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Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

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Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

For the fifth time since Oklahoma teachers left their classrooms, House Republicans refused to hear a bill that would end a lucrative tax break for high earners and potentially bring an end to the one-week-old teacher walkout.

Eliminating the capital gains tax deduction – something that largely benefits the wealthy – would free up $100 million or more a year that could be used for education and to shore up the state budget. A state-commissioned consulting group last year recommended the tax break be repealed.

Mike Boettcher / Unfiltered

Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies reached out to the 11 declared gubernatorial candidates to ask them what they think about striking teachers’ demands and what more can be done to fund education and get teachers back in their classrooms. Responses came from the candidates or their representatives. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb’s campaign pointed to an April 2 Fox News interview in which he addressed the strike. Responses have been condensed.

DEMOCRATS:

Drew Edmondson

Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

A controversial proposal to end a tax break that benefits fewer than 18,000 Oklahomans – the vast majority of whom make upwards of $200,000 – is at the center of the debate over how lawmakers can find more money for education and potentially end the teacher walkout.

Teachers, education advocates and House Democrats have launched a renewed push since the teacher work stoppage began on Monday for the Legislature to pass a bill that would eliminate the state’s capital gains deduction.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Boosting teacher pay by an average of $6,000—which the Legislature approved last week—wasn’t enough to put the brakes on a massive shut-down of schools to rally at the state Capitol. An estimated 30,000 people attended Monday’s rally, and many school districts are closed again Tuesday so the walkout can continue.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

John Whitfield was just a mile or two away from his home in northeast Oklahoma City when he noticed police lights in his rear-view mirror during a spring night in 2016.

Whitfield, who is black, said he didn’t think he was speeding or had committed any other traffic infraction. He said he had gone to the store because he was out of soap.

Sue Ogrocki / AP Images

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The colorless, odorless gas makes up 78 percent of our air.

Yet it is used in some assisted suicides in Europe. It is touted by some advocates for industry euthanasia of animals. And the gas – nitrogen – is what U.S. Air Force pilots are exposed to during high-altitude tests that gauge their reaction to reduced oxygen and can render them unconscious.

Now Oklahoma plans to use nitrogen in its death-penalty chamber.

 

Oklahoma Watch

A threatened teacher walkout in early April casts a shadow over the legislative session and could disrupt the lives of parents, children, educators and many others should it go on for days or weeks.

State employees also are planning a multi-agency work stoppage on April 2, which would widen and deepen the impact.

Interviews Show Teachers On A Collision Course With Unwavering Lawmakers

Mar 9, 2018
Jennifer Palmer / Oklahoma Watch

It became official Thursday: The largest, most organized voice for Oklahoma teachers issued an ultimatum to legislators that teachers will shut down much of Oklahoma’s public-school system indefinitely unless serious money is found to boost teacher pay and education funding.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

A dispute between Oklahoma and federal agencies over relatively high payments for hundreds of doctors who treat Medicaid patients is a key reason state taxpayers are on the hook for $140 million in emergency funds for the state’s two medical schools, records obtained by Oklahoma Watch show.

Elaine Thompson / AP Images

Every year, Oklahoma state lawmakers propose legislation to make carrying guns easier and push back on attempts to constrain gun ownership.

Yet nationally, firearms and momentum for stricter gun control continue to be high-profile issues that draw widespread attention after each mass shooting, whether in Nevada, Texas or Florida.

Step Up Campaign Highlights Gap In State Disclosure Laws

Feb 22, 2018
Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

The Step Up Oklahoma plan to raise taxes on cigarettes, fuel and energy failed to pass, but it highlighted a gap in state campaign finance laws that keeps much of the funding and spending on both sides of the issue a secret.

Rick Bowmer / AP Images

In Oklahoma, it’s no secret that residents strongly support the Second Amendment and their right to own firearms.

But despite Oklahoma’s image as a ruby-red Republican stronghold, the state’s politicians aren’t awash in cash from the gun lobby. An Oklahoma Watch check of campaign finance records shows relatively little spending by the National Rifle Association on Oklahoma politicians.

Is A Teachers Strike Imminent?

Feb 20, 2018
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Budget cuts to education are mounting. And on Monday, the Oklahoma House moved to reduce funding for state agencies for the current fiscal year.

The state Education Department stands to lose $16.2 million. Combined with higher education and other education agencies, the losses would be nearly $22 million.

Attempts to raise revenue have so far failed, including a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax and a proposal by a coalition of business and civic leaders called Step Up Oklahoma. Many Oklahoma teachers say they are fed up, and there is talk of a strike.

Oklahoma Watch

Faith leaders are looking for answers after a Republican legislator issued guidelines that could block a large swath of the state’s religious community from leading lawmakers in prayers that kick off each day of the legislative session.

Preston Doerflinger speaks at the Cleveland County Health Department on November 6, 2017.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is looking for a new interim commissioner after Preston Doerflinger abruptly resigned Tuesday.

The Board of Health voted unanimously to accept Doerflinger’s resignation, which came one day after allegations of a 2012 domestic dispute in Tulsa were reported by The Frontier.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

Lawmakers are right back where they started after a much-anticipated vote to pass one of the largest tax increases in state history fell short in the state House.

Despite business luminaries and hundreds of educators filling the Capitol in support of the Step Up Oklahoma Plan, the revenue-raising proposal only received 63 votes, which was 13 votes shy of passing the constitutionally required three-fourths threshold for revenue-raising bills.

Every new male inmate in the Oklahoma prison system arrives through this gate at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Cleveland County. Blood is drawn from inmates for testing and certain results can lead to further tests for hepatitis C.
Oklahoma Watch

Inmates in Oklahoma prisons must have advanced liver disease before becoming eligible for treatment of hepatitis C, a potentially deadly and growing disease.

The situation in prisons pits the enormous cost of treatment against the public health gains of curing one of the populations most at risk for the viral infection.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

At least 60 private schools receiving tax-credit scholarships have been given three months to comply with a state law that prohibits discriminating against applicants based on disability.

The Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit that last year collected $5.1 million in donations to help pay students’ tuition at private schools across the state, says schools that don’t comply will be removed from the program.

Oklahoma Watch

Update from Health Department spokesman Tony Sellars: “The Oklahoma State Department of Health confirms the resignation of CFO Mike Romero. The agency will not have any additional comment at this time.”

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