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  • Pew prison report offers food for thought for Oklahoma lawmakers

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Sun, Jun 8, 2014

    A report from The Pew Charitable Trusts ought to motivate Oklahoma lawmakers to at least consider new ways to deal with the thousands of men and women who populate the state’s prisons. That’s probably wishful thinking, but perhaps some solon will surprise us. The report issued last week found that nationwide in 2012, 22 percent of state inmates served their full prison terms and were released into the community without any supervision. That percentage would be an improvement in Oklahoma, where about half of inmates fall into this category. The troubling Oklahoma percentage was among those cited in 2012 by proponents of a reform bill ultimately approved that year by the Legislature.

  • ScissorTales: An attitude that hurts technology in Oklahoma

    The Oklahoman Editorials | Published: Sat, Jun 7, 2014

    SCOTT Meacham was a prime player in the gubernatorial administration of Democrat Brad Henry. The former Elk City banker was Henry’s key adviser, head of the Office of State Finance and later became state treasurer. One of Henry’s most admirable accomplishments was creation of the EDGE endowment, an ambitious plan to put $1 billion into a fund, the interest on which would support investments in science, technology and research. Unfortunately, the Legislature never really bought the concept; lawmakers ultimately took what was left of the EDGE fund balance after Henry left office. Meacham, now president of i2E Inc., says the latest legislative session also was unkind to science and technology. His organization works with

  • On VA, liberal failures create opportunity for conservative reform

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Fri, Jun 6, 2014

    THE failures of big government have a silver lining: They create opportunity for conservative reform — if lawmakers are nimble enough to seize it. Such is the case with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s effort to leverage the disaster at the federal Veterans Affairs Department to inject modest free-market reform into a wholly government-run health care system. By now the details of the VA scandal are familiar. Displaying typical government inefficiency, the average VA doctor sees half as many patients as private-sector counterparts; health care services are effectively rationed. In particular, veterans are forced to endure extraordinarily long wait times.

  • Mandate mania not a one-party problem

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Thu, Jun 5, 2014

    REPUBLICANS almost universally condemn Obamacare and its command-and-control mandates. Yet a new study by the Mercatus Center (“The Political Roots of Health Insurance Benefit Mandates”) finds that Republican control of a state legislature doesn’t make it less likely a state will enact Obamacare-style insurance mandates. Recent experience in Oklahoma buttresses the findings. The Mercatus paper notes that insurance benefit mandates “restrict the kinds of plans that private health insurance companies can offer” — another way of saying they restrict consumer choice. One would think Republicans, who supposedly champion the free market, would therefore oppose most mandates. The record suggests otherwise.

  • Panola, OK, students may ultimately benefit if forced annexation occurs

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Thu, Jun 5, 2014

    OKLAHOMA may have one fewer school district when the 2014-15 school year begins than it does today. If so, a lack of funding will be the culprit. Students ultimately could benefit from annexation with a nearby district. The Panola district in Latimer County, in southeastern Oklahoma, had fewer than 250 students enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade this year. That’s an average of 18 students per grade, which is tiny but not all that unusual in Oklahoma. Of the state’s 517 districts, 130 — one-fourth — are the size of Panola or smaller. Panola’s problem? It’s running out of money. The district needs $256,000 to pay its bills through the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30.

  • Consumers will pay for Obama to cement legacy as “environmental president”

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Wed, Jun 4, 2014

    IF you like your state’s power plant fuel mixture, you can keep it. Pardon us for viewing Barack Obama’s greenhouse gas emission mitigation plan through the lens of the president’s health care law. The latter bypassed the Republican Party and normal U.S. Senate procedure. The emissions rules being formulated at the White House would bypass Congress altogether. Instead of state health care exchanges as an alternative to a centralized Obamacare exchange, the EPA’s proposed rules would “allow” states to come up with their own mitigation plan. States would have just three years to submit a plan to cut power plant pollution — or an extra year if they join with other states.

