Top Stories

  • Unemployment abuse merits scrutiny

    Published: Tue, Mar 18, 2014

    In his role as lieutenant governor, Todd Lamb visits all 77 Oklahoma counties each year, conducting numerous town halls and meeting with local business leaders. In the past, the workers’ compensation system was a top priority for those entrepreneurs. Now that lawmakers have overhauled the system, another issue is rising in importance: unemployment insurance abuse. “That’s an issue, maybe not as large-scale as workers’ comp, but it’s darn close as far as fraud in the system and a very punitive policy as it relates to employers,” Lamb told The Oklahoman’s editorial board in a recent meeting. In many communities, Lamb said, employers have observed laid-off workers who choose to stay on unemployment “as long as

  • Evil? Oklahoma House member could use a vocabulary lesson

    Published: Tue, Mar 18, 2014

    Somebody give state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton a dictionary. She can use one, as evidenced during her debate last week against Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to fund storm shelters at Oklahoma schools. Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, called the bill “an evil piece of legislation.” Evil? Definitions of “evil” include “morally reprehensible” and “arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct.” The word is attached to heinous acts, or people proven to be heartless on a grand scale. The storm shelter resolution doesn’t qualify. Hamilton said lawmakers’ focus should be on making schools safe “without forcing people to face what could for some of them be ruinous property tax increases.” But nobody’s

  • Oklahoma House should vote on Indian cultural center bill

    Published: Mon, Mar 17, 2014

    THE idea to use $40 million in unclaimed property funds to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum appears to be losing ground at the Legislature, particularly in the House. Not a surprise, perhaps, but still disappointing. The AICCM sits half-finished along the Oklahoma River east of downtown Oklahoma City. Construction has been on hold for two years. In hand is $40 million in private money pledged to get the museum completed — provided that the state comes through with an additional $40 million. The state has already spent $67.4 million on the project. Many members in both chambers of the Legislature are leery of using any additional state funding, particularly given the tight budget year they’re dealing

  • Employee Rights Act worthy of Congress' support

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Sun, Mar 16, 2014

    AT a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee last month, workers rejected the idea of unionizing. The United Auto Workers promptly filed an appeal with the U.S. government, citing “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups.” This is amusing on several levels. One is the suggestion that politicians’ First Amendment rights should have somehow been placed on hold in advance of the election. Would the union have groused if the pols had spoken in favor of unionizing? The other is that the UAW helps comprise one of the most powerful special interest groups in American politics — organized labor. There was much squawking from the left when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling in 2010.

  • Europe's westward look for natural gas is good news for Oklahoma energy producers

    Published: Sun, Mar 16, 2014

    EVEN as talk escalates on lifting a ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, discussion of a major boost to natural gas exports is ramping up following tensions in the Ukraine. Russia’s heavy-handed manner toward the Ukraine is making political leaders in Europe nervous. They know that what Vladimir Putin is doing is wrong and needs to be challenged. But they also depend in part on Russia’s vast energy supplies. Thus the stage is set for turning westward for reliable energy supplies from a friendlier and more stable part of the world: North America. This is great news for Oklahoma energy producers — although less so for consumers. A slump in natural gas prices, abated of late by severe winter weather, could be reversed with

  • ScissorTales: You call that a revenue shortfall?

    Published: Sat, Mar 15, 2014

    IN government, even good news can become bad news. Consider: Tax collections in Oklahoma are at an all-time high, yet state lawmakers still face a “shortfall” of $188 million when drafting the state budget. This is occurring because so much money is skimmed off the top for directly apportioned uses, creating an artificial reduction in the amount available through the Legislature’s state budget drafting process. Here’s another example: State general revenue fund (GRF) collections in February increased by $16.1 million compared with the same month last year — yet they were also $23.7 million below the official estimate. It’s not that tax collections are falling, nor is it that tax collections aren’t

  • Vaping needs no extra protection in Oklahoma

    Published: Fri, Mar 14, 2014

    Oklahoma law prevents local communities from imposing any tobacco regulation stricter than state regulations. Efforts to allow greater local control of tobacco have gone nowhere in the Legislature. Now, lawmakers may further reduce local communities’ power by banning their ability to regulate another product: e-cigarettes. House Bill 3104, by state Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, would ban the sale of vaping products to those younger than 18.

