Justin Jones has a mess on his hands.
As director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Jones oversees the agency charged with watching an ever-growing prison population, and doing so with too-few prison guards. That dynamic contributes to brawls such as the one this week involving about 30 inmates at the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown.
It was the latest of many violent incidents behind bars in the past year. Prison guards are concerned for their safety, the head of the Oklahoma Corrections Professions says, and prisons are “losing people like crazy everywhere” because of low pay and job conditions.
Additional funding would help, and Jones has regularly asked the Legislature for more. But bookkeeping concerns have become a big problem. The Oklahoman recently obtained documents showing that the amount of money held in two DOC revolving accounts was significantly greater than what the agency reported to the governor for her budgeting purposes.
Preston Doerflinger, the governor’s chief budget writer, says DOC has clear needs “but the problem is when you’ve got monies sitting in revolving accounts that appear to not be accurate and that they’re not utilizing appropriately, then how best are we to know and what confidence are we to have in taking into consideration the need for additional resources?”
Good questions. Until they’re answered sufficiently, Jones’ already tough job will only get more difficult.
When Oklahoma lifted its ban on horse slaughter this year, opponents insisted the legislation was designed to benefit individuals wanting to open a horse slaughter plant locally. Instead, the nation’s first horse slaughter plant will open, as predicted when the slaughter bill was approved, in New Mexico.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has confirmed a plant in that state will open unless Congress reinstates a ban on horse slaughter. This development will likely reduce any drive for a horse plant in Oklahoma.
Interested investors will want to monitor the New Mexico plant’s experience first. Will protesters impede functional operation of the plant? Will frivolous lawsuits bombard the plant’s owners? And how much market demand will there actually be for horse slaughter (although it’s clear plants in Mexico and Canada are staying busy)?
Having the chance to let someone else go first in this arena is not a bad thing for Oklahoma.
Since her election, Gov. Mary Fallin has touted efforts to right-size government. In particular, she has repeatedly argued Oklahoma has too many agencies, boards and commissions.
This week, she showed those words were more than campaign rhetoric by vetoing a bill that had received almost unanimous support in the Legislature. House Joint Resolution 1023 would have recreated the Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Reform Committee to review Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system.
The measure passed the House 92-3 and cleared the Senate 43-0. But Fallin noted the committee could be formed through an executive order “rather than passing legislation and adding statutory provisions to our already lengthy legal code.”
That’s a good point. Others have previously noted numerous boards remain part of state law even though those groups have not met in years. As Fallin points out, such semi-permanent legal changes aren’t necessary to achieve short-term goals.
Oklahoma tag agents howled in 2010 when the state Tax Commission began making some tag agent services available online. The commission was complying with legislation directing all state agencies to offer online services.
At the time, a lobbyist for the Oklahoma Tag Agent Coalition complained about the Tax Commission “spending money to put the state in competition with private enterprise.” (Horrors!)
Turns out the concerns were for naught.
The Tulsa World reports that three years later, the number of online license tag renewals has grown but business conducted over the Internet comprises less than 1 percent of total tag agent-related revenue. In 2012, tag agents collected $817 million in taxes and fees. Online transactions amounted to just $427,287.
For now at least, it’s clear folks much prefer to conduct these transactions in person.
Earlier this year when state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, filed an amendment to provide vouchers to families of children attending any school that allows teachers to be armed, we thought it was a political stunt. We stand corrected.
Shelton remains steadfast, making the case for school choice in situations where parents are uncomfortable with the idea of a child’s teacher having a gun.
Shelton argues, “It is my job, not a teacher’s, to introduce guns to my children. Parents should be empowered to take their children out of any school that allows guns in the classroom.” Fair enough.
But school choice supporters reasonably argue: Why stop there? Should parents be forced to keep their children in a failing school, based solely on geographic proximity, so long as teachers don’t have weapons?
Shelton’s argument isn’t unreasonable, but it can apply to situations well beyond the “guns in school” issue.
