In 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.
Comanche County Jail under quarantine; 126 inmates, staff test positive for COVID-19: The COVID-19 outbreak at the overcrowded Comanche County Detention Center (CCDC) has progressed from a local health crisis to a political issue involving officials at the highest levels of state government. [Southwest Ledger] The county detention center is on lockdown, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has taken over operations. [Lawton Constitution] The situation has gotten so bad the state health department ordered jail administrator William Hobbs not to take in any more prisoners. [KOSU] OK Policy joined groups from around the state to call for actions needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system, which poses a threat to communities both inside and outside of prisons and jails.
Bill changes ‘corporate county welfare,’ but senators claim ignorance: It’s never a great sign when key people involved in changing a state law aren’t sure what they just did. It’s an even worse sign when the House and Senate authors of a bill claim they had different interpretations of its effects. The bill also contained language that raised eyebrows among media, lobbyists and lawyers over the weekend. If the repealer actually deleted the statute that defines manufacturing businesses that qualify for local property tax exemptions in its entirety, it would be the largest reform of state tax incentives passed all session. [NonDoc]
Cost of living increase for state retirees awaits Governor’s decision: Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt is considering legislation to give raises to state retirees for the first time in 12 years. The measure to give Cost of Living Adjustments to firefighters, law enforcement and teachers passed the Senate as one of the last bills before the legislative session ended on Friday. [KOSU] OK Policy analysis has shown this COLA would boost the state’s economy without a budget impact.
COVID-19: 88 more cases confirmed with no new deaths reported in Oklahoma: State health officials did not report additional COVID-19 deaths on Monday. There were an additional 88 confirmed cases of the disease, though, totaling 5,398 confirmed cases for the state since early March. About 56 of the latest cases stem from an outbreak in Texas County. [Tulsa World] According to Texas County Emergency Management, the new positive results are for 51 Guymon residents, two Hooker residents, one Goodwell resident and two with unspecified towns of residency. [ABC7] Visit coronavirus.health.ok.gov for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.
State Government News
House speaker and governor at odds over communication with Legislature: Gov. Kevin Stitt believes the Speaker of the state House of Representatives is attempting to “censor” his communication with members of the Legislature a week after the two sides battled over a budget that was passed with a veto override. [The Frontier]
In Stitt’s government, officials keep one foot in the business world: A former CEO who once had no interest in politics, Gov. Kevin Stitt became Oklahoma’s top executive on a promise to run state government more like the corporation he founded 20 years ago in a Tulsa suburb. That business mindset involved crafting a team of other corporate leaders, many who also lacked government experience but were tasked by Stitt to rethink the way state agencies operate. [The Frontier]
Oklahoma Legislature met only 36 days this session, leaving some work undone: This spring’s truncated legislative schedule means a lot of things that lawmakers, lobbyists and Gov. Kevin Stitt wanted done didn’t happen and probably won’t. No criminal justice reform. No medical billing reform. No agency consolidation. No civil service reform. No additional public money for private schools. [Tulsa World] Because of a legislative session shortened by COVID-19, only a handful of education policy bills moved through the House and Senate to make it to the governor’s desk Time constraints meant only the bills most important to lawmakers could make it to Gov. Kevin Stitt. [StateImpact Oklahoma]
Stitt vetoes bill to cut affordable housing tax credit: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday vetoed legislation that would cut in half an affordable housing tax credit offered to developers. Stitt vetoed House Bill 2760, which sought to reduce from $4 million to $2 million the amount of Oklahoma Affordable Housing Tax Credits offered annually by the state. [The Oklahoman]
House approves bills to increase special ed teachers in classrooms, address teacher shortage: The Oklahoma House of Representatives gave approval to two bills designed to increase the number of special education teachers in the classroom and to address the statewide teacher shortage. [Woodward News]
Oklahoma to increase oversight of midwives under new law: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday signed legislation requiring state regulation of non-nurse midwives. The governor signed Shepherd’s Law, which is named after an Oklahoma infant who died shortly after a planned home birth went wrong. [The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma Legislature votes to let out-of-state residents get medical marijuana and to allow delivery: The Oklahoma legislature sent a bill to the governor’s desk on Friday that allows out-of-state residents to obtain temporary medical marijuana licenses that last for up to three months and also provides for legal cannabis delivery services. [Marijuana Moment]
Attorney General applauds house and senate members for legislation creating Opioid Abatement Board: Attorney General Mike Hunter commended members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate, who voted to create the Oklahoma Opioid Abatement Board, which will be responsible for distributing around $25 million from settlements from the opioid manufacturers’ settlement. [Sandite Pride News]
More liquor law changes could come to Oklahoma within the next couple of months: If you’ve enjoyed buying beer, wine or spirits and picking them up curbside or having them delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic, that may become a permanent perk under state law. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Federal Government News
