In The Know: Absentee ballot notarization requirement struck down; Legislature unveils budget proposal; and more

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

SNAP is a critical piece of our pandemic response, and Congress needs to give it a boost: SNAP can help to stabilize a declining economy, and making the program as effective as possible is in everyone’s best interest right now. Food security is economic security — when people have adequate nutritious food, they are healthier, better able to fight off illness, and able to work as soon as good jobs are available. [Courtney Cullison / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Court kills notary requirement for absentee ballots: In a 6-3 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be validated by a notary of the public. The Oklahoma chapter of the League of Women Voters had challenged the requirement in an effort to ensure ballot access during elections potentially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. [NonDoc] The court’s ruling gives a win to the League of Women Voters, which sued the State Election Board over the notary requirement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election rights group said the notary requirement was a “substantial obstacle” that absentee voters would have to face if they chose not to cast an in-person ballot due to concerns about COVID-19. [The Oklahoman] The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma and two individuals challenged the requirement, saying a 2002 change in state law only required voters to submit a signed affidavit under the penalty of perjury. [Tulsa World]

Budget bills: Most agencies cut 4%, common education has silver lining: With the fate of about $800 million in federal CARES Act funding undetermined, the Oklahoma Legislature unveiled 12 budget bills Sunday night that reflect a 4 percent cut to most state agencies, a 2.5 percent reduction of appropriations to common education and more than $160 million designated to finance Medicaid expansion. [NonDoc] Lawmakers crafted the budget that is $238 million, or 3% less, than the current year’s budget around a projected revenue shortfall of $1.3 billion due to low oil prices and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state budget. [The Oklahoman] It relies on using reserve funds, cutting one-time spending, temporarily redirecting nonappropriated money and making cuts to agency funding. [Tulsa World] Leaders feel like they’ve crafted a good budget. House Democrats, though, panned the budget. [CNHI] “We want some transparency out of the governor’s office,” Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson said. “We’ve asked to be involved (in discussions of federal relief funding) and so far we’ve received just crickets from the letter we sent to them. There’s been no reply.” [Journal Record] Budget package includes bill requiring daily reports on state CARES act spending. [Public Radio Tulsa] Legislative leaders discuss budget agreement in press conference (video) [The Oklahoman]

  • OK Policy statement: The hard work will be coming next year as our elected officials find our budget path forward for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2021. This marks an opportune time for the Legislature to begin a long-term restructuring of Oklahoma’s governments and their finances. 

Inmates will be considered for medical release due to pandemic: Fourteen Oklahoma inmates will be considered for release next week because they are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, which has caused outbreaks in prisons and jails across the country. [The Frontier] Inmates could not be serving time for a violent crime, have a history of domestic violence or have to register as a sex offender upon release, among other things, officials said. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy: Medical parole is necessary to help protect Oklahoma prisons and hospitals from COVID-19.

Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s number of positive COVID-19 cases now stands at 4,044, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The number of coronavirus-related deaths in Oklahoma remained at 238 as the Health Department listed no new deaths in its Monday report. [The Oklahoman] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

State pays millions for COVID-19 hospital beds, but, to officials’ relief, they stay empty: Alarmed by warnings of hospital wards filling up as COVID-19 cases surged, Oklahoma officials last month agreed to contracts worth millions of dollars with hospitals in Oklahoma City and Tulsa to reserve bed capacity. [Oklahoma Watch]

Federal aid targets rural hospitals in Oklahoma: Oklahoma hospitals will receive another $355 million in federal aid, with about $282 million going to rural hospitals and clinics, according to Oklahoma lawmakers. [The Oklahoman]

OSU expands telemedicine to 10 additional rural hospitals: Oklahoma State University Medicine is substantially increasing its telemedicine capability this week to aid rural hospitals and communities as part of Oklahoma’s COVID-19 Task Force response. [Journal Record]

State Government News

Oklahoma House votes to shield medical providers during epidemic: Medical providers would be immune from liability arising from coronavirus treatment under a bill approved Monday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. [Tulsa World]