  • CPAC showed that conservatives embracing criminal justice reform

    Published: Fri, Mar 14, 2014

    MOST of the news coming from the recently concluded annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference focused on big names in the Republican Party who are positioning themselves for a run at the presidency in 2016. Another storyline was the intra-party debate over how much focus should be given to social issues that conservatives hold dear. A variety of other topics discussed at the conference drew far less attention. One of those was corrections reform. The takeaway: More and more conservatives understand that it must happen. This is certainly the case in Oklahoma, although efforts to significantly change the way the state handles inmates have been met with lukewarm response.

  • Marijuana revenues falls short in Colorado

    Published: Fri, Mar 14, 2014

    Proponents of drug legalization argue that decriminalization will boost state coffers by taxing the activity and putting the money to good use. Colorado, which has embraced legal marijuana, is testing this theory in a big way. Colorado officials report the state collected $2 million in taxes from recreational marijuana sales in January, and another $1.5 million in taxes off the sale of “medicinal” marijuana. That may sound great for those interested only in state finances. But here’s the catch: The governor’s budget office predicted marijuana taxes would total $134 million this year with recreational marijuana accounting for about 60 percent of sales. In fact, Gov.

  • Opponents of pension reform in Oklahoma need to face reality

    Published: Thu, Mar 13, 2014

    OKLAHOMA government has more than $11 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. So some legislators propose moving new state employees into a 401(k)-style system and using the resulting savings to help shore up the current system for workers already vested in it; that plan passed the state House this week. Rather than argue against that plan based on facts and analysis, some opponents are resorting to a conspiracy theory — and, boy, is it a doozy! Here’s the gist: A man who once worked for Enron now heads a charitable organization that supports pension reform efforts. That organization provided a grant to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, which also supports pension reform. Therefore, the entire pension reform effort must

  • Under Obamacare rules, wage gap could widen

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Thu, Mar 13, 2014

    PRESIDENT Barack Obama has made “income inequality” a political focus, decrying the gulf between rich and poor. Yet the president’s chief legislative accomplishment — Obamacare — could actually increase that gap. Recently, the Congressional Budget Office determined Obamacare would reduce work hours by an amount equivalent to 2 million fewer jobs by 2017. Under Obamacare, many poor Americans could lose insurance subsidies or Medicaid eligibility if their incomes increase. Since the extra cash would be less than lost government benefits, the CBO predicts many individuals will turn down work. Democrats tried to spin this as good news, saying it frees people from “job lock.

  • OSSAA needs to follow rules if it wants to avoid further legislative oversight

    Published: Wed, Mar 12, 2014

    THE Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association is losing its fight to keep the Legislature out of its business. News stories such as the one published Sunday in The Oklahoman are sure to hurt the cause even more. Reporter Nolan Clay detailed how the OSSAA, which governs high school sports and other extracurricular activities, has for years been doling out passes to playoff games to lawmakers who ask for them. It also occasionally sends “alerts” to administrators asking them to contact legislators on the association’s behalf. The idea that these football and basketball playoff passes are on par with a “bribe,” as the primary legislative critic of the OSSAA suggests, is ridiculous.

  • Anti-business ideology drives EPA actions

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Tue, Mar 11, 2014

    FOR those who wonder why the recovery has been so sluggish for so long, look no further than the Obama administration’s regulatory onslaught against one of the economy’s few bright spots: energy. “There’s no question: The regulatory environment is the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Mike Terry, president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, noting the Obama administration has unleashed a torrent of regulations regarding everything from air to water to animal habitat. Mike McDonald, owner of Triad Energy, employs 13 people, yet one of those workers “devotes probably 10 to 20 percent of his time to try to comply with all this stuff.

