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Statewide News

OKLAHOMA CITY – Health insurance premiums will likely increase by an average of 76 percent for Oklahomans who buy individual coverage through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace. The increases for individual market plans range from 58 percent to 96 percent.

“These jaw-dropping increases make it clear that Oklahoma’s exchange is on life support,” said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak. “Health insurers are losing massive amounts of money. If they don’t raise rates they’ll go out of business. This system has been doomed from the beginning.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, the only health insurer offering plans on the federal exchange in 2017, submitted the increases to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS will determine if the increases are reasonable. The increase requests follow many insurers reporting significant losses, lower than expected enrollment by the younger population and new customers being sicker than expected. ACA-compliant off-exchange individual plans sold by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma will see the same increases as plans sold on the exchange.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department does not have statutory authority to approve or deny rate premium increases for plans on the federal health insurance exchange. Oklahoma, along with Texas, Missouri, Alabama and Wyoming, is a direct enforcement state and has no authority to enforce provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

At the end of 2016, UnitedHealthcare will exit the individual market in Oklahoma. It had five percent of the state’s 130,178 federal exchange enrollees for 2016. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma had the other 95 percent. UnitedHealthcare enrollees will receive notices from CMS that they have been automatically enrolled into a similar exchange plan.

The increases apply to people buying individual plans, about six percent of the Oklahoma population. Most Oklahomans purchase insurance from an employer plan, a large group plan or through a government program such as Medicare or SoonerCare.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as exchange rates increase, so do the subsidies available to offset the cost of individual premiums.

About the Oklahoma Insurance Department
The Oklahoma Insurance Department, an agency of the State of Oklahoma, is responsible for the education and protection of the insurance-buying public and for oversight of the insurance industry in the state.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Thursday announced child pornography charges against Larry Curtis Wright of Ponca City.

Wright, 48, is charged with three counts of distribution of child pornography, one count of aggravated possession of child pornography, and one count of violation of the Computer Crimes Act, all felonies.

An undercover investigation by agents with the Attorney General’ Office found the alleged sharing of child pornography over the Internet. Agents with the Attorney General’s Office, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Edmond Police Department, and Ponca City Police Department served a search warrant on Wright’s residence, discovering two computers with numerous videos containing child pornography.

If convicted, Wright could face up to life in prison and fines totaling $90,000 for all five counts.

The Oklahoma Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force includes more than 80 partner agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and OSBI. Members of the task force are specially trained to investigate the exploitation of children through the use of technology. Reports of this type of crime should be directed to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678, or local law enforcement.

OKLAHOMA CITY (September 27, 2016): The Partnership for 21st-Century Learning (P21), an organization dedicated to advancing curriculum that fosters student success in 21st-century work and life, has named the Stanley Hupfeld Academy at Western Village a fall 2016-17 exemplar school.

P21 awards exemplar status to schools that move beyond standard curriculum by weaving 21st-century themes into classroom instruction. These themes include global awareness, career skills, use of technology, entrepreneurial literacy and civic, health and environmental literacy.

“We are thrilled that P21 has recognized Stanley Hupfeld Academy for its efforts to prepare students for our increasingly complex world,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “The academy’s well-rounded curriculum, which focuses on the skills, knowledge and expertise needed to succeed in the 21st century, lays a solid foundation for future student success in college or career.”

P21 selected four school districts, ten schools and two early learning programs nationwide to receive fall 2016-17 exemplar status. In order to achieve this ranking, schools must demonstrate a commitment to college, career and life readiness, engaged learning practices and equitable student access to 21st-century learning.

Stanley Hupfeld Academy, one of the state’s first elementary public charter schools, fulfilled the above criteria with an arts-integrated curriculum and full-time specialists in visual art, music, dance, physical education, technology and literacy arts on staff. Stanley Hupfeld Academy serves PreK through fifth grade in the Oklahoma City Public School District.

Any early learning center, PreK-12 school or school district in the United States is eligible to apply for exemplar status, which is valid for the year in which P21 selects the school or district.

Initiative matching skilled workers with careers to hold summit

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced that Mike Fuller, general manager at American Castings in Pryor, has been named a regional leader to support the “Oklahoma Works” education, workforce and job creation initiative.

Fuller will lead the Key Economic Network (KEN) that covers the northeast region of Oklahoma. To address regional workforce needs, Oklahoma Works established nine KENs with each headed by a “business champion” to coordinate local efforts to support Oklahoma Works.

