In The Know: COVID cases explode over weekend | Supreme Court says McGirt not retroactive | Federal utility assistance available

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.

Oklahoma News

Record-high COVID-19 cases hit Oklahoma as omicron variant surges in state: Oklahoma reported record high numbers of new COVID-19 cases this weekend as the state faces another surge, this time driven by the omicron variant. [The Oklahoman] It was a staggering number for a single weekend: A total of 27,058 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the state Saturday through Monday, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That’s more than 9,000 each day. [The Journal Record

Supreme Court lets ruling stand on ‘McGirt v. Oklahoma’ retroactivity; no decision yet on reconsideration: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let a lower court ruling stand that said McGirt v. Oklahoma could not be applied retroactively. The high court denied all three petitions that sought to reverse the prior decision on cases seeking post-conviction relief. Only cases after July 9, 2020 are eligible for a re-hearing. The court also decided to hold all the post-McGirt petitions. [KGOU

  • Supreme Court: McGirt not retroactive; Oklahoma’s appeals still on the table [Tulsa World]
  • Governor Stitt using anti-Native ‘stereotypes’ in fight against McGirt [The Black Wall Street Times

Health News

Dozens of Oklahoma schools pivot to distance learning as thousands of students, teachers catch the coronavirus: Across Oklahoma, dozens of schools have suspended in-person learning because of the coronavirus. Updated CDC guidance means many students and teachers are able to come back to classrooms more quickly after catching COVID-19. But still, with classes resuming last week, the coronavirus has spread in many schools. [KGOU]

  • Five more OKCPS schools shifted to virtual learning as COVID takes toll [OKC Free Press]
  • OKCPS Board hears COVID report, still determined for district to stay open [OKC Free Press]
  • Oklahoma’s two largest universities to require masks in class [KOSU]
  • Oklahoma County authorizes remote work, alternate payment method for COVID rapid tests [The Oklahoman]

With COVID still breaking Oklahoma case records, CDC study shows how vaccines are helping: As the number of new COVID-19 infections skyrocketed in Oklahoma to break records over the weekend, a CDC report shows the value of vaccines in keeping hospitalizations and deaths comparatively lower even amid a higher case surge. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Bill aims for legalized sports betting in Oklahoma: State Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, is trying to revive the possibility of sports gambling at Oklahoma’s tribal casinos. On Monday, Luttrell filed House Bill 3008, which would add pooled sports gambling to the list of activities allowed under existing gaming compacts between the state and the tribes. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma senator introduces bills to address teacher shortages: More money has not alleviated Oklahoma’s teaching shortage so state Sen. Jessica Garvin said it’s time to “look at what assets we already have available.” Garvin, R-Duncan, said she is introducing two bills, one that would allow adjunct teachers to teach more than 270 hours per semester and another that would give unlimited classroom days to substitute teachers who have a lapsed or expired teaching certificate or a bachelor’s degree. [The Center Square

Proposed abortion bill to establish Oklahoma database draws concerns: A new bill at the Oklahoma State Capitol would establish a government database assigning women looking to get an abortion a number in the system. Supporters say it will help make sure pregnant women get the information they need before they make a decision. Opponents say it’s a burdensome law that makes it even harder for women to have access to the procedures they want. [KFOR

Federal Government News

Utility assistance available to low-income Oklahomans via American Rescue Plan-funded programs: With new funding from the White House’s American Rescue Plan (ARPA) federal COVID-19 relief package, low-income Oklahomans can now apply for financial assistance to pay certain utility bills. The Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, has been offered in Oklahoma for years, but the White House touts an infusion of $32 million from ARPA funds, combining with the pre-allocated $38.3 million for a record-high $70.3 million total allocation for Oklahoma this fiscal year. [Public Radio Tulsa

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma death row inmates seek firing squad as alternative: Two Oklahoma death row inmates facing executions in the coming months offered firing squad as a less problematic alternative to the state’s three-drug lethal injection, one of their attorneys told a federal judge on Monday. The two inmates — Donald Grant and Gilbert Postelle — want U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot to grant them a temporary injunction that would delay their upcoming executions until a trial can be held over whether Oklahoma’s three-drug lethal injection method is constitutional. [AP

Oklahoma County commissioners pause state request for jail funding: The effort to fund and build a new Oklahoma County Jail is facing turbulence as leaders tinker with methods to fund the project amid evolving federal guidelines on the use of coronavirus relief funds. After some discussion at this morning’s meeting, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners struck an item from its agenda regarding an application for funds from the joint committee of the Oklahoma Legislature that is overseeing distribution of certain American Rescue Plan Act dollars. [NonDoc] The Commissioners also discussed mitigating the rise in COVID cases spreading like wildfire throughout the community. [OKC Free Press]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma beef producers, state officials applaud federal effort to balance meat market scales: Damon Watson, a fourth-generation rancher in Council Hill, eventually decided he would do something about difficulties he was having in running a profitable business. He and his wife already were working to open their own meat processing plant and market in early 2020. Discouragement over disappointing market prices for their livestock and a lack of local processors to use had motivated them to act. Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. [The Oklahoman

Education News

Oklahoma colleges drop teaching programs due to low interest: While Oklahoma schools struggle to stay open during the recent Covid19 surge, many educators are worried about a more long-term problem: finding qualified teachers. In fact, some Oklahoma colleges are shuttering their teaching programs due to lack of interest. [The Black Wall Street Times

With new interim superintendent named, Western Heights continues suit against OKC company: A nearly four-year legal battle between Western Heights Public Schools and a company called Action Air and Refrigeration caused school board members to enter executive session Monday night to discuss the pending litigation, but no action was taken. Meanwhile, the district is set to welcome a new interim superintendent next month. [NonDoc]

Quote of the Day

“So many Oklahomans have, you know, had challenges during the pandemic. Any kind of assistance, especially this time of year, I think, can really go a long way towards helping people overcome some challenges.”

—Deborah Smith, director of adult and family services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, speaking about utility assistance available to low-income Oklahomans via American Rescue Plan-funded programs [Public Radio Tulsa]

Number of the Day

14%

Percentage of Oklahoma adults in households with children up to four-years-old who cut work hours due to childcare disruptions caused by the pandemic, Sept.-Oct. 2021

[Source: KIDS COUNT Data Center]

Policy Note

A Lifetime’s Worth of Benefits: The Effects of Affordable, High-quality Child Care on Family Income, the Gender Earnings Gap, and Women’s Retirement Security: Child care is a financial and logistical challenge for families as well as a challenge for meeting their children’s developmental needs. This is especially the case for those with lower incomes. The lack of public investment in care infrastructure is one important reason that women—as both paid child care providers and mothers—bring home less pay, experience higher poverty rates than men at every stage of life, and are less secure in retirement. [National Women’s Law Center]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristin Wells joined OK Policy in October 2021 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. 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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