In The Know: Changes to state’s virus dashboard | Hazard pay sought for prison staff | State’s move away from private prisons

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

Oklahoma’s move away from private prisons (Capitol Update): Early commutations and perhaps other causes have decreased the total Oklahoma inmate population by a bit more 3,000 this year. Interestingly, although they house less than one-third of ODOC inmates, more than half of the decrease in population was taken from the private prisons. By the end of August, the private facilities were operating at 72 percent capacity, having started the year at 93 percent. A 72 percent capacity likely makes the private facilities difficult, if not impossible, to profitably sustain. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

Now hiring for Legislative and Outreach Director: OK Policy is now hiring for its Legislative and Outreach Director. This position is responsible for representing the organization by developing and maintaining close working relationships with key audiences and partners, including members of the Oklahoma Legislature, community organizations, and grassroots advocates. Applications close Sept. 25. [Learn more or apply online

Oklahoma News

State details changes to COVID-19 dashboard data: The state of Oklahoma will be shifting some of the reporting procedures on its COVID-19 dashboard beginning Tuesday. The shift focuses on a few things, chiefly the growing percentage of overall tests that are antigen tests, positive results of which have previously been considered “probable” cases and reported as a different pool of numbers. [NonDoc] The state’s coronavirus dashboard will be modernized in an effort to improve “transparency” and “clarity,” officials said. [The Frontier] Oklahoma to begin counting probable cases in confirmed positive COVID-19 data as rapid tests increase [Tulsa World]

  • Six months after first confirmed case, state nears 1 million specimens tested [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma reported 613 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and no new deaths, officials said. [AP News]

Outbreaks in prisons, spread in college towns drive COVID-19 hotspots: A large coronavirus outbreak in a women’s prison near Muskogee and community spread in college towns drove the hotspots for active cases this week in Oklahoma. [Oklahoma Watch

  • Oklahoma inmate dies after hospitalization for ‘symptoms associated with COVID-19’ [Tulsa World] | [The Oklahoman] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Protesters gather at Eddie Warrior Correctional for rally [KJRH]
  • College stadium and atmosphere will be different but Gov. Stitt says ‘we’re ready to play football’ [Tulsa World]
  • Despite predictions, COVID-19 is not keeping students away from Oklahoma colleges [Tulsa World]

State employees association seeks COVID-19 hazard pay for prison employees: The Oklahoma Public Employees Association is seeking $2-an-hour hazard pay for employees working at state prisons. The group is asking that the funding come from the more than $1.2 billion the state got in coronavirus relief funds through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Oklahoma might get batch of COVID-19 vaccine in November for ‘priority populations’ first, OSDH official says: November is the earliest Oklahoma might receive its first allotment of COVID-19 vaccine to distribute to “priority populations,” although the timeline remains tentative, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. [Tulsa World] Oklahoma’s low vaccination rate could worsen pandemic, experts warn [FOX23]

Study shows outsized impact of COVID among non-white Oklahomans: A new study in the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association looked at disparities among racial and ethnic lines in Oklahoma’s COVID-19 patients over 12 weeks, from April through July. [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Government News

Oklahoma’s interim epidemiologist wants to work in facts, not politics: Dr. Jared Taylor is blunt and clear-spoken about his assessment of COVID-19, but his take is distinctly nonpartisan. Taylor said politics swirl around the pandemic, but those are separate from his job description, and he has no interest in engaging in politics. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]

Oklahoma treasury collections fall 5% in August amid oil dip: Overall collections to the state treasury last month were nearly 5% below collections from August 2019, driven mostly by a slump in oil and gas prices. The decline in August marked the fifth month since February that total receipts were lower than those from the same month in the prior year. [AP News] Collections from the gross production tax, the state’s severance tax on oil and natural gas, fell by 46.3%, generating $40.7 million, or $35.1 million less than a year ago. Monthly gross production receipts have been less than the same month of the prior year for 12 consecutive months. [The Journal Record]

Former Stitt adviser gets contracts from entities that he granted COVID-19 relief funds: A former top aide to Gov. Kevin Stitt received two contracts with state entities that he approved for millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds. Donelle Harder, 34, served as Stitt’s campaign manager and senior adviser before leaving her $140,600-a-year state job in February. [Tulsa World]

State official now pushes visitors to Oklahoma the way he once pushed voters: Getting strangers to visit Oklahoma is not the same as getting them to vote for Republicans, but there is a surprising amount of overlap. “In the Republican Party, we would target individuals who had subscriptions to hunting and outdoor magazines,” Pinnell said, citing one example. “Things … that were kind of our demographic. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Commissioners spar over staff position: Get ready for the lawsuits coming your way, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony told commission Chairman Todd Hiett on Thursday, as the commission discussed filling a critical staff position. Anthony’s attempts to raise concern over the commission’s ethics during the meeting were rebuffed by his fellow commissioners. [The Journal Record]