  • Medical claims a stretch in Oklahoma medical marijuana petition

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Updated: Tue, Jun 3, 2014

    OKLAHOMANS for Health has launched a petition drive asking voters to legalize medical marijuana. The group claims Oklahoma law prevents people with serious illnesses from accessing a viable medical treatment. But the details of the plan suggest that the ultimate goal is high-minded only if you emphasize “high.” Under the proposed constitutional amendment, some 37 “qualifying conditions” would make a citizen eligible to get a medical marijuana card and legally buy the drug. Some of the conditions are truly serious, such as cancer or AIDS. These are the more sympathetic cases that legalization proponents like to tout. But other qualifying conditions are hardly medical emergencies requiring last-ditch use of

  • Legislative funding in Oklahoma budget includes a few head-scratching details

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Tue, Jun 3, 2014

    FOR state lawmakers to employ sleight-of-hand accounting to mask the true costs of government isn’t unusual. And when it comes to the Legislature’s own finances, such practices increasingly appear to be the rule, not the exception. Last year we noted that lawmakers managed to find $7 million in new funding for themselves while claiming they lacked cash for things like Highway Patrol trooper pay raises. Under the budget approved last year, the Oklahoma House of Representatives got a $1 million increase, the Senate received a $1 million increase and the Legislative Service Bureau was given a $5 million increase that was used to remodel Capitol offices.

  • California shift on stem cells validates OK decision

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Mon, Jun 2, 2014

    IT’S no secret that California and Oklahoma often follow different policy paths. But recently, and with little fanfare, California officials have inched closer to Oklahoma’s position on stem cell funding. In 2004, Californians passed a ballot initiative to provide funding for stem cell research. Many proponents of the initiative claimed embryonic stem cell research was the key to curing a wide range of diseases. Such research is controversial for those who believe life begins at conception, since it involves creating what many people see as an unborn child, only to kill it for research purposes. Such moral qualms are one reason Oklahoma lawmakers considered a state ban on embryonic stem cell research in 2009. (The bill

  • Little planning evident in counteracting budget provisions

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Mon, Jun 2, 2014

    LAWMAKERS are often accused of voting for legislation without reading it. We almost hope that was the case regarding two bills dealing with tax cuts and school funding this year. If legislators actually read those bills, it means they were deliberately trying to pass counteracting laws designed to prevent at least one, if not both, measures from actually taking effect. Senate Bill 1246 cut Oklahoma’s top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent in two installments. House Bill 2642 would have earmarked money for schools, taking funds “off the top” before tax collections were deposited into the state’s general revenue fund. The legislation called for gradually increasing the amount skimmed until an

  • Mental illness stigma torpedoes a sensible building proposal

    The Oklahoman Editorials | Updated: Sun, Jun 1, 2014

    THE dissolution of a plan to house two state agencies in one building indirectly underscores the stigma associated with mental illness. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services both need new headquarters. Their buildings are old and becoming dilapidated. Late in the legislative session, the heads of each agency suggested the construction of one building that both could call home. The plan was to issue up to $40 million in bonds to build the joint headquarters. House and Senate committees approved the sensible idea, but in the final week of the session the proposal was pulled before the full House and Senate could vote because some veterans groups objected to the

  • 2014 Oklahoma legislative session didn't provide much reason to celebrate

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Sun, Jun 1, 2014

    BACK when Democrats controlled state government, we typically marked the end of each legislative session with a lament that the majority party had yet again refused to consider economy-building legislation such as tort reform and restructuring of the workers’ compensation system. Ah, those were the days! The Republican supermajority now controlling the Legislature has just completed one of the weirdest and most disappointing sessions in modern history. Lawmakers gutted education reform. They balked at requiring doctors to check to see if patients were being overprescribed pain medications. They may have effectively flushed millions of dollars already invested in the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

  • Oklahoma school district audit underscores need for vigilance

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Sun, Jun 1, 2014

    OKLAHOMANS typically support the concept of local control (at least rhetorically). But local control only works if local officials take their oversight responsibilities seriously. A new state audit of Dickson Public School in southern Oklahoma shows what can happen when local officials are asleep at the wheel or worse. Although the state auditor and inspector’s office ultimately found no major violations of state law occurred in Dickson, that only makes its findings even more disturbing. Reviewing records from July 1, 2011 to Oct. 1, 2013, the audit found the school was paying staff members to drive to Oklahoma City to hand deliver paper copies of teacher contracts to the state Department of Education.

