In The Know: Budget bills remain unsigned; record shortfall in April; bipartisan group works on CARES Act funds; & 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

Legislature rebuilds barriers to voting immediately after the Supreme Court knocked them down: Many votes in the coming elections will likely be cast from home, as Oklahomans opt to use absentee ballots in order to maintain social distancing guidelines. A May 4 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling would have made this easier and safer by removing the requirement that absentee ballots be notarized. On the day following the Court’s ruling, Legislative leaders quietly put forward legislation that would eventually find its way into Senate Bill 210, which was approved by both houses and signed by Gov. Stitt on May 7. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

Child care provider support needed to get Oklahoma economy running: Oklahoma child care providers urgently need assistance. Licensed child care is the backbone of our state’s economy, and providers are playing an especially vital role during the pandemic. While many states took swift action to provide support, Oklahoma’s response has been inadequate. [Rebecca Fine / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma budget bill remains unsigned as Gov. Kevin Stitt expresses concerns about agency increases: As Gov. Kevin Stitt ponders whether to sign the state budget bill, he has a list of priority policy bills he wants lawmakers to pass. Stitt has until Wednesday to sign, veto or line-item veto sections of Senate Bill 1922, the $7.7 billion general appropriations bill. It limits most budget reductions to 4% or less, but it also contains some increases. It passed the Legislature by veto-proof margins. [Tulsa World] Asked Tuesday if he told legislative leaders he would sign the budget proposal if the Legislature passed a series of his policy priorities, Stitt said he wouldn’t characterize it as a tit-for-tat scenario. [The Oklahoman]

$416.2 million less than projected: Record shortfall hits Oklahoma general revenue in April: Oklahoma’s general revenue fell by record proportions in April as the full effect of the COVID-19 epidemic and weak energy markets came to bear, officials reported Tuesday. [Tulsa World] Collections to Oklahoma’s main government operating fund missed projections by 44% last month, the biggest shortfall in modern history, state finance officials said Tuesday. [AP News]

Bipartisan group to work with Gov. Stitt on spending CARES Act funds: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday announced a legislative advisory group to work with him to distribute about $1.2 billion in federal funds provided to Oklahoma under the federal law. The action comes after legislative leaders were critical of Stitt for not including them in the discussions about how the federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act will be used. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma coronavirus deaths drop by 1 as state confirms person listed as dead ‘very much alive’: On Monday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health updated its COVID-19 database to show there had been 274 deaths in the state of those infected with the coronavirus. On Tuesday, there was another update: An additional five people had died due to the virus. But there was a discrepancy in the total figures — the five new deaths should have brought the state’s total to 279. But there were only 278 deaths listed in the state on Tuesday following the update. [The Frontier]

Petition Seeks Medical Parole For At-Risk Oklahoma Prisoners: As the state Pardon and Parole Board prepares to consider 14 releases on Wednesday, reform advocates are petitioning the state of Oklahoma to reduce the prison population and release prisoners who are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. [KOSU] Our analysis has shown medical parole is necessary to help protect Oklahoma prisons and hospitals from COVID-19.

State Government News

Senate Sends Bill to Cut Affordable Housing Tax Credit to Governor: Oklahoma’s affordable housing tax credit is officially on the chopping block. A bill to lower its annual cap from $4 million to $2 million narrowly passed the Senate on Tuesday and awaits the governor’s signature. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Virtual charter school bill passes Senate, nears the finish line: A bill lawmakers say will bring greater transparency to virtual charter schools now awaits the governor’s signature. On Monday, the state Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2905, called the Virtual Charter School Transparency and Reform Act, and sent the measure to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk. [The Oklahoman]

Senate approves bill to improve rural broadband access: The full Senate gives approval to a measure that will help improve broadband access throughout rural Oklahoma. House Bill 4018 creates the Rural Broadband Expansion Act. Authored by Sen. James Leewright and House Speaker Charles McCall, and co-authored by Rep. Logan Phillips, the bill was approved unanimously on Tuesday. [FOX25] OK Policy recently published a guest post that highlighted the importance of broadband access and called on the legislature to develop policies that will set us up for the increasingly digital future.