Economy & Business News

Black Women Voices panel to discuss racism in the workplace: Black Women Voices will host its fourth virtual panel Wednesday to discuss racism in the workplace. Panelists include Francie Ekwerekwu, an Oklahoma County public defender and trustee for the Oklahoma County Jail Trust; Kitti Asberry, director of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women; and Joanne Davis, director of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce. The event will be streamed live on the Black Women Voices’ Facebook and Twitter pages at 6 p.m. Wednesday. [The Oklahoman]

Report shows dire numbers for hotel industry: When COVID-19 forced a virtual halt to the country, the hotel industry was one of the first industries to feel the hit, and experts predict it may also be among the last industries to recover. Although travel is picking up slowly, a new report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association shows that the hotel industry is teetering on the edge of disaster. [The Journal Record]

Cherokee Nation to start $25 million construction, remodel and manufacturing projects in response to COVID-19: Cherokee Nation officials will construct eight buildings and remodel four as part of the tribe’s response to COVID-19. The various projects are estimated to cost about $25 million. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Schools to receive rapid tests by year end: Public schools statewide are slated to receive rapid COVID-19 tests by the end of year, state Department of Health officials announced Friday. Lance Frye, the interim health commissioner, said the federal government has told him Oklahoma’s public schools are slated to receive newly developed rapid antigen COVID-19 tests that will not require the use of a testing machine to process them. [CNHI via Claremore Daily Progress]

  • Owasso Public Schools ending at-home learning early, students to return Sept. 17 [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Norman Public Schools record 7 positive COVID-19 cases, does not commit to publicly disclosing numbers regularly [Norman Transcript]

Under pressure: Kids and parents stressed by distance learning: COVID-19 has been tough on everyone, but kids have been feeling the pressure as much as adults as their schools shift to distance learning. [CNHI via Stillwater News Press]

Board member censured, removed from audit committee for going rogue in state auditor’s court battle with Epic: A member of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board was censured and stripped of his seat on a newly formed audit committee after going rogue on the board’s official position in a legal battle over Epic Charter Schools’ spending records. [Tulsa World]

Langston University’s Tulsa presence shifting but not diminishing, president says: Langston University may be changing its focus in Tulsa, but it’s not going away, President Kent Smith said Friday. “We’re not leaving Tulsa. We’re maintaining a strong footprint. This is how we see the future.” [Tulsa World] Editorial: Settlement of long-running Tulsa higher education territory dispute promises better futures for Langston, OSU and the city [Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: The TU life cycle renews: Due to the creativity, ingenuity and grit of so many faculty, staff and students at The University of Tulsa, the university life cycle continues this fall, although with some significant modifications. Six months into the pandemic that has upended all of our lives to varying degrees, business as unusual is the norm to which everyone is accustomed. [TU Interim President Janet Levit Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Opinion: The tough get tougher in the new education landscape: As a teacher, my goal should be to give students that voice, knowledge, and confidence to make change. But that’s easier said than done, especially these days as the fight for quality education seems harder than ever. A system that has struggled for years with low funding and shallow curriculum, is now facing a pandemic. [Opinion / The Frontier]

General News

Prison ministry leader helping eliminate confusion about felons’ voter eligibility: The Oklahoma Baptist State Convention’s Prison Ministry recently began partnering with Sen. George Young Sr., D-Oklahoma City, to clear up confusion on the voting eligibility of people who have been convicted of felonies. [The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: State must take action to make absentee voting work better: The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, an organization that has long advocated for voting rights, recently requested the Oklahoma Election Board take urgent action to address problems with the absentee ballot process which threaten the integrity of the Nov. 3 general election. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Homeless Alliance OKC an example of the power of joining together: Of those experiencing homelessness, a disproportionate number of Black and Native Americans are affected, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In Oklahoma City, 26% of people experiencing homelessness are Black, and 8% are Native American, according to the Homeless Alliance. [The Oklahoman]

Female leaders say sexism, threats come with the job: Local female leaders in Norman and Oklahoma City have been subject to threats, harassment and sexism in recent months. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC man living on steps of state capitol in solo social justice protest [News9]
  • Several dozen show solidarity for Black Lives Matter movement at south Tulsa intersection [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“If we ever want to see progress and change, we can’t ignore the stories of the unheard and oppressed. We have to look at ugly truths. We can’t make the choice to hide it away for the students.”

-Eric Parker, a social studies teacher at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City [The Frontier

Number of the Day

$290 billion

Expected shortfall in state budgets nationally due to COVID-19.

[Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A Conversation with Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen: “State and local governments tax revenues…have been decimated by the pandemic…What they’re doing and planning to do more of is spending cuts and layoffs, and that’s going to add to the economy’s woes and create more unemployment throughout the economy.” [NPR]

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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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