Reports about the bill-collecting practices of the Emergency Medical Services Authority have been met with deafening silence by the head of EMSA. The agency’s CEO, Steve Williamson, has repeatedly refused comment when contacted by the Tulsa World about its stories detailing EMSA users who have been hounded for payment despite taking part in a program that tacks on a few dollars a month to their utility bill to cover ambulance service. EMSA is the ambulance provider in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and surrounding communities. It’s also a government agency, funded in part by taxpayer subsidies. Those taxpayers deserve much more than “no comment” from the person in charge.
Photo by James Gibbard, Tulsa World
Three consecutive state treasurers — incumbent Republican Ken Miller and his Democratic predecessors — put the Oklahoma College Savings Plan (OCSP) at the top of their agendas. Each touted the benefits of middle-class taxpayers setting aside money for their children’s higher education. A component of the plan is a state income tax deduction worth up to $2,000 a year to families. That deduction is on the chopping block as lawmakers shop for revenues to offset a reduction in or elimination of the state income tax. Miller says OCSP has set aside nearly a half billion dollars for college expenses over the past 12 years. Continuation of the OCSP deduction, Miller said this week, “proves not only commitment to the future of a child, but the future our state.” We agree. Among the targeted credits and deductions, this one’s at the top of our list for retention.
The Oklahoman Archives
Like the Oscar nominees they helped produce, state film incentive programs are in the spotlight. Of the nine films contending for best picture, eight got government financial assistance — five via state programs and three via tax credits to film overseas. The odd film out happened to be the Academy’s favorite, “The Artist.” Stateline.org has reported on the tension over disclosing dollar amounts of incentives for individual productions. Taxpayers desire transparency; the film industry values privacy. States jockey to be the most lucrative sites in which to film, and Oklahoma’s role in the contest is up for consideration. With a Legislature eager to trim the supporting cast of tax credits and exemptions, our state’s $5 million rebate program could join other incentives on the chopping block. Its effectiveness does warrant a review. The enticement hasn’t proved strong enough for a slate of stories set in Oklahoma but filmed elsewhere. The most recent episode: Kevin Durant’s upcoming movie, “Thunderstruck,” was filmed primarily in Baton Rouge.
The verdict is in: The red M&M is not a bully. In case you weren’t aware of the controversy, Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau has been looking into it for the past two months. Viewers had complained that said candy character’s treatment of his colleagues in TV commercials promoted bullying among children, but the bureau ruled that the ads were merely humorous. Back in this hemisphere, New Hampshire’s House rejected a bill this week that would’ve made bullying among state lawmakers illegal, punishable by a $2,500 civil fine. Rep. Susan Emerson had filed the bill in response to a confrontation with the House speaker last year. “If he was one of my sons, I would have washed his mouth out with jalapeno peppers, you bet,” Emerson said. Well. Both episodes remind us that attempts to stop bullying, a valid concern, can get a little out of hand.
A legislative committee says Oklahoma needs to create a state-based, free-market health insurance exchange in order to keep the feds from coming in and imposing their own exchange on the state. This recommendation, although it makes sense, was hardly a surprise. There is no support in the Republican-controlled Legislature for the edicts included in President Obama’s health care law. Health exchanges were among them. These web-based exchanges are designed to give consumers one place to shop for insurance. The federal government provided Oklahoma with a $54.6 million grant last year to establish an exchange. The state sent it back after protests from Republicans and conservatives. The committee’s report didn’t estimate how much an Oklahoma exchange would cost or how it would be paid for. So there is much work ahead. But signaling to the administration that we’re working on an exchange is a step in the right direction. Obamacare is a disaster but it’s also the law of the land for now, and states are obliged to follow it.
The drama seems to have no end with the agency in charge of enforcing Oklahoma’s pet breeding law. The Board of Commercial Pet Breeders was formed by the Legislature two years ago. The board has gotten off to a rocky start — its first executive director quit in September, just as inspectors were to begin enforcing pet breeding laws. His replacement quit two weeks after being hired in December. Now the Legislature wants to eliminate the board and turn its duties over to the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department. A House committee gave unanimous support to the idea this week. Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, who wrote the legislation creating the rules for the board, says many breeders are “scared to death” of the board and that more breeders will be open to licensing by the agriculture agency. The board’s chairman says it has made good strides and should be left as is. We’re for whatever reduces the number of puppy and kitten mills in our state, which is why the board was formed in the first place.
Dog rescued from puppy mill. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Testimony in the corruption trial for the former head of the Oklahoma Senate shed some light on the way business gets done at the Capitol. Simply put: It can be smarmy. Lobbyist Dave Herbert testified that he agreed to look the other way during the 2007 session when then-Sen. Mike Morgan placed into a bill language that Herbert otherwise would have opposed on behalf of his clients. “The discussion we had was: ‘When are you going to run it? And where are you going to hide it?’” Herbert said. The answers: in the closing days of the session, tucked into a bill. Herbert’s reference to “hiding” the language, and Morgan’s alleged interest in taking advantage of the hectic final days, should come as no surprise — this has long been standard operating procedure at NE 23 and Lincoln. Thank goodness efforts have been made in recent years to curb the practice. The less of those last-minute shenanigans, the better.
One cabbage at a time, Oklahoma third graders are learning hands-on lessons in responsibility and nutrition. Last year over 11,000 participated in the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program by tending their very own plants. For a state that’s 50th in consumption of fruits and vegetables, this unique educational opportunity is a great way to teach kids where vegetables come from and that they can have success at gardening. The program uses oversized cabbages so the growing process is even more fun. Oklahoma’s winner got a $1,000 college scholarship, and her family enjoyed four meals of the more than six pound produce. In other words, two best in state cabbages would easily outweigh the Best in Show Pekingese from last week’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Let’s hope the seeds planted in these children will produce a harvest of health in coming seasons.
The meaning of “cruel and unusual” punishment has been defined down over the years by death penalty opponents. A result is the long slog from beheading by axe or sword to the guillotine to the firing squad and hanging to the gas chamber and electric chair to, finally, lethal injection.
Pressure on companies that make the drugs used in executions has led to a shortage and this may result in a reversal of sorts. If Oklahoma can’t get the drugs, it could legally resort to the electric chair or firing squad. Since the state has no electric chair (and isn’t likely to put out bids for one), that leaves the bullet. Perhaps this is the true intent of the anti-capital punishment forces — to take executions back in time to what the people might consider an unacceptable alternative.
If so, we pity the first death row inmates who face a firing squad while public opinion catches up with the fallback method to put cold-blooded killers to death. Will those inmates beg for the needle instead, only to be told their friends on the outside have loaded the rifle by unloading the syringe?
The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after an execution by firing squad in June 2010. (AP Photo)
AP File Photo
Anthony Shadid never shied from a dangerous assignment, indeed he felt compelled to report to the rest of the world what he was seeing in places such as Baghdad or Libya or Ramallah. That nearly cost him his life a few times — Shadid was wounded in 2002 in Ramallah while working for The Boston Globe, and last year he was among four New York Times journalists held captive for several days in Libya while covering clashes between the government and rebels. This week an asthma attack claimed Shadid, 43, in Syria where he was reporting about the uprising against its president. An Oklahoma City native, Shadid twice won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. John Daniszewski, senior managing editor of The Associated Press, worked with Shadid in Baghdad during the U.S. invasion in 2003. “He was … the most admired of his generation of foreign correspondents,” Daniszewski said. Shadid’s father, Buddy, said his son “died doing what he wanted to do. He lived and breathed journalism.” Anthony Shadid will be sorely missed.