often have little economic choice but to work sick, even if that means risking infecting customers and co-workers.