“We are so thankful for our Oklahoma Works partners, particularly the KEN champions across the state, for their leadership and willingness to collaborate to better connect job-seekers to the skills and job opportunities in high demand industries,” said Fallin.

Oklahoma Works is a coalition of partners working to connect resources, education, training and job opportunities to build the state’s workforce. A KEN leader has been tapped in each region to build local partnerships and spearhead efforts to align education and workforce to meet regional needs.

“The premise of Oklahoma Works is simple. Our state is a national leader in economic growth, but we do not have enough skilled workers to meet the workforce demands of our companies,” said Fallin. “Put simply, we are not creating the kind of workforce we need to attract and retain the high quality, good paying jobs necessary for Oklahoma’s future.”

The other Oklahoma Works KEN champions are:

John Barton, president of BancFirst in Muskogee
Jeff Greenlee, president of NBC Bank in Altus
Nathaniel Harding, president of Harding and Shelton Exploration in Oklahoma City
Lundy Kiger, vice president and director of government relations at AES Shady Point in Poteau
Chuck Mills, president of Mills Machine Co., in Shawnee
Ryan Posey, president of HIS Sensing, Inc., in Chickasha
Stuart Solomon, president and chief executive officer of AEP-PSO in Tulsa
Jimmy Stallings, president of Envirotech Engineering and Consulting, Inc., in Enid
An Oklahoma Works summit is scheduled for Oct. 6. The event will present lessons learned, showcase national best practices and promote the vision of Oklahoma Works. Registration information can be found at: http://www.okstatechamber.com/events. Deadline to register is Oct. 3.

About Oklahoma Works

Oklahoma Works is a statewide initiative connecting an unprecedented number of businesses, state agencies and educators. Launched by Governor Mary Fallin in 2014, the coalition of partners are aligning resources, education, training and job opportunities to build the state’s workforce. The initiative aims to ensure all Oklahomans have the skills and education necessary to enter and advance in rewarding careers and Oklahoma businesses have the talented workforce they need to succeed. For more information, visit: www.oklahomaworks.gov. Follow Oklahoma Works on Facebook and Twitter: @OklaWorks.

By Sara Plummer OSU Institute of Technology

For the second consecutive year, OSU Institute of Technology was ranked first for students to graduate with the least amount of debt in the West region in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 list of Best Colleges released Wednesday. The lowest debt load distinction places OSUIT third among all regional colleges in the nation.

OSUIT, which participated in the rankings for the third year, was listed as No. 5 in the Top Public Schools- West; No. 20 in Top Regional Colleges-West; and No. 7 in Best Ethnic Diversity rankings for the West Region.

Fifteen states are included in the region: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Less than half of all OSUIT students graduate with college loan debt, and the average amount of debt is $13,775, according to U.S. News’ rankings. Analysts report the average student debt nationally is $35,051, that’s two and a half times more than OSUIT students have when they graduate.

In fact, of all the regional colleges in the North, South, Midwest and West regions, OSUIT ranked third in lowest student debt.

“One of the things that brings me great pride at OSUIT is that our students leave here with little or no debt after they walk across our graduation stage. It’s become a very rare thing in this country, and I am honored that we are recognized as the top school in our region to offer such an affordable, but vital, education,” said Dr. Bill R. Path, OSUIT president.

Rogers State University was ranked second for graduates with the least amount of debt in the West region.

OSUIT continued to make the list of the top colleges in the West region in both the overall and public school categories. U.S. News rankings take into consideration several factors such as freshman retention rates, graduation rates, student to teacher ratios, acceptance rates, ACT/SAT test scores and percentage of classes with 20 or fewer students.

OSUIT was also recognized in the Best Ethnic Diversity regional rankings. U.S. News factors in the proportion of minority students, excluding international students, among each institution’s 2015-16 academic year student body.

The methodology, developed by Philip Meyer and Shawn McIntosh, produces a diversity index that ranges from 0.0 to 1.0. The closer a school’s number is to 1, the more diverse the student population and the more likely it is for students to interact with peers from different ethnic groups.

OSUIT’s index number is 0.54 with the largest minority group on campus being Native Americans, which make up 14 percent of the student population.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive environment is something we at OSUIT are continuously striving toward,” Path said. “Having a diverse campus with people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences is one of the best ways for our students to learn and truly become global citizens.”

