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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

June 11, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. June 9, 2019.

— A worthwhile licensing change in Oklahoma

We are among those who had hoped the Legislature would take greater strides in criminal justice reform this session. But some progress is better than none, and lawmakers accomplished that with a bill that figures to help ex-convicts find work.

House Bill 1373 removes “good character” provisions from the state’s occupational licensing laws, meaning that Oklahomans with nonviolent felony convictions can be licensed in jobs unrelated to their criminal offense.

This was a needed and common-sense change. As Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn said in an interview not long after winning election to the post in November, “If you just got out of jail for an embezzlement charge, we probably would prefer that you weren’t working in a title agency with Grandma’s closing fund. But if you had a check charge 12 years ago and you want to go into plumbing, that may be OK.”

Osborn has continued the push for occupational licensing reform undertaken by her predecessor, Melissa McLawhorn Houston, during the previous three years. Houston led a task force formed to ensure that occupational licensing protects the public rather than reducing industry competition.

The task force came up with a set of guidelines to analyze licenses — where they make sense and where they don’t. Unneeded or excessive licensing can impact job opportunities, particularly for low-income people. “Good character” provisions fall into that category.

HB 1373 received overwhelming approval in both chambers of the Legislature and was signed in May by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Eric Boehm with Reason.com called the bill “a huge deal,” noting that Oklahoma has the nation’s highest incarceration rate and that many of the state’s licensed professions “are effectively off limits to anyone with a criminal record.”

Making it more difficult to find work increases the chances an ex-convict will reoffend and wind up back in prison. Boehm cited University of Tulsa data showing the unemployment rate for Oklahomans with criminal records is almost five times greater than that of the general population.

Oklahoma’s licensing rules are among the most burdensome in the country, whether a person has a criminal record or not. Federal agency estimates show one-fourth of Oklahoma’s workforce is licensed by the state. And some of the regulations are head-scratchers — not long ago, hair braiders had to undergo four times as much training as emergency medical responders.

A licensing advisory commission formed by the Legislature in 2018 made several recommendations, including for all agencies, boards and commissions to consider exempting military members and their spouses from an initial license fee if they’re already licensed by another state in the same industry. It also encouraged licensing boards to honor equivalent military training, education and experience.

Lawmakers in Arizona went a step further this spring with a bill that honors out-of-state occupational licenses. “You don’t lose your skills simply because you pack up a U-Haul truck and make the decision to move to Arizona,” Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said.

Oklahoma policymakers should consider following Arizona’s lead, and pursue further progress in this important area.

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Tulsa World. June 10, 2019.

— Legislature targets improving the shameful conditions of Oklahoma nursing homes

Before the 2019 Legislature fades from memory, we should note the important steps it took to improve nursing home quality for thousands of Oklahomans.

The state’s nursing home metrics are shameful. Oklahoma leads the nation in the portion of its nursing home population being treated with antipsychotic drugs, despite never being diagnosed as psychotic. Only one state has a higher portion of its high-risk nursing home patients with pressure sores.

Nursing home owners say they want to do better, but the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates won’t allow them to do so. In fact, they say, many Oklahoma nursing homes are on the cusp of closing because the Medicaid rates won’t cover their costs.

Senate Bill 280 — which passed the Legislature with only one “no” vote — directs the state Medicaid program to use $20.7 million to improve incentive payments to nursing homes.

In exchange for the money, nursing homes agree to more oversight, including more long-term care ombudsmen and an advisory group to help determine how pay-for-performance incentives will be directed. The legislation targets improvements in long-term, high-risk patients who develop pressure sores, lose too much weight, develop urinary infections or receive antipsychotic drugs.

The nursing homes also agree to require clinical employees to receive at least four hours of Alzheimer’s or dementia training and to allow the Medicaid residents to keep $75 a month of their Medicaid funding for personal needs. The previous mandate was $50 a month.

Oklahoma’s nursing homes are in troubling shape, and no one knows that better than the people who are in charge of them.

“It is going to impact directly and improve quality of care and the standard of living in nursing homes,” said Nico Gomez, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers. “It will also be a stabilizing force that prevents future home closures, which are enormously disruptive to the lives of our residents and to rural communities. We are immensely grateful to the Legislature and to Gov. Stitt for making this investment.”

Like a lot of things, money alone won’t fix Oklahoma’s nursing homes, but there are no solutions that don’t involve money. SB 280 is expensive, but there could be no more important priority than making sure elderly Oklahomans who cannot care for themselves are treated safely and humanely.

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Enid News & Eagle. June 10, 2019.

— America is better than hate, anger

In the naive days before social media opened our eyes, America seemed to be making strides on rejection of racism, hate speech and bigotry.

Gone were the days of segregation and public displays of separatism.

While it was obvious that racism was not abolished, it did not seem to scream out as a prevalent part of the culture as it did in the mid-20th century.

Fast forward 20 or so years later, and social media posts are in full swing and reveal that in reality those feelings still fester in this great nation, the state of Oklahoma and our city.

It turns out those feelings always were present for many who were just waiting for a forum in which to share.

Recently, two Facebook posts to discuss Enid News & Eagle stories about the history and traditions of Ramadan and teen pregnancy among Marshallese were targets of some posters.

Rather than discuss the issues, some were just interested in spreading hate speech and personal attacks.

Those comments were removed from the ENE Facebook Page as the newspaper’s policy states they will not be tolerated.

It is a message that any business, organization and private individual should not have to develop a policy against. It should be common sense, decent courtesy.

But it seems in this day of technological advances, that is not always the case.

When Facebook and other social sites replaced various blog sites as the popular place to gather virtually, there was a general thought pattern that lifting the anonymity of those posting would discourage hate speech and just outright mean comments.

But for some, it has not happened, and the message needs to be shared by all social media users that it will not be tolerated.

Many posters commenting on the aforementioned Facebook posts did just that, and we applaud them. If more would act accordingly, maybe those not inclined to think before they post will reconsider that habit.

As an editorial board, we are constantly reviewing the words we share and how they will affect the community.

We urge all residents to think before they post, and even to go back and rethink their words when it comes to topics that involve minority races or cultures, those with disabilities and even someone whose spelling may not be up to par.

Most of us do not know the full story behind someone’s background, religion, culture or upbringing.

The old rule — “If you wouldn’t say it to their face, then don’t say it at all” — not only applies in today’s social society, but it should be at the forefront.

And even if you think you would say it, standing by your convictions, rethink how it would make others feel: Does it further the conversation, educate or help in some way?

If the answer is “No,” then maybe it is just best to let that post go by.

Some wonder why the topics should be even brought to social media. Imagine not knowing that we live in a world where people feel the way they do.

Social media and newspapers — the messengers — are not the cause of the problem, they only shed light on it.

We believe America is better than hate and anger, and we challenge everyone — from the highest office to the man on the street — to prove that we are.

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