In The Know: Cabinet secretary charged with bribery | 1 in 4 Oklahoma prisoners has had COVID | Assistance programs are investments

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

New report shows the importance of assistance programs to Oklahoma families: Helping families who need assistance helps all Oklahomans. Poverty affects us all because many people living in poverty have poorer health, are less able to work, and more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Poverty saps our most precious resource; economists call it “human capital,” but it’s really just all of us being able to do our best. Some research shows that higher-poverty areas, such as Oklahoma, have lower economic growth. Impacts of poverty can keep people from entering the workforce and reaching their full capacity when they can work. As noted below, poverty (and thus the need for assistance) is greatest among persons of color. Citigroup estimates the cost of Black inequality alone is 0.35 percent of gross domestic product. In Oklahoma, with a gross state product of $202 billion before the COVID-19 pandemic, we’d be adding $700 million to our economy, the equivalent of 18,000 good-paying ($40,000) jobs. Assistance programs aren’t a handout — they’re an investment in Oklahoma’s health, safety, and economic growth. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma Governor’s cabinet secretary indicted on bribery: Oklahoma Gov. Stitt’s secretary of digital transformation and technology was charged Thursday with felony bribery for allegedly attempting to bribe members of the Oklahoma Tax Commission. [AP News] David Ostrowe is the fast-food magnate charged with modernizing Oklahoma’s antiquated governmental systems as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of digital transformation. [NonDoc] He is accused of directing Oklahoma Tax Commissioners Steve Burrage and Charles Prater in September to waive a company’s penalties and interest on a tax debt or “appropriations to the Oklahoma Tax Commission would be withheld.” [The Oklahoman

1 in 4 prisoners in Oklahoma has had COVID-19: One in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times as high as the general population. In Oklahoma, the rate is even higher with one in four prisoners have been infected, according to data collected by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project. As the pandemic enters its 10th month — and as the first Americans begin to receive a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine — at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, more than 1,700 have died and the spread of the virus behind bars shows no sign of slowing. New cases in prisons this week reached their highest level since testing began in the spring, far outstripping previous peaks in April and August. [Marshall Project] OK Policy: COVID-19 in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency

89,000 teachers gain priority in Oklahoma’s vaccine plan: Oklahoma teachers and schools support staff could begin to be offered COVID-19 vaccines as soon as January. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday announced K-12 teachers and other school employees who interact with students will move up a step in the state’s vaccine distribution plan. [The Oklahoman] Teachers and support staff will be moved into Phase 2 from Phase 3, Stitt said. [Tulsa World] Stitt said the change helps accomplish his goal of returning all of the state’s schools to in-person classes in January, following the Christmas holiday break. [AP News] The governor plans to pressure his State Board of Education appointees to pass a rule superseding local control, forcing districts to offer in-person instruction amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. [CNHI via Stillwater News Press]

  • COVID-19 vaccine vials contain more doses than expected [Tulsa World]
  • Public health officials stress vaccines not immediate cure-all, prevention efforts still crucial [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • COVID-19 vaccine questions answered by OKC health officials [The Oklahoman]
  • Health Department says area vaccination efforts ‘ramping up’ [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • COVID vaccine arrives at Norman hospitals [The Norman Transcript]
  • First COVID-19 vaccines given to front-line workers in Miami, Grove [The Joplin Globe]
  • First frontline workers at DRH Health receive COVID-19 vaccinations [The Duncan Banner]
  • Woodward school staff to receive vaccine soon [Woodward News]
  • Cherokee Nation starts administering COVID-19 vaccine to native language speakers as at least 20 die after contracting virus [Tulsa World]
  • Cherokee Nation doctor describes her COVID-19 vaccine experience [The Oklahoman]

COVID-19: Record number in ICU beds as 16 more deaths reported across Oklahoma: With a record number of Oklahomans in ICU beds across the state with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, state officials on Thursday reported 2,975 new cases and 16 more deaths related to the virus. [Tulsa World]

  • Muscogee (Creek) Nation chief tests positive for COVID-19 [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa city councilors approve resolution urging business to allow employees to work remotely [Tulsa World]
  • Listen Frontier: COVID vaccine arrives in Oklahoma [The Frontier]
  • Who’s Up First? Oklahoma’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan [KGOU]

Health News

‘Darkest red’ for the coronavirus surge: Task Force pleased with states to do more: The White House Coronavirus Task Force this week added a new color to its maps — “darkest red” — as it tried to convey the severity of the surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in weekly reports to governors. But the White House has stopped sending the reports to states, including Oklahoma, unless officials specifically request them, further restricting access to recommendations intended to save lives.  [Center for Public Integrity

Protecting Oklahoma Alzheimer’s patients from the coronavirus comes at a price: Throughout the pandemic, long-term care facilities have had to implement lockdowns. For Alzheimer’s and dementia patients like Marsue, the isolation used to protect their physical health can further damage their brain health. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

In time of trial, new nurses step forward: With the demand for health care providers at an all-time high, Francis Tuttle Technology Center graduated 16 new practical nurses on Thursday. [The Journal Record]

Op-Ed: The scuffle over health care for profit: Gov. Kevin Stitt has been drawing opposition from within the ranks of his own party this past year, and two of the inflammatory issues have involved a tribal gaming compact, which was struck down by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court in July, and Stitt’s plans to privatize Medicaid. [Op-Ed / Tahlequah Daily Press]