Other Oklahoma institutions to make the West region’s Best Ethnic Diversity rankings are St. Gregory’s University, Rogers State University and Oklahoma Baptist University.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced she is appointing Charles “Chuck” Sullivan as district attorney for Pittsburg and Haskell counties. He will replace Farley Ward, who is retiring Sept. 30.

Sullivan, of McAlester, will serve as district attorney for the remainder of Ward’s term, which expires in January 2019.

“Chuck Sullivan has an array of legal experience that gives him a unique perspective,” said Fallin. “I know he will serve the people of Pittsburg and Haskell counties well as district attorney.”

Ward, elected district attorney in 2010, recommended Sullivan, who currently serves as his top assistant, to replace him.

Previously, Sullivan worked in insurance defense with the Steidley and Neal law firm in McAlester and for the Tulsa County public defender’s office.

Sullivan earned his law degree from the University of Tulsa. He and his wife, Kristin, live in McAlester with their family.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced the appointment of Irma J. Newburn as district judge for Comanche County. She is replacing Keith B. Aycock, who retired July 1.

Newburn, of Lawton, serves as first district attorney in Comanche County. She is also a member of the Oklahoma Board of Corrections. Fallin appointed her to the corrections board in February 2015.

Newburn has worked in the Comanche County district attorney’s office since 2008. Before that, she worked one year for a private law firm in Lawton. She also worked as a deputy court clerk for the city of Lawton and as a clerk for the Lawton Police Department.

“Irma Newburn is a skilled attorney who has a wealth of experience in the law and criminal proceedings,” said Fallin. “Given her knowledge and experience, I know she will serve the residents of Comanche County well.”

Newburn earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cameron University and her law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is the mother of two adult daughters, Alicia and Beverly.

“My diversity of experience has given me an in-depth understanding of the legal process that will allow me to make decisions that are not only just, but well-grounded in the law,” Newburn said. “I welcome the opportunity to serve my community as a district court judge.”

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gross Receipts to the Treasury continued their downward trajectory for an 18th consecutive month in August as unemployment figures released late in the month show Oklahoma’s jobless numbers exceed the national rate for the first time in almost 26 years.

Reports released today by State Treasurer Ken Miller show gross receipts – which provide a broad view of state economic activity – were down by 4 percent in August compared to the same month of last year. Total collections during the past 12 months were off by more than 7 percent compared to the prior period, according to the reports.

The revenue news comes as the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reports the state’s unemployment rate at 5 percent, one-tenth of one percentage point higher than the national rate of 4.9 percent in July. The last time Oklahoma’s jobless rate topped that of the nation was in October 1990.

Miller, an economist, said he’s on the lookout for indications the contraction is ending.

“We keep scouring through the data to find signs of an impending turnaround, but it’s just not there,” Miller said. “Some aspects of the August report aren’t as negative as in prior months – a few revenue streams have ticked up slightly – but we can’t yet point to a positive trend.”

Unlike the past few months, August gross receipts show two revenue sources with slight improvements. Monthly collections from individual income and motor vehicle taxes were each around 5 percent higher than in August 2015. However, measured over the past 12 months, every major revenue stream remains lower than the prior one-year period.

Collections from gross production taxes on oil and natural gas increased from the prior month for the fourth consecutive time, reflecting a slight rebound in wellhead prices. However, compared to the prior year, receipts remain suppressed.

August collections

The report for August lists gross receipts at $832.2 million, down $34.3 million, or 4 percent, from August 2015.

Gross income tax collections, a combination of individual and corporate income taxes, generated $254.2 million, a reduction of $4 million, or 1.53 percent, from the previous August.

Individual income tax collections for the month are $242.7 million, up by $12.3 million, or 5.3 percent, from the prior year. Corporate collections are $11.5 million, down by $16.3 million, or 58.5 percent.

Sales tax collections, including remittances on behalf of cities and counties, total $351.2 million in August. That is $21.5 million, or 5.8 percent, below August of last year.

Gross production taxes on oil and natural gas generated $31.8 million during the month, a decrease of $9 million, or 5.8 percent, from last August. Compared to July reports, gross production collections are up by $1.3 million, or 4.2 percent.

Motor vehicle taxes produced $68.7 million, up by $3 million, or 4.5 percent, from the prior year.

Other collections, consisting of about 60 different sources including taxes on fuel, tobacco, horse race gambling and alcoholic beverages, produced $126.3 million during the month. That is $2.7million, or 2.1 percent, less than last August.

