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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House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) at Gov. Mary Fallin's State of the State address - February 3, 2014.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

State lawmakers unveiled a fiscal year 2016 budget Tuesday that would keep funding for common education flat but cut appropriations for colleges and universities by $24.1 million.

Oklahoma's common education system would receive $2.484 billion, the same amount it received in 2015. The state's CareerTech education system would see a 3.5 percent decrease in its budget, about $4.8 million.

A decade-old beating haunted Nikki Frazier while she served time in prison.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

In her dorm at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, anxiety attacks used to waken Nikki Frazier in the middle of the night. For about an hour she would sit on her bed, shaking, sweaty and nauseous.

“It would feel like I was having a heart attack,” Frazier said. “It was just a big ball of weight in my chest, and it was so bad.”

Frazier could point to one source of her anxiety: In 2005, she got into a dispute with her then-husband, and he kicked her repeatedly in the face with steel-toed boots, for which he was later convicted. Six years later, a doctor cited the beating in diagnosing Frazier with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety and depression.

Serving a prison sentence for forging checks, Frazier suffered attacks for months until she was able to see a psychiatrist and get on a different medication. But she said she could never truly calm her anxiety until she was released in February. She gained control over her life and began receiving one-on-one counseling.

Frazier’s mental-health struggles reflect those of hundreds of women in Oklahoma prisons.

Oklahoma Women Suffer PTSD

Oklahoma Watch obtained detailed data on mental health diagnoses for men and women in prison from the state Department of Corrections and found dramatic differences in their conditions.

According to the data – a snapshot in late March – nearly 60 percent of female inmates show signs of mental illness, about twice the percentage of male inmates. A total of 3,104 women and 25,620 men were in the corrections system at the time.

Women also suffer disproportionately from depression – 64 percent versus 59 percent of men.

But the most striking difference occurs with trauma disorders. PTSD is the second most common mental illness among incarcerated women, with about one in five showing symptoms, or five times the rate for men.

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

State lawmakers and Governor Mary Fallin's office continue to negotiate ways to address a $611.3 million budget gap, the chairman of the House Budget Committee said Friday.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said negotiators were close to finalizing a budget deal, but "several small issues" remained. "Right now work continues," Sears said. "There are a bunch of little moving targets."

Toni Pratt-Reid, the owner of three medical clinics, said she could be forced to close two of those clinics if the Oklahoma Health Care Authority reduces the rates it pays nurse practitioners.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

A top Oklahoma health official is warning that the budget crunch may force the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to cut payments to mid-level medical providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, which providers say could lead to the closing of rural clinics.

Facing a $611 million budget gap, state leaders say most agencies will see spending cuts, or at best, a flat budget. But even with a flat budget, Health Care Authority officials said, many low-income residents could see a reduction in health care access and services.

Budget documents released by the Authority indicate the agency is proposing more than $40 million in budget reductions for the 2016 fiscal year. Those cuts range from $2.9 million in administrative cuts to a $5.2 million, or 15 percent, reduction in reimbursement amounts paid to nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physical therapists and other mid-level providers.

Doctors could see reimbursement rate cuts of about 2 percent, lawmakers said.

The reductions would lower fee-for-service payments to 85 percent of the Authority’s physician fee schedule.

About 3,250 providers would be affected.

Serge Melki / Flickr

The House, Senate and the governor's office are said to be close to an agreement on the FY 2016 state budget, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said Monday.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said he hoped to have an agreement by Friday.

"We're not millions of dollars apart," Sears said. "The differences are small; a million here, a million there...There's still a lot more work to do."

Left-to-right: Oklahoma Watch executive editor David Fritze, attorney Michael Brooks-Jimenez, Oklahoma City school board member Gloria Torres, Oklahoma City coucilwoman Meg Salyer
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Oklahoma Watch and the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication presented a public forum on April 16 about challenges in low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City.

The Q&A forum with local leaders focused on the needs and concerns of south Oklahoma City communities and is tied to a mobile video news project, “Talk With Us: Poverty in Oklahoma City Neighborhoods.”

Racial Disparities In School Suspensions Found Across State

May 3, 2015
Thelma R. Parks Elementary School in Northeast Oklahoma City, which had the highest overall suspension rate in Oklahoma City at 42.1 percent.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Minority students are being suspended at higher rates than their white classmates not only in Oklahoma City Public Schools, which triggered a federal probe, but also in other districts across the state, U.S. Department of Education data show.

The disparity is often greatest between black and white students, but also occurs between white students and American Indian and Hispanic students.

See student suspensions by school and race.

Oklahoma State Capitol
Joseph Novak / Flickr

Oklahoma lawmakers are looking at taking between $100 and $140 million from the state's "rainy day fund" and could tap agency revolving funds for more than $100 million to help backfill the state's budget hole,  a source close to Governor Mary Fallin's office said Wednesday.

Oklahoma is facing a $611.3 million budget gap.

"Everything is very fluid right now, but it looks like revolving funds and 'rainy day' money will be used," said the source, who asked to remain unidentified.

Manufacturer Asks Oklahoma To Return Execution Drug

Apr 30, 2015
Oklahoma has authorized four different lethal injection protocols: a single, lethal dose of either pentobarbital or sodium pentothal, a two-drug procedure using midazolam and hydromorphone, or the same three-drug method used in Florida.
James Heilman, MD / Wikimedia Commons

One of the pharmaceutical manufacturers that produces a drug used in Oklahoma’s botched execution last year has asked the state to return all of the doses of the drug.

Illinois-based Akorn is one of several manufacturers that makes the sedative midazolam, which is part of a three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections in Oklahoma and other states.

The company sent a letter to state Attorney General Scott Pruitt on March 4 demanding that any of the company’s midazolam be returned for a full refund. The company said its drugs are not approved for executions.

U.S. Supreme Court West Facade.
UpstateNYer / Wikimedia Commons

Updated May 1 at 12:15 p.m.: Listen to the oral arguments from Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing on Oklahoma's death penalty challenge. 

Original post below:

Exactly one year after a botched execution in Oklahoma, the state’s new lethal injection protocol came under intense questioning Wednesday by a divided U.S. Supreme Court, with the pivotal justice, Anthony Kennedy, doing little to tip his hand.

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