Bill would raise tobacco buying age to 21: A bill that would make it illegal for people younger than 21 to buy tobacco or vaping products advanced through the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday. Senate Bill 1423, authored by state Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, was passed on a vote of 79-20. [The Journal Record 🔒]

Alcohol delivery, curbside pickup could be permanent in Oklahoma: State legislators are moving to make permanent new rules that allow some businesses to deliver alcohol, beer and wine directly to Oklahomans. After many Oklahoma businesses had to totally revamp their business models in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABLE Commission adjusted its rules to temporarily allow for delivery. [The Oklahoman]

Porch Piracy Bill Sent to Governor: A bill that strengthens penalties for porch package theft was sent to the governor Monday with the anticipation it will be signed into law. [CNHI via Woodward News]

House bill 2008 passes Senate, would allow cattle producers to bring product directly to market: Oklahoma’s cattle industry is on legislators’ radars. Tuesday, the Senate approved House Bill 2008, which deals with the processing of beef. It would make it so ranchers would sell their livestock to be processed in the state rather than shipping it off. [KJRH]

Outgoing health commissioner thanks Stitt: In a farewell letter, outgoing Oklahoma Health Commissioner Gary Cox thanked Gov. Kevin Stitt for “your faith in me, my leadership and the team that we have built at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.” [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Forestry Services lending a hand to state Health Department amid virus outbreak: Oklahoma Forestry Services is delivering personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies and coronavirus testing kits to nursing homes, hospitals and first-responders across the state. [FOX25]

Health News

State officials stepping in to help Oklahoma meat processing plants in COVID-19 fight: State officials are now stepping in to help meat processing plants in Oklahoma, some of which have become hot spots for COVID-19 infections. Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a sixth amendment to Executive Order 2020-13 to allow the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to assist with potential livestock processing facility disruptions. [The Oklahoman]

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 down dramatically in Oklahoma since March: The number of Oklahomans hospitalized with COVID-19 related illnesses plummeted in the last six weeks even as hundreds more state residents tested positive for the disease. The steep decline in hospitalizations was accompanied by a significant drop in the number of people requiring intensive care. [The Oklahoman]

Medicaid Expansion Advocates Hope Pandemic Will Boost Support In Southern States: There are still 14 states that still haven’t expanded Medicaid, but two–Oklahoma and Missouri–will likely have ballot initiatives go in front of voters this year. Advocates hope the outbreak will nudge anyone on the fence toward supporting the expansion. [Kaiser Health News] Our analysis has shown Oklahoma needs Medicaid expansion now.

Already Struggling Rural Hospitals Now Deal With Coronavirus Challenges: Rural hospitals have been planning for the arrival of the coronavirus, but the preparations for a virus that may not come are putting some already struggling rural hospitals in danger. [KOSU

Michigan, Oklahoma providers forgive millions in medical debt: Two health centers in Michigan and a microhospital in Oklahoma are separately forgiving medical debt to help patients who may be struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Becker’s Healthcare]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma to receive $560,000 in brownfield grants: Oklahoma is being awarded $560,000 in grants to clean abandoned or contaminated properties, known as brownfields, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday. [The Journal Record 🔒]

Criminal Justice News

The dangers of COVID-19 for the state’s prisons, jails topic of Tulsa World virtual town hall: With just two confirmed COVID-19 cases among the state’s prison population, Oklahoma has so far dodged a bullet. But how long it can continue, especially if testing is not ramped up, is a big question, a prison reform leader warned. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs reduces need for Juvenile Detention services: The Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs approves further reduction of the number of juvenile detention beds the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) will contract for in the upcoming fiscal year. The revised number of juvenile detention beds represents 14% fewer than the amount approved by the board five months ago. [FOX25]

Economic Opportunity

Over 1,600 evictions filed since mid-March, worries linger of people being put on the streets: The state of Oklahoma has seen 1,668 eviction notices and nearly 300 foreclosures filed since March 15. Almost 400 of the evictions are in Oklahoma County. [KFOR] OK Policy: Policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Our Open Justice Oklahoma program created a real-time evictions and foreclosures court tracker, which shows there have been 1,668 evictions and 293 foreclosures filed as of April 12 since the state declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic on March 15. Groups in Oklahoma are calling the state to issue or expand statewide moratoria against evictions and utility shut-offs and commit to preventing mass evictions.