State and Local Government News

Initial unemployment claims decline in Oklahoma by nearly 30% after mini-spike last week: First-time unemployment claims in Oklahoma declined by nearly 30% last week following a mini-spike in filings the week before. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 4,352 Oklahoma workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation during the week ending Saturday, a 29.4% drop from the prior week’s rate, when a revised 6,168 workers sought benefits for the first time. [Tulsa World]

$8.7 million in CARES funds could go to Oklahoma County’s small business relief program, local health department: Dozens of small businesses and nonprofits that applied for but did not receive funding from Oklahoma County’s small business and nonprofit relief program may be in luck. [The Oklahoman] Before the meeting, members of the community signed up to address the Board. [OKC Free Press]

5Ws+1H: How It’s Done: Lawmakers explains how bills are made: Lawmakers file thousands of bills every year in the Oklahoma Legislature, but they have several hurdles to jump before they are passed and signed into law. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Federal Government News

Rep. Cole says 2020 election is “over,” Congress “very close” on stimulus package: Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole spoke with FOX 25 on Thursday, discussing the 2020 election controversy, Congress’ recent push for another stimulus package, and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. [Fox 25]

Rep.-elect Stephanie Bice hires chief of staff, awaits committee assignments: U.S. Rep.-elect Stephanie Bice has tapped her campaign finance consultant as her chief of staff and is seeking a spot on either the Transportation or Armed Services committee, Bice told Oklahoma City business leaders Thursday. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

For mental health concerns, police now have a safe place to take people for care and evaluation: The new Police One Stop facility inside the Family & Children’s Services Crisis Center downtown will go a long way toward ensuring that individuals with mental health problems receive appropriate and timely care, officials said Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

The CDC banned evictions for those affected by Covid. Why are tenants being thrown out on the street?: Some states have implemented their own eviction bars. But at least seven states — Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming — have never put such protections in place. All are Republican-controlled and most have resisted many Covid-19 measures. [NBC]

Economy & Business News

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Still Face Difficulties: Since SQ788, an estimated 13,536 medical marijuana related business applications have been submitted, and 9,073 medical marijuana business licenses are active, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA), 474 days since applications began to be accepted. [Guthrie News Leader]

A greener, rural-Oklahoma energy grid is generating jobs by the hundreds and revenues by the millions: Energy flowing across Oklahoma’s transmission grid turned greener this week. On Wednesday, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and NextEra Energy Resources flipped a switch activating the first phase of power generation from Skeleton Creek. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma joins other states in antitrust lawsuit against Google: Dozens of states, including Oklahoma, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google on Thursday, alleging that the search giant has an illegal monopoly over the online search market that hurts consumers and advertisers. [The Journal Record]

Buy For Less, Uptown Grocery stores to be sold as chain winds down operations: Buy For Less is set to sell seven of its 11 metro-area stores, including its two Uptown Grocery locations, as it continues to shrink its operations. [The Oklahoman]

Last call for 2020: Rebound continues for alcohol industry: The past 12 months have created a global storm for the beverage industry that created unforeseen operational challenges in Oklahoma. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Oklahoma eliminates school report cards for 2020-21: Oklahoma schools will not receive letter grades from the state for academic performance, attendance and other measurements this school year. A decision from the Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday brought home a nationwide conversation on whether students and schools should be assessed in a year full of uncertainty and inconsistency in education. [The Oklahoman] Maria Harris, deputy state superintendent for assessment and accountability, told the board that state and federally required tests will still be administered to as many students as possible in the spring. [Tulsa World] The ACT or SAT will also be given to to high school juniors. [AP News]

Enid Public Schools will use local temp agency to hire substitute teachers: A local employment agency will help Enid Public Schools hire more substitute teachers for the upcoming semester as hiring in-house has proven increasingly difficult. [Enid News & Eagle]

General News

Search for 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre graves likely to expand: Scientists looking for human remains from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre want to excavate an area of Oaklawn Cemetery almost five times the size of a trench and an individual grave shaft uncovered in October, State Archeologist Kary Stackelbeck confirmed Thursday. [Tulsa World]

These 6 graphs show that Black scientists are underrepresented at every level: The academic environment fails to support Black students, says economist Gary Hoover of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. “Black students in STEM are some of the most talented people around, and if the environment isn’t going to be welcoming, these folks just take their talents elsewhere.” [Science News]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Board of Education races in Okla City and Putnam City Public Schools take shape [OKC Free Press]
  • First lady Sarah Stitt not injured after SUV involved in accident in OKC [Tulsa World]
  • Applications are being accepted to fill Ward 6 city commission vacancy [Enid News & Eagle]
  • McAlester City Council passes new mask mandate [McAlester News Capital]

Quote of the Day

“Opening schools is just a soundbite until our leaders do whatever it takes to limit community spread. What our students need are lasting solutions.”

-Alicia Priest, President of the Oklahoma Education Association [CNHI via Stillwater News Press]

Number of the Day

1 in 4

The ratio of COVID-19 infection for Oklahoma prisoners, which is 26.7 cases per every 100 prisoners. That rate is more than four times higher than for all Oklahomans at 6.1 cases per 100 residents.

[Source: Marshall Project / Associated Press]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

As more women fill America’s jails, medical tragedies mount: The number of women held in America’s jails has risen more than 20% over the past decade, to an average of more than 115,000 inmates a day. And more and more are arriving in need of medical attention or with debilitating health conditions that strain the capacity of lockups typically designed for men. Thousands arrive pregnant each year. Most suffer from mental illness – at far higher rates than their male counterparts – and they’re more likely to experience drug and alcohol addiction. As more women land in America’s local jails, more are dying there, too. [Reuters]

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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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