In The Know: Budget mysterious even for lawmakers | Power outages amid winter storm | One superintendent’s story

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. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

(Audio) Lawmakers talk spending versus saving as legislative session nears: In a discussion hosted by the Oklahoma Policy Institute last week, Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Bristow) and Sen. Julia Kirt (D-Oklahoma City) shared thoughts on when to spend the state’s largest budget since 2010. Rep. Danny Williams (R-Seminole) also took part in the conversation. [Public Radio Tulsa

Watch OK Policy’s 2022 State Budget Summit: Learn about the state’s current fiscal circumstances, what we might expect during this year’s legislative session, where we can improve OK’s budget and tax system, and download materials and reports referenced during the summit.

Oklahoma News

Winter storm leaves thousands of Oklahomans without power in freezing temperatures: More than 1,500 Oklahomans were in the dark Thursday morning as winter weather continued to affect the region. A situational update on the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Storm Center page made at 7:30 a.m. Thursday reported service had been restored to thousands of utility customers in Oklahoma City who were without power Wednesday night. [The Oklahoman] The count was as high as around 8,000 late Wednesday night as strong winds, ice, and snow put strains on the mostly above-ground power grid. [OKC Free Press]

  • Oklahoma weather: Road conditions deteriorate; ODOT working to clear highways, turnpikes [The Oklahoman
  • Most area school districts taking snow days or going to distance learning Thursday [Tulsa World
  • Winter storm forces Oklahoma schools to close. Here’s a look at what schools are closed Thursday [The Oklahoman
  • Winter storm leaves thousands without power Wednesday and Thursday [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma budget process can be mysterious, even for many lawmakers: Oklahoma’s multi-billion dollar budget is the pinnacle legislative action each spring that sets the course for how much money state agencies have to spend, impacting everything from the resources available in classrooms to the number of state troopers patrolling the highway. But the process it takes to complete is largely conducted in secret, negotiated among a few lawmakers and high-ranking government officials before the rest of the Legislature has a few days to approve.  [The Oklahoman

New OK Policy Report: Focus on Transparency is a new report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute shows that Oklahoma is among the nation’s least transparent states when engaging its residents during the development of the annual state budget. 

Awake at 2 A.M., agonizing over life-and-death decisions: A superintendent’s story: Across the country, district leaders are struggling to keep their schools open as COVID-19 makes adequately staffing them nearly impossible. In the El Reno school district, a farming and oil-producing community a half-hour’s drive west of Oklahoma City, Superintendent Craig McVay must make daily decisions about whether to keep schools open—a judgment that could threaten the safety of his 3,000 students and 400 staff members. The first few weeks of January brought a cascade of teacher absences, and every staffer who stepped in to substitute—including McVay himself—contracted the virus. [Education Week]

Health News

SoonerCare members eligible for at-home COVID tests: If you are a member of SoonerCare, officials say you can now get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, OHCA will reimburse contracted pharmacies that dispense the test kits to SoonerCare members. [KFOR

  • The state’s seven-day average in new coronavirus cases dropped to 7,558 per day [KOSU]

More than 1 in 4 Oklahoma adults are physically inactive: Ideas for more movement: Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of inactive adults in the country, a new study shows. It’s among seven states and one territory, Puerto Rico, where 30% or more adults were physically inactive, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma Attorney General won’t release audit on Health Department spending: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor won’t release an investigative audit into state Health Department spending that his predecessor requested in 2020. The audit isn’t a public record and will remain confidential because it is part of the agency’s litigation and investigatory files, a spokeswoman for O’Connor said in an email. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma’s backpack funding bill is one to watch: Of the 2,300 bills filed by state lawmakers for the upcoming session, which starts Monday, the one Jennifer Palmer with Oklahoma Watch will be watching most closely is Senate Bill 1647 by Senate leader Greg Treat. The legislation would create universal vouchers by giving any parent a state-funded account for their child’s education. The funds could be used on private school tuition, homeschool expenses, tutoring, books, computers, supplies, transportation to school and many other qualifying expenses. The effect would be moving public funds to private entities lacking in accountability and transparency. [Oklahoma Watch]

Tax credit for home caregivers draws AARP support: A bill filed for the upcoming legislative session seeks to give a tax credit to family caregivers. The Oklahoma chapter of the AARP is supporting House Bill 3371, by Rep. Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City. The organization’s leaders talked about it and other bills during a virtual forum on Wednesday about the upcoming session. [Tulsa World]

Lawmakers unsure which controversial bills ‘have legs’: Lawmakers and advocates say it’s getting harder for the public to know which high-profile, yet controversial measures likely are to make it through the legislative process. Already a number of hotly contested — and, in some cases, eyebrow raising — measures are being touted by Oklahoma lawmakers and highlighted by the media. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]

(Audio) Long Story Short: Change coming to utility bills, voting, criminal justice? This week, Paul Monies talks about how regulators and energy companies raised your utility bills in wake of the 2021 winter storm; Trevor Brown looks at dates and legislation that will influence how Oklahomans vote; and Keaton Ross reviews the most notable criminal justice bills before the legislature. Ted Streuli hosts. [Oklahoma Watch]

Tribal Nations News

‘It is not too late for us to begin anew’: Muscogee Nation Chief alludes to McGirt court decision in state of nation address: As part of his annual State of the Nation address, Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said his administration is thankful for its partners and is still open to collaborating about the future of public safety on the reservation. [Tulsa World]