Economy & Business News

That Menu for Saving Small Businesses? ‘Not Written for Restaurants’: Ailene Siharath said she’s had trouble figuring out how to meet the requirements for loan forgiveness from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to reduce the skyrocketing number of unemployment claims. Her experience mirrors that of some other Oklahoma City area restaurant owners. [Oklahoma Watch]

100s line up as some Oklahoma casinos reopen despite virus: Hundreds of people stood in line Tuesday waiting to enter a casino in central Oklahoma that has been allowed to reopen with social distancing restrictions and sanitation safeguards in place to protect against a resurgence of the coronavirus. [AP News] Chickasaw Nation casinos to remain closed. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations Face Most Severe Crisis in Decades as the Coronavirus Closes Casinos: Nearly 500 tribal casinos remain shut down during the pandemic, causing job losses to spike. The economic damage is spreading quickly, wreaking havoc on fragile tribal finances. [New York Times]

Oil waste decisions left to operators, for now: Elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission decided to leave in place an emergency order allowing operators to voluntarily shut-in wells in cases where they believe crude oil is being wasted. [The Oklahoman]

Comfort buying: Shopping sprees and predatory lending a byproduct of social isolation: About 58 million Americans are spending more money while social distancing, according to WalletHub’s Coronavirus Shopping Survey, which showed that many people use shopping to ease stress during the onset of COVID-19 restrictions. [The Journal Record 🔒]

A major gym chain is starting to reopen in the US. Precautions include temperature checks and a 400-page cleaning protocol: For Life Time, a US health-and-fitness chain, the beginning of Oklahoma’s coronavirus reopening plan provided an opportunity to test the waters: Life Time is reopening the first of its US gyms in Oklahoma City. [Insider]

Education News

Oklahoma higher education leaders named to education task force formed in response to COVID-19: Rose State College President Jeanie Webb is among Oklahomans who have been appointed to serve on the Postsecondary Education Recovery Task Force, composed of higher education institutions from 16 states and formed in response to COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Cheyenne and Arapaho: The preservation of storytelling: Though federally recognized as one tribe, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were once distinct nations that called lands far from Oklahoma home. Both were Algonquian-speaking, agricultural people residing in the Great Lakes region along the Mississippi River. The two tribes spoke similar languages, but each had their own unique culture. [NonDoc]

A Community Newspaper’s Death Hits Home: It came in the form of an alert on my phone on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As I pushed my little electric mower in an uphill attempt to tame some of our five acres just south of Mustang, the brightness of the day was dimmed with the news — The Edmond Sun was closing its doors. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC official stresses COVID-19 testing and tracing [The Oklahoman]
  • Coalition seeks to make Oklahoma City test case for virus prevention and treatment [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa County Begins Allocating Nearly $114 Million In CARES Act Funding [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Tulsa County to have phased reinstatement of in-person courthouse business [Tulsa World]
  • Norman City council considers water rate increase [The Norman Transcript]
  • Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot funds coming to Claremore [The Claremore Daily Progress]
  • Port authority backs ODOT’s pursuit of federal grant with financial commitment [Muskogee Phoenix]
  • Bars can reopen Friday, church nurseries as well, Enid Mayor amends in reopening plan [Enid News & Eagle]
  • COVID-19’s economic impact will be long felt in Stillwater [Stillwater News Press]
  • Cowboys come together to support OSU COVID-19 testing lab [OSU News and Information]
  • Lavern’s in Miami feels the effects of COVID-19 [The Ardmoreite]
  • Oklahoma National Guard medics support COVID-19 testing [US Army]

Quote of the Day

“I think it’s a very scary situation. I think it’s a situation that could get out of hand in a heartbeat. The reality is we don’t know exactly what the magnitude of the situation is because we are not engaging in widespread testing within our prison system.”

–Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, speaking about the dangers of COVID-19 in Oklahoma’s prisons at the Tulsa World’s virtual town hall. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

44%

The percentage of child care programs that have lost income because they are reimbursed using attendance rates rather than enrollment for child care subsidy. Child care providers have asked DHS to reimburse based on enrollment rather than attendance during the COVID-19 crisis.

[Source: NAEYC COVID-19 Survey Data by State]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons: Since March, The Marshall Project has been tracking how many people are being sickened and killed by COVID-19 in prisons and how widely it has spread across the country and within each state. [The Marshall Project]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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