- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Muskogee Phoenix. March 17, 2019.

- Kill House Bill 2429

About 2,000 measures recently died in the Oklahoma Legislature after lawmakers failed to pass them out of the chamber of their origins before a crucial deadline.

There’s at least one more piece of legislation that deserves to die in the Senate after being passed out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. That is House Bill 2429 - a solution in search of a problem proven repeatedly to be nonexistent.



The bill would “authorize” state election officials to access state and federal databases to check citizenship status of Oklahoma’s registered voters then mandate data validation no later than June 30, 2020. It would require mandatory reporting of any voter whose citizenship status is suspect to the relevant district attorney, who would have a duty to investigate and report back within 60 days.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence to suggest a problem ever existed with regard to noncitizens registering to vote or casting ballots in local, state or federal elections. Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax reported finding maybe five to 10 noncitizen registrations annually here, and extensive research conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice during President George W. Bush’s administration and election officials representing both major parties found voter fraud to be extremely rare.

House Bill 2429 appears more likely to be a veiled effort to purge voter rolls in Oklahoma and suppress turnout for the elections in 2020, the year of the decennial census. The outcomes of those contests will determine who gets to draw the legislative and congressional boundaries of electoral maps that will shape elections and state politics during the next decade.

A similar review undertaken in Texas ran off the rails after a similar effort to ferret out suspected noncitizens raised questions about the status of almost 100,000 registered voters. A federal judge ordered a halt to the “ham-handed and threatening” efforts to fix an apparently nonexistent problem.

The Frontier reported about the State Election Board’s 2017 query into alleged voting fraud during the presidential election the year before. Officials reportedly found one noncitizen in Kay County who attempted to register as a voter and 17 alleged attempts to vote illegally.

With 18 findings of alleged (prosecutors filed no charges) wrongdoing in 2016, a year when 1.4 million voters cast ballots, Oklahoma reported a fraudulent voting rate of 0.001 percent. It is hard to figure out why this bill is worth the likely lawsuits that will be filed and additional burdens that will be placed on prosecutors already stripped of appropriations during the past few years.

We’re counting on lawmakers in what we hope will be the more deliberative body in the Legislature to do the right thing and kill House Bill 2429.

___

The Oklahoman. March 17, 2019.

- OK County jail must do better

From inmate deaths to plumbing leaks to unsecure locks on cell doors to inmate-on-inmate violence, it seems that if something can go wrong inside the Oklahoma County jail, it will.

The latest example is distressing - a man held for nearly eight months without an initial court appearance. As The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay reported, 49-year-old Charles Lemons wasn’t arraigned within a few days of his arrest in July 2018 for probation violations, then wound up spending the next several months in limbo. This infringes on his constitutional rights, of course, but also costs taxpayers because they foot the bill.

Lemons says he mentioned his plight more than once to jail officers, to no avail. He finally was arraigned by video March 1, not long after telling a court psychiatrist during a visit that he hadn’t yet been to court. Lemons was released in a deal between the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office.

A subsequent inmate check ordered by the county’s presiding judge found there were no other inmates who hadn’t yet had their initial court hearing. But this debacle underscored a few points for Public Defender Bob Ravitz, whose office conducted the review.

First is that the jail needs a computerized system “that’s not a dinosaur,” Ravitz said. “The system is over 20 years old, and it’s showing people who have been released from jail as still being in the jail.”

That sentiment is shared by others including Court Clerk Rick Warren, who said an automated tracking system is a must. Until that happens, he said, “we run the risk of repeating this problem again and again.”

Ravitz would like to see a system that highlights, every day, which inmates haven’t been brought before a judge within a certain amount of time, to help keep anyone else from going through what Lemons endured.

Ravitz also noted that the system in use today could show someone who has been released from the jail as still being held. Thus, that former inmate’s open cell isn’t assigned when someone new is brought in. This results in too many people being placed in some cells.

“We’ve gotten the population down to about 1,685 from 2,300, but there’s still a real problem with why we’re triple celling,” Ravitz said.

Aside from these significant IT issues, the public defender believes staffing at the jail must improve.

“It’s hard when you have one deputy (overseeing several inmates),” he said. “A deputy’s job is to watch the prisoners . they can’t take a list around and figure out ‘I haven’t seen a judge,’ or ‘I have a private lawyer who died,’ .”

All this takes money. It’s incumbent on the sheriff and the county budget board to ensure the millions funneled to the jail each year are used as wisely as possible. Warren said it well: “We have to do better.”

___

Tulsa World. March 19, 2019.

- Legislature needs to protect delicate patients, not insurance companies

A touching column last week by University of Oklahoma Regent Renzi Stone described the heartbreaking death of his son, Isaiah, just before the child’s first birthday.

Born with epilepsy, the child experienced terrifying seizures from 4 months.

Later, Stone discovered that his neurologist didn’t necessarily have the freedom to follow his training and best practices in writing prescriptions for the child - a shocking discovery for anyone dealing with a life-threatening situation.

Insurance company step-therapy requirements force patients to fail first on certain drugs before they can access provider-preferred treatment. The protocol for which drugs to try in which order are based on the insurance company’s judgment, not the doctor’s.

Two pieces of pending legislation before the Oklahoma Legislature would require health insurance companies to use “recognized, evidence-based and peer-reviewed clinical practice guidelines” in drafting these step-therapy rules.

The companies also would be required to grant exceptions if preferred drugs will cause bad reactions or, in the judgment of the physician, aren’t in the best interest of the patient.

Insurance company protocols won’t be able to force patients who are already on drugs that work onto other drugs preferred by fail-first rules.

The bills require a clear, convenient and readily accessible process for appealing step-therapy rules and a response in no more than three days.

Insurance companies are in the business of controlling costs, which is usually in the interest of its premium-paying customers. But the Legislature’s duty is to make sure that the companies’ parsimony doesn’t override the health of delicate patients like Isaiah Stone.

We support Senate Bill 509, written by Tulsa Sen. Dave Rader, and House Bill 2638, offered by Rep. Cyndi Munson, as commonsense protections for sick Oklahomans.

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