State residents have claimed hundreds of millions in unemployment cash assistance: More than 75,000 suspicious submissions involving unemployment insurance compensation requests made to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission are under review by administrators and state and federal law enforcement officers. [The Oklahoman] Editorial: Difficult situation: OESC is in a tough spot with the shear volume of new claims. But, having recipients wait nearly a month for benefits, while they need to buy food and their bills continue to stack up, is not right. We urge OESC to take the lessons learned during this crisis and devise a system going forward that is more flexible and more user-friendly. [Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma death row prisoners claim state rules on executions are incomplete: Attorneys for a group of Oklahoma death row prisoners say the state hasn’t finished its revisions to a plan for carrying out executions, as required by a 2015 legal agreement that suspended capital punishment in the state. Their challenge will be considered at a federal court hearing on Tuesday. [KOSU]

Education News

State superintendent discusses what fall semester may look like for Oklahoma schools: Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the State Board of Education is looking at plans for the fall semester. Hofmeister said now they have time to prepare for the next semester and they’re focusing on connectivity for students. She said there’s a good chance distance learning may be used at the beginning of the fall semester. [KTUL] OK Policy: State officials should be exploring all options that provide equitable education solutions to all Oklahoma students, regardless of the resources that they have available.

Tulsa Public Schools to buy 1,500 mobile hot spots for summer school students without home internet access: The Tulsa school board approved the purchase of 1,500 mobile hot spots Monday to ensure that students have home internet access for distance learning this summer. The hot spots will help ensure that students can connect to the internet as they participate in summer learning, which will continue in an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Tulsa World]

College enrollments may drop next fall: As classes end for the spring semester, already empty university campuses in Oklahoma will remain empty for the summer, and may be less busy than normal when fall classes begin. Analysts with Moody’s Investors Service said universities internationally can expect lower enrollment in the fall, especially that of international students, due to the COVID-19 outbreak with recruitment activities on hold. [Journal Record] OU administrators offer more insight — but few details — on in-person plans for fall 2020. [Norman Transcript] SWOSU to return to in-person classes this fall. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Oklahoma nonprofits stay engaged: The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits on Monday released a guide to help nonprofit organizations safely reopen to the public, though Vice President of External Affairs Daniel Billingsley noted most nonprofits in the state never really closed – they just found creative ways to continue fulfilling their mission. [Journal Record]

State cautions reopening business to flush taps before using water: The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has issued guidelines for businesses that have been closed, or even just using less water than usual, due to the pandemic, urging them to flush taps to avoid using water that may have been tainted by corrosion or bacteria, like the kind that could cause Legionnaire’s Disease. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Business-oriented group gives Stitt an ‘A’ for handling of coronavirus: The business-oriented political organization FreedomWorks ranks Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s response to the COVID-19 crisis among the best in the nation in a report released Monday. Stitt was among nine governors given an A on FreedomWorks’ “Economic Report Card” for coronavirus response. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa County Courthouse to reopen Tuesday with screening and distancing requirements [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Progress continuing for Oklahoma County jail transition, some key tasks remain [The Oklahoman]
  • Jail trust told no COVID-19 positive tests at Oklahoma County Jail so far [OKC Free Press]
  • Judge rules in favor of Norman salons seeking to reopen [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa business owner gets blowback over criticism of Mayor Bynum’s shelter in place order [Tulsa World]
  • Woodward County Commissioners to keep protective measures in place [Woodward News]
  • Enid to approve emergency declaration to begin reopening [Enid News & Eagle]
  • No decision on Pittsburg County Courthouse reopening [McAlester News-Capital]

Quote of the Day

“This is a victory for every Oklahoma voter who wants to exercise the right to vote but not risk their lives to do so.”

-Peggy Winton, one of two petitioners who sued the state to remove the notarization requirement for absentee ballots [NonDoc]

Number of the Day

$800 million

Approximate amount of federal funding available to Oklahoma for reimbursing the state for coronavirus-related expenses via the federal CARES Act. Legislators and others have questioned how Gov. Stitt’s administration is spending those funds. SB 1944, unveiled Monday, would require the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to publish daily reports of all expenditures of federal CARES Act funds on the state’s Oklahoma Checkbook webpage.

[Source: NonDoc]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Flattening the curve for incarcerated populations, COVID-19 in jails and prisons: We have learned from other epidemics, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, that nonpharmaceutical interventions are effective, but they have the greatest impact when implemented early. Therefore, we believe that we need to prepare now, by “decarcerating,” or releasing, as many people as possible, focusing on those who are least likely to commit additional crimes, but also on the elderly and infirm. [New England Journal of Medicine]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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