  • Oklahoma lawmakers should hold off on tweaking third-grade reading law

    Published: Tue, Mar 11, 2014

    WHEN Oklahomans finally know how many third-grade students will be retained under the state’s new reading law, no one will be happy. The number, whatever it is, will be heartbreaking. The number, whatever it is, will be far too many. The number, whatever it is, will be regrettable. Make no mistake, however, that children learning to read is no game of numbers. Legislators originally passed the law requiring most third-grade students who score at an unsatisfactory level on the state reading test to be retained, to give students the best chance at academic success in later years. That’s still a valid reason. Yet so far this legislative session, lawmakers seem open to weakening the law. Two bills that add flexibility to the law

  • Some county officials in Oklahoma could use a reality check

    Published: Mon, Mar 10, 2014

    TWO bills calling for limiting the terms of county officers have met different fates at the Oklahoma Capitol. One calling for a 16-year term limit was rejected. Another bill, imposing a 12-year limit, passed out of a separate committee. The mere prospect of term limits has prompted strong reaction from some quarters, although the arguments put forth may require suspension of disbelief. In a missive reportedly sent to county officials statewide, Gayle Ward, executive director at the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, warns county term limits would be “bad business, bad for the local economy.” “County government provides many jobs and services that keep local business open and communities thriving,” Ward

  • Oklahoma bill brings common sense to bear in 'sexting' penalties

    Updated: Fri, Mar 7, 2014

    A bill approved last week by the Oklahoma House of Representatives brings a measure of common sense to dealing with the very real problem of teenagers using their electronic devices to transmit sexually explicit photos and messages to others. Oklahoma law makes it a felony to publish child pornography, distribute it or take part in preparing it. Conviction on child pornography charges can carry long prison terms and require registration as a sex offender. These are apropos when the cases involve adults exploiting children. “Sexting” that involves high school students doesn’t fit that profile. Instead these transmissions are usually the result of stupidity — a girl sends her boyfriend a racy photo of herself, and he

  • Variety Care: Working to boost access to health care

    Published: Mon, Mar 10, 2014

    It’s no secret that Oklahomans have more than their share of health challenges. Fortunately, some groups are working to address those needs. Variety Care, which serves high-need areas in six counties in central and western Oklahoma, boosts low-income citizens’ access to health care. Variety Care employs 315 clinical providers and other staff. It’s ranked among the top 25 percent of Community Health Centers nationwide. In 2013, Variety Care served more than 23,000 children in Oklahoma. Of adults served, nearly 80 percent were uninsured. About half of all patients had incomes at or below the poverty level. Yet all adult patients are required to provide a co-payment for service, based on a sliding scale tied to income.

  • Adding tolls to free roads? Likely a tough sell in Oklahoma

    Head overline: Congress letting states charge on interstates | Published: Sun, Mar 9, 2014

    SHHH! Don’t tell the Oklahoma Department of Transportation or Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, but Congress is considering letting states charge tolls on existing interstate highways. The news in turnpike-happy Oklahoma might not be good for motorists if this happens. On the other hand, the pay-as-you-drive approach has its advantages in raising money for repairs and even Highway Patrol coverage. With more turnpike miles than just about any other state, Oklahomans are accustomed to paying tolls. Still, they’d like to pay less in tolls than they do now — even as they’d like to keep fuel taxes at current levels or lower. But you can’t drive both ways on a one-way street: The state must find the money to keep roads

  • Public deserves Oklahoma U.S. Senate race focused on policy, pragmatism

    Published: Sun, Mar 9, 2014

    THE field of Republican candidates running to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, continues to grow. It’s too bad some of those candidates aren’t yet demonstrating the policy focus and seriousness that Coburn brought to the job. Former state Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, is the latest of three major candidates to declare his candidacy, along with U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. In his announcement, Brogdon aimed most of his fire not at President Barack Obama, but at fellow Republicans. Brogdon declared that Sen.

  • Initiative petition drives all the rage in OKC

    Published: Sat, Mar 8, 2014

    SUDDENLY, initiative petition drives are all the rage in Oklahoma City. A relatively low required signature threshhold is a plus for organizers. This week the group Reform OKC filed a petition to have Oklahoma City voters decide whether to reduce the penalties for possessing marijuana. It’s the third drive begun in the past month. Reform OKC wants the penalty for simple possession to be similar to a traffic ticket, with a fine up to $500. Petition organizers have three months to collect 6,200 signatures of residents who are registered voters. Locals are likely to run into other petitioners, if they haven’t already, as Ward 2 city council representative Ed Shadid is leading a drive calling on a vote regarding the planned