Twelve-month collections

During the past 12 months, September 2015 through August 2016, gross revenue totals $1 million less than $11 billion. That is $903.8 million, or 7.6 percent, below collections for the previous 12-month period.

Gross income taxes generated $4.1 billion for the period, reflecting a drop of $317.9 million, or 7.2 percent, from the preceding 12 months, September 2014 to August 2015.

Individual income tax collections total $3.6 billion, down by $212.3 million, or 5.6 percent, from the prior 12 months. Corporate collections are $507.8 million for the period, a decrease of $105.6 million, or 17.2 percent, from the previous period.

Sales taxes for the 12 months generated $4.2 billion, a decrease of $217.4 million, or 4.9 percent, from the preceding period.

Oil and gas gross production tax collections brought in $347 million during the 12 months, down by $280.2 million, or 44.7 percent, from the trailing period.

Motor vehicle collections total $753.1 million for the period. This is a decrease of $15.3 million, or 2 percent, from the trailing 12 months.

Other sources generated $1.6 billion, down $73 million, or 4.4 percent, from the previous 12 months.

About Gross Receipts to the Treasury

Since March 2011, the Treasurer’s Office has issued the monthly Gross Receipts to the Treasury report, which provides a timely and broad view of the state’s macro economy.

It is provided in conjunction with the General Revenue Fund allocation report from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which provides important information to state agencies for budgetary planning purposes.

The General Revenue Fund receives slightly less than half of the state’s gross receipts with the remainder paid in rebates and refunds, remitted to cities and counties, and placed into off-the-top earmarks to other state funds.

 (OKLAHOMA CITY) The Department of Public Safety has announced that the agency will receive a $1.9 million allocation from the state budget surplus.

The news came after DPS officials met with representatives from the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives, along with fiscal staff from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

DPS Commissioner Michael Thompson expressed appreciation to the Governor’s Office, Senate members and the House members for the decision to return the much-needed funds to DPS.

“I am very happy to get the 1.9 million dollars returned to DPS,” Thompson said. “We will use every dollar to apply towards our budget deficit and limit the need for adverse personnel actions. I am very encouraged by the meetings so far with the Governor’s Office, Senate members and House members to find a positive solution for the remaining budget shortfall. I am confident we can find a solution to avoid furloughs.”

Coordinated effort brings together state, national organizations to focus on expanding broadband and digital learning opportunities for schools across state

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today launched the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative, a coordinated effort to bring high-speed broadband and digital learning opportunities to schools across the state. As part of the initiative, Oklahoma is partnering with interested school districts and telecommunications service providers to increase the number of schools with fiber optic connections, improve the capacity and affordability of those connections and ensure Oklahoma classrooms have Wi-Fi access to better facilitate digital learning.

“I am proud to establish the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative,” said Fallin. “The initiative is a voluntary program that works with schools to use existing funding efficiently and effectively to maximize opportunities to provide high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi access to students across Oklahoma.

“This techonology also creates digital learning opportunities so that every student may have a personalized learning plan that may include upper level math and science classes and concurrent enrollment courses.”

The Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative state team includes the governor’s office,  Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services and a local school superintendent.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and EducationSuperHighway, the nation’s leading non-profit focused on upgrading Internet access in every public school classroom in America, are providing technical assistance to the state.

“At EducationSuperHighway, we have one mission: get more students online at speeds that can support digital learning,” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “In our modern educational environment that is imperative to ensuring students can truly access the tools and resources they need to learn and grow. No student should ever miss out on an educational opportunity because of where they go to school. That’s not fair to them, and it’s not how we will build the strong and vibrant economy we need in the years ahead.

“We are thrilled to partner with the governor in this visionary effort. We are going to get high-speed broadband into more Oklahoma schools, and it’s going to make this great state even stronger. We congratulate Governor Fallin for her leadership and can’t wait to get started.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said she is thrilled for the Education Department to play a role in an initiative as critical to student success as the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative.

“Now is the time to invest in our children’s future by providing them with the tools they need to succeed in a 21st-century education,” said Hofmeister. “It is our shared goal that all Oklahoma schoolchildren become actively engaged in a connected, digital world while preparing for college and career. This initiative is an important step forward in reaching that goal.”

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said this initiative will be a boon to Oklahoma students.

“Access to the digital superhighway is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity,” said Murphy. “The OCC is proud to do its part to make it a reality for Oklahoma’s students.”

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