CARES Act rules may limit relief funds: Towns and counties in Oklahoma that have suffered losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for financial help from the federal government, but some officials fear money may be left on the table because of current rules limiting potential uses for the funding. [The Journal Record]
Criminal Justice News
Oklahoma may be first to implement marijuana breathalyzer: Oklahoma could soon launch a pilot program to conduct marijuana breathalyzer tests to determine if drivers are under the influence. The pilot program would consist of a breathalyzer test that can determine if a person has consumed cannabis within the last few hours. [AP News]
Lawmaker criticizes private prison raises: State Rep. J.J. Humphrey, R-Lane, said he’s asked Gov. Kevin Stitt to veto part of House Bill 4160. The measure calls for nearly $1.2 million in taxpayer funds to be spent to equalize employee pay at the contracted private correctional facilities statewide. [CNHI via The Ada News]
Jail Trust getting closer to assuming control of Oklahoma County Jail: The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, better known as the Jail Trust, met Monday afternoon in their steady push toward taking control of the Oklahoma County Jail. [Free Press OKC]
Pod being created for military vets at Oklahoma County Jail: A pod is being created for military veterans who are in the Oklahoma County Jail. According to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, services will be provided to veterans to help with mental health, PTSD and other resources. [FOX25]
Cash held by Oklahoma City police is missing, audit finds: An Oklahoma City Police Department office that handles millions of dollars in cash lacked adequate controls to prevent theft, failed to make timely dispositions of currency and was unable to account for $27,000, an audit determined. [The Oklahoman]
A plea for help: State senator calls for disaster response to assist self-employed: State Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, says the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is underfunded, understaffed and technologically unable to serve the demands of the COVID-19 economic crisis. [The Journal Record] Protesters express frustrations with unemployment system. [The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma among states U.S. Secret Service is warning about ‘massive’ unemployment fraud scheme: Oklahoma may be among the targets of a Nigerian crime ring perpetrating ‘massive’ unemployment fraud against U.S. state programs. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Economy & Business News
Cherokee Nation Businesses announces plan for reopening: When Cherokee Nation Businesses opens its casinos and entertainment properties, it will open its smaller facilities first, followed by a phased opening of other casinos and properties. [The Journal Record]
Tulsa school board urges advocacy for larger share of pandemic relief funding; discusses leasing facilities to charter schools: The Tulsa school board passed a resolution Monday urging congressional delegates to advocate for additional federal funding for the nation’s public schools. The resolution passed unanimously after Superintendent Deborah Gist said the national allocation to education “pales wildly” in comparison to stimulus dollars offered in 2008, when education systems faced only an economic crisis. [Tulsa World]
State question could have money from Big Tobacco settlements fund Medicaid expansion: Big Tobacco settlement dollars could soon be spent on expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma. The money would pay for Medicaid in one of two ways: Either in a plan supported by Gov. Stitt or in a plan that will be on the ballot in June. [KOCO]
Need for legal aid services rises as funding drops: Legal aid programs are preparing for an onslaught of new cases as the pandemic thrusts Americans into financial instability. At the same time, many programs are bracing for funding losses that will force them to do more with fewer resources. [Big If True] OK Policy: State policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
Oklahoma Local News
- Texas County confirms 56 additional COVID-19 cases, bringing total to 752 [ABC7]
- Stillwater mayor and other Oklahomans discuss mask-wearing during COVID-19 [KOSU]
- Oklahoma County Courthouse prepares for new normal while reopening during pandemic [KOCO]
- Tulsa County District Court reopens with strict safety protocols amid pandemic [Tulsa World]
- Woodward County courthouse to open Tuesday [Woodward News]
- Cleveland County Commissioners vote yes for $150k management contract [Norman Transcript]
- Cherokee County Commissioners approve resolution to help schools [Tahlequah Daily Press]
- Stillwater’s lingering active COVID-19 case reported as a recovery by health department [Stillwater News Press]
- Enid City Commissioners to approve city budget Tuesday [Enid News & Eagle]
Quote of the Day
“This bill is the biggest woolly-booger I’ve seen in a decade. (There was) not a peep from the authors as to what the bill really did.”
-A lobbyist commenting on Senate Bill 1595, on which lawmakers — including the bill’s authors — have differing opinions about impacts from a last-minute provision added to the bill [NonDoc]
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s score out of 5 on the COVID-19 housing policy scorecard used to rate each state’s pandemic responses to evictions and prevention of homelessness. Oklahoma has not implemented statewide orders that would prevent evictions and forclosures during and immediately following the pandemic.
[Source: Eviction Lab]
Half of low-income families have lost jobs or wages: While the outbreak has wreaked widespread economic havoc on the nation, it has hit lower-income Americans harder than others, exposing and widening income inequality in the US. Overall, 43% of adults report that they or someone in their household has taken a hit, but only a third of upper-income Americans say the same, according to the Pew study, released Tuesday. [CNN]
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