Another day, another pointless protest along the route of the Keystone XL pipeline’s southern leg. Meantime, Americans remain supportive of the more controversial northern leg.
Protesters in Oklahoma (but not necessarily from Oklahoma) this week continued their childish antics of fastening themselves to construction equipment, getting arrested for it and — no doubt — tweeting about their heroics. Monday’s protest came on the final day of the U.S. State Department’s formal comment period for the project.
Also this week, the Environmental Protection Agency weighed in with the dog-bites-man news that it has major concerns about Keystone’s link between Cushing and Canada’s vast oil sands reserves. And a survey was released showing that nearly 75 percent of Americans support the project. This exceeds the 68 percent support registered in Canada.
While the Obama administration continues to dawdle on the northern leg, the route from Cushing to the Gulf Coast has the blessing of Barack Obama himself. He made a campaign stop near Cushing last year to announce his approval of the project. Yet the protesters keep showing up in southern Oklahoma to take a stand.
This week marked the fifth such effort. One protester said he came from Ames, Iowa, to defend the Red River. Really? Defend it from what? A Texas invasion?
The remark illustrates the mindlessness of this effort. Irrelevant comparisons to a pipeline break in Arkansas are about the only thing the protesters have going for them. We suggest that the Iowan head home and help defend Mississippi River towns from an extant flooding threat.
That would be productive and heroic.
President Barack Obama promised that under the Affordable Care Act, “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period.” But that promise isn’t true even for government workers.
Washington state officials are considering a proposal to shift state workers out of their current health plans and into those offered through Obamacare exchanges.
Because pay for many of those employees is low enough to qualify for federal subsidies, the shift would “save” Washington state government $120 million over two years, shifting costs to federal taxpayers instead. Other states are expected to do the same.
The plans offered through exchanges are expected to have more limited provider networks than traditional insurance, so this is hardly a boon to state workers. It’s just one more instance where Obamacare is exacerbating problems in health insurance instead of solving them, and shifting costs instead of lowering them.
President Barack Obama claims he’s for “balanced” deficit reduction that relies on the rich paying just a little more. It turns out Obama defines “rich” to include those earning less than $10,000 annually, based on an analysis of his latest budget proposal by the Tax Policy Center.
The center found Americans at all income levels would face 2015 tax increases under Obama’s plan — which, we must point out, still fails to balance the budget even with $1.1 trillion in tax increases over a decade.
Obama’s plan includes a tobacco tax increase, which would fall disproportionately on the poor. While those earning between $50,000 and $200,000 would see after-tax income decline one-tenth of 1 percent, the center estimates those earning less than $50,000 would see after-tax income decline by two and three times that amount.
Who knew Obama considered a welfare recipient with a cigarette the equivalent of John Rockefeller?
Oklahoma House leadership clearly wants nothing to do with banning text-messaging while driving.
This week the House rejected further efforts to crack down on texting at the wheel.
Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville, originally introduced a texting ban bill that passed through a House committee but wasn’t heard on the floor. He later tried unsuccessfully to add the ban as an amendment to another bill.
On Tuesday, three tries by Democrats to get anti-texting language added to legislation were rejected. One would have limited the ban to places like school zones and work zones, and even that got shot down.
Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, is among those opposed to banning driving and texting, and so Oklahoma remains one of just 11 states that haven’t tried to crack down on this dangerous and omnipresent practice.
Persistence can be a virtue, especially for those serving in the Legislature. Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is proving that with legislation to strengthen oversight of school volunteers.
House Bill 2228, the “Protect Against Pedophiles Act,” has now passed both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the state Senate. Under the bill, schools could have the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation conduct a criminal background check of all adult school volunteers. The district or the volunteer would pay for the review.
Dorman authored a similar measure in 2012 that easily passed the House (where only three lawmakers opposed it), but was then killed in the Senate on a 27-13 vote.
HB 2228 must still clear several more legislative hurdles, but this appears to be a good idea that is sadly necessary to protect children. Dorman is to be commended for continuing to work on this issue.