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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Ginny Sain, left and Anna Marie Lane protest the conditions at the Oklahoma County Jail Tuesday evening.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

The sewage problems at the Oklahoma County’s beleaguered jail continue. In an echo of last year, sewage lines at the jail overflowed recently, flooding an unknown number of cells.

The incident mirrored a problem from 2014 in which a sewage line under the building collapsed and prevented county officials from using the kitchen for months.

On Tuesday a half-dozen protesters took to the sidewalk in front of the jail. They said they wanted the public to know just how bad conditions were in the facility, with one calling it “the worst jail in America.”

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court on Thursday after the ruling that Affordable Care Act subsidies are constitutional.
Ted Eytan / Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act means that more than 80,000 Oklahomans can continue to receive federal subsidies to help them pay for health insurance.

It will be days, possibly weeks, before the full impact of the ruling is assessed. In this Q&A, Oklahoma Watch addresses some of the immediate issues raised by the ruling.

Left-to-right: David Fritze, Nicole Washington, Roxanne Hinther, Janet Cizek
Oklahoma Watch

Women in Oklahoma face often unique mental-health challenges in different life situations – whether incarcerated, suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or dealing with severe anxiety as a professional or parent.

At an Oklahoma Watch-Out forum in Tulsa May 21, three experts talked about issues ranging from incarcerated women and trauma to postpartum depression and both the cultural and biological factors of mental health.

Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma City, said people with mild depression, anxiety and other problems are "falling through the cracks," not getting treatment.
Lindsay Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Every year, thousands of Oklahomans with mental-health or addiction problems call or show up at state-funded treatment centers and get little or no care.

The message is: Until you get sicker, you will get minimal help from the state.

That’s because Oklahoma’s mental-health system relies on a “triage” approach that limits most subsidized treatment to the seriously ill.

Does State Have Plans If Thousands Lose Health Insurance?

Jun 13, 2015
ok.gov

Gov. Mary Fallin’s office won’t say if the state has a plan to help thousands of Oklahomans projected to lose their health insurance if their subsidies are struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court this month.

State Program Diverting Workers’ Tax Payments to Businesses

Jun 13, 2015

Oklahoma employees of Goodyear, Hitachi and 15 other firms are contributing part of their paychecks to help pay for plant expansions and equipment purchases costing more than $89 million, an Oklahoma Watch investigation shows.

In many cases, they probably don’t even know it.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville
okhouse.gov

Because of a failure to write clear laws, Oklahoma leaders say, the state paid more than $90 million to insurance companies it shouldn’t have over the past five years in the form of rebates.

The rebates were paid to insurance firms that provide workers’ compensation coverage in Oklahoma and that had paid assessments required by state law to a fund called the Multiple Injury Trust Fund.

timlewisnm / Flickr Creative Commons

Earlier this week, state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she was dropping the state’s writing test from the A-F grading equation for schools this year because the test and results were unreliable.

The test vendor wasn’t an issue, she said.

Verna Morales, left, and her daughter, Aliah Morales, sit in front of their old transitional apartment at Pearl’s Hope, a homeless shelter in Tulsa.  Aliah Morales has been homeless for three years and her mother has been homeless for six years. The two c
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

A resilient economy and low unemployment have done little to stem the tide of students who are finding themselves homeless in Oklahoma.

Despite a five-year oil and gas boom and falling jobless rates, growing numbers of youths are finding themselves without a bedroom to call their own – a trend seen across the nation.

What Budget Drama’s End May Mean For Key State Services

May 23, 2015
State Reps. Elise Hall (far right) and Katie Henke (center) applaud as the state House adjourns sine die Friday afternoon.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

The 55th session of the Oklahoma Legislature adjourned for the year late Friday afternoon, quietly ending four months’ worth of fighting over money, morals and museums.

For most of the session, a shadow hung over everything: a $611 million budget hole. 

Lawmakers chose to adjourn the session a week early, just days after they wrapped up work on the state’s $7.2 billion budget.

The budget cut funding to career and technology education, higher education and transportation. At the same time, more funds were steered to mental health services, public safety and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Even with budget hikes, however, key agencies said they would likely have to cut spending.

In a move that surprised many, the Legislature approved a $25 million bond issue for the beleaguered American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and a second $25 million bond issue for a museum of popular culture in Tulsa.

Lawmakers also debated issues such as same-sex marriage.

The shrinking pool of money available for appropriation quickly became the session’s central theme.

In February, after the Board of Equalization certified a funding estimate millions below the 2014 prediction, lawmakers went into damage-control mode. They warned agency heads little money would be available for next year.

“We’ve been telling them all session there would be cuts,” said Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, vice-chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

By May, agency directors were convinced.

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