New from OK Policy: Oklahoma Policy Institute now includes tribal-state policy advocacy

Voting and Election News

U.S. Sen. James Lankford flexes finances in latest filing: Republican U.S. Sen. James Lankford and the rest of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation continue to pile up huge financial advantages over potential challengers, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed this week. [Tulsa World

Tulsa County Election Board to be open for early in-person voting Thursday, Friday: Snow and freezing temperatures won’t keep the Tulsa County Election Board from being open Thursday and Friday for early in-person voting for next week’s elections. Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman said her office will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey leads in fundraising for DA race: An Oklahoma County commissioner running for district attorney is off to a fast start in fundraising. Kevin Calvey had more in receipts at the end of the year than his three opponents combined, even though he was the last to start his campaign, reports show. [The Oklahoman

Cheat sheet: Norman mayoral race a clash over city’s direction: After a tumultuous couple of years in local politics, voters in Norman will be asked to choose their next mayor in the primary election on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Five candidates are in the running, including incumbent Mayor Breea Clark, who was first elected in 2019 and has faced controversy for much of her time in office. [NonDoc] Her challengers in the nonpartisan race are Nicole Kish, Larry Heikkila, A.E. “Alice” Stephenson-Leuck and “Midway” Bob Thompson. [The Oklahoman

Bob Doucette: Running for local office is an act of patriotism: If you want to see what “sacrificial” looks like, sit in on a local school board or city council meeting. Sitting behind those desks and nameplates is a collection of working professionals, business owners, stay-at-home parents and retirees. [Column / Tulsa World

Economic Opportunity

An eviction and ‘the doctrine of impossibility’: An evicted commercial tenant may cite the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent business shutdowns in its defense against a lawsuit for nonpayment of rent, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The tenant argued the circumstances made it impossible for her to fulfill the terms of the lease. [The Journal Record

Economy & Business News

OKC sales tax revenue exceeds expectations: City sales tax collections through the first half of fiscal year 2022 are 18.5% higher than the prior year and 13.6% above projection. “We continue to have extremely strong sales tax growth,” City Manager Craig Freeman said Tuesday in a report to the Oklahoma City Council. [The Journal Record

Grants to bolster economic development in multiple communities: Communities across Oklahoma have been identified to receive grants to accelerate local economic development efforts, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce said Wednesday. Communities from Blackwell to Hugo to Weatherford were named to receive funding forwarded to the state through the U.S. Economic Development Administration. [The Journal Record

Oklahoma, other states to tap $1B fund to address abandoned wells: The Department of Interior is spending $1.15 billion to cap abandoned oil and gas wells across the United States. Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma and California – states reported to have among the most abandoned wells in the country – will be eligible to get largest shares of funding. [The Journal Record

Education News

Auditor: OSBI completes Epic Charter Schools investigation: A state investigation into alleged embezzlement by the founders of Epic Charter Schools has been completed, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. [Tulsa World] In response, several Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called for swift action by Oklahoma’s attorney general. [The Journal Record

Amid noisy controversies, Oklahoma school librarians do their best to create ‘informed citizens’: The books in Oklahoma school libraries don’t end up on their shelves by accident. In the Bristow High School library, “Identical” by Ellen Hopkins is certainly here on purpose, Librarian Allison Hilburn said.  But Hilburn, who as the librarian also doubles as the person who runs prom and as a substitute teacher, said her job is to show that the book – and many more like it – shouldn’t be intimidating. [State Impact Oklahoma]

Should concealed carry be legal on campus? Lawmaker says yes, college leaders say no: Second Amendment supporters are again focusing on college campuses. But they acknowledge that it may not be an easy fight to remove restrictions in one of the last remaining no-gun zones in the state, where campus leaders have long thwarted legalization efforts. [The Norman Transcript

Quote of the Day

“I would go to a caucus meeting and ask, ‘What are we doing on this aspect of the budget?’ and they would say ‘I can’t tell you because we are still negotiating.'”

– Former Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, talking about his frustration with the lack of information he received about the budget process when he was a freshman lawmaker. [The Oklahoman]

New OK Policy Report: Focus on Transparency is a new report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute shows that Oklahoma is among the nation’s least transparent states when engaging its residents during the development of the annual state budget. 

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s uninsured rate in 2019 for Oklahoma Latinas of reproductive age (18-44). The uninsured rate for American Indian women was 36.1%, for Black women, 22.2%, and for white women, 20.7%. Those rates are expected to decline following Oklahoma’s expansion of Medicaid coverage starting in June 2021.

[Source: Georgetown Center for Children and Families]

Policy Note

Medicaid Expansion Narrows Maternal Health Coverage Gaps, But Racial Disparities Persist: The United States is experiencing a maternal mortality crisis and has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized country in the world. While no one policy change can solve this crisis, Medicaid expansion is an effective strategy that has been shown to support the health of women of childbearing age and their children, with the greatest benefits for women and infants of color. Research shows that Medicaid expansion is significantly associated with seven fewer maternal deaths per 100,000 live births relative to non-expansion states, with the greatest decreases in mortality rates among Black, non-Hispanic women and Hispanic women. Medicaid expansion has also been linked to declines in infant mortality, with the steepest declines for Black babies. [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]

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Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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