  • Small pension reform draws big rhetoric from Oklahoma House member

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Fri, May 30, 2014

    WE’RE accustomed to Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman putting his foot in his mouth. With the issue of public pension restructuring, Inman has inserted not just a foot but an entire yardstick. Inman, D-Del City, said a switch from a defined benefit structure to a defined contribution system was the worst piece of legislation passed in the 2014 session. That’s saying a lot, given the spate of bad bills that made it to the finish line. The change affects only new hires and only one of the state’s public pension plans, which happens to be the one that’s in the best shape. Inman told the Tulsa World that the change will provide less incentive for people to work in state government and will result in future state

  • Oklahoma lawmaker optimistic prescription drug bill will survive in 2015

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Fri, May 30, 2014

    BETTER luck next year. That’s what state Rep. Doug Cox says he’s hoping for — and indeed expects — as he resumes efforts to put a dent in Oklahoma’s serious problem with prescription painkillers. Cox, R-Grove and a medical doctor, worked overtime during the closing weeks of the 2014 session trying to gather support for Senate Bill 1820. He was unable to find enough backers to move the bill out of a House committee. “We were that close and we just ran out of time,” Cox said this week. SB 1820 would have required doctors to check the state’s online Prescription Monitoring Program each time they wrote or refilled a prescription for Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances.

  • Academic standards require better process than Oklahoma lawmakers proposing

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Thu, May 29, 2014

    FEW people deny that Oklahoma’s education system faces many challenges. But until now, no one claimed the solution was to put politicians in direct charge of writing academic standards for public schools. Yet that’s what a bill approved on the final day of the legislative session endorses. This is the latest, and goofiest, development to come out of efforts to repeal Common Core academic standards in Oklahoma. Under the final provisions of House Bill 3399, the state Board of Education would be required to adopt new academic standards in language and math by Aug. 1, 2016, after consulting with a wide range of experts. However, the legislation exempts adoption of those academic standards from the state’s Administrative

  • Public policy will play key role in continued growth of Oklahoma cities

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Updated: Wed, May 28, 2014

    CRITICS of the latest personal income tax cut for Oklahomans may want to leave this page for a moment. The U.S. Census Bureau says that Texas, which has zero personal income tax, is home to seven of the nation's 10 fastest-growing cities with a population of 50,000 or more. If those critics are still with us, they might be thinking along the lines of, “Sure Texas is booming, but the lack of an income tax is offset by much higher property taxes.” This is an old chestnut aimed at minimizing the advantages offered by the Lone Star State. But as we noted recently, an Oklahoman earning at the level of the state's per capita income would realize a net gain by moving to Texas despite the higher property tax rate.

  • Oklahoma schools must obey reading law, include parents

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Updated: Wed, May 28, 2014

    AFTER voting in 2011 to prevent social promotion of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level (if that), state lawmakers did a 180 this year and acted to allow functionally illiterate students to advance to fourth grade. Those promoting this change often claimed they support efforts to teach children to read, just not retention. They can prove it by backing efforts that ensure the non-retention provisions of Oklahoma's reading law are carried out by school districts, and that parents are kept involved throughout the process. Under Oklahoma's Reading Sufficiency Act, students must be assessed at the start of each school year from kindergarten to third grade to identify those needing intensive reading

  • Oklahoma schools must obey reading law, include parents

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Sat, May 24, 2014

    AFTER voting in 2011 to prevent social promotion of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level (if that), state lawmakers did a 180 this year and acted to allow functionally illiterate students to advance to fourth grade. Those promoting this change often claimed they support efforts to teach children to read, just not retention. They can prove it by backing efforts that ensure the non-retention provisions of Oklahoma’s reading law are carried out by school districts, and that parents are kept involved throughout the process. Under Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act, students must be assessed at the start of each school year from kindergarten to third grade to identify those needing intensive reading

  • Public policy will play key role in continued growth of Oklahoma cities

    The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: Sat, May 24, 2014

    CRITICS of the latest personal income tax cut for Oklahomans may want to leave this page for a moment. The U.S. Census Bureau says that Texas, which has zero personal income tax, is home to seven of the nation’s 10 fastest-growing cities with a population of 50,000 or more. If those critics are still with us, they might be thinking along the lines of, “Sure Texas is booming, but the lack of an income tax is offset by much higher property taxes.” This is an old chestnut aimed at minimizing the advantages offered by the Lone Star State. But as we noted recently, an Oklahoman earning at the level of the state’s per capita income would realize a net gain by moving to Texas despite the higher property tax rate.