In The Know: Federal investigation of state’s Public Health Lab | Allocating ARPA funds | 2022 Policy Priorities

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

OK Policy Unveils Policy Priorities for 2022 Legislative Session: Based on feedback from residents statewide, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has developed legislative policy priorities for the upcoming 2022 legislative session that can help Oklahomans live healthier, raise thriving families, and ensure the safety of their communities. [OK Policy]

Lawmakers moving deliberately in allocating ARPA funds (Capitol Update): Most every group that provides services paid for fully or in-part by state government is enormously interested in the impending distribution of the $1.87 billion coming to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The funds will be allocated over a two-year period and must be spent by 2024. The funding could be transformational for state and local governments, and the ARPA requirements are very broad. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Political notebook: Together Oklahoma event on Nov. 30: Together Oklahoma is holding an online and in-person event at 7 p.m. Nov. 30. People Have the Power: Preserving Democracy Through Participation will feature Families USA Executive Director Frederick Isasi. [Tulsa World] | [Event Information]

State Government News

State health officials say they’ve fixed problems at the Public Health Lab in response to a federal investigation, but haven’t released a report on the inquiry: The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Friday that it had released the results of a federal investigation into its Public Health Lab, but didn’t share a copy of the report with the public. The agency initially told The Frontier it would have to file an open records request to obtain the document. The Health Department later clarified that it must get final clearance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before releasing the report. [The Frontier] The investigation comes a year after the Public Health Lab was suddenly moved from Oklahoma City to Stillwater during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma health officials are paying $3 million to a PR and marketing firm for COVID-19 messaging and reputation management: The Oklahoma State Department of Health granted a local public relations and marketing firm a $3 million contract to help get the word out about the COVID-19 pandemic response. However, that contract also included brand management for the state’s embattled public health lab, help crafting and selling its agenda in the Legislature and more. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Redistricting special session ends as Republican leadership shrugs off complaints: With only moderate muss and fuss, lawmakers on Friday sent six redistricting bills to Gov. Kevin Stitt following a weeklong special session. The bills include new maps for the 101 House districts, 48 Senate districts and five congressional districts, plus temporary adjustments to residency and party registration requirements. [Tulsa World] Oklahoma lawmakers’ redistricting work is done, and Democratic lawmakers are not pleased. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Capitol Watch: After Lawmakers Pass Redistricting Maps, What Comes Next? [Oklahoma Watch]
  • In Their Words: What Lawmakers Have to Say As Redistricting Plans Pass [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Oklahoma redistricting maps head to Gov. Kevin Stitt for final approval [The Oklahoman]

Viewpoint: Oklahomans should be represented through fair congressional maps: Oklahoma Senate Democrats introduced Senate Bill 6X, a congressional map that prioritizes compactness and communities of interest because we know a fair congressional map is possible for Oklahoma. The map we proposed showed it is possible to draw fair congressional districts without gerrymandering, ensuring our state’s most densely urban communities are not split down the middle and rural areas are well represented. [Senator Kay Floyd / The Oklahoman]

Stillwater, like other college towns, considers options for census undercount: Officials from some smaller college towns seem to have faced greater than normal challenges getting a complete count in the 2020 U.S. Census when students left campus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic right before the count took place. [Stillwater News Press]

Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board adopts rules that could again open door to privatized Medicaid: The board that administers Medicaid in Oklahoma adopts a set of emergency rules over the objections of physicians. At a Wednesday meeting of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board, representatives from the Alliance of Mental Health Providers in Oklahoma and other groups spoke during the public comment period against the adoption of rules that could again open the door to Medicaid in the state being managed by private insurance companies. [Public Radio Tulsa] OK Policy has published a number of pieces that show privatized health care management has a negative impact for many Oklahomans

Federal Government News

Oklahoma Democratic chair praises Build Back Better bill opposed by GOP lawmakers: Republican lawmakers from Oklahoma harshly criticized Build Back Better legislation approved early Friday by the U.S. House, while the Oklahoma Democratic Party praised provisions aimed at expanding pre-school, making health care more affordable and combating climate change. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Attorney General joins investigation into Instagram’s alleged harmful effects on adolescents: Oklahoma’s Attorney General joined a nationwide investigation into Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, and one of its platform’s impacts on young users. [KFOR]

Rep. Stephanie Bice says Paul Gosar didn’t deserve to lose committees over ‘offensive’ video: U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice said a violent video posted by a Republican colleague was “incredibly offensive” but that she opposed a resolution to censure him because it also stripped him of committee assignments. [The Oklahoman]

White House point person on Afghan refugees comes to see how Oklahoma is rolling out the welcome mat: The White House’s point person for Afghan refugee resettlement says the “Oklahoma standard” has quickly become a model for all 200-plus U.S. cities currently taking in those displaced by the American withdrawal. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Indian Child Welfare Act experts say state statutes could protect native families: Efforts to overturn the federal Indian Child Welfare Act in court might not be entirely effectual owing to state-based laws that impose similar requirements in at least nine states, including Oklahoma, according to some observers. Cherokee Nation Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said state statutes can provide Indigenous children and their families protections even if ICWA is ruled unconstitutional. [NonDoc]

Column: Oklahoma tribes might be more active in 2022 governor’s race: It’s no secret that relations between Oklahoma’s Native American tribes and the Governor’s Office are as chilly as we’ve seen in recent memory. And now there may be signs that tribal leaders are increasingly willing to publicly address more general political controversies rather than sticking to matters directly affecting tribal sovereignty. [Bob Doucette / Tulsa World]

Column: Improving city-tribal relationships can bring great opportunities for Tulsa: In 1836, a group of Muscogee Indians arrived in Indian Territory after being forced from their ancestral homes in the Southeast. Thousands had died on the journey, but those who survived carried the ashes from their former council fires. They placed these around a large oak tree near the Arkansas River and started a new council fire at this reborn town, which they called Talasi. [Tulsa City Councilor Kara Joy McKee / Tulsa World]

Indian tribes seek return of remains, artifacts from Alabama: Seven Oklahoma-based tribes are asking an Alabama university to return the remains of nearly 6,000 people excavated over the years from what once was one of the largest Native American settlements in North America. [AP News]

Viewpoint: ‘Where are our citizens of consciousness?’ Oklahoma must help in restoring gravesite: Who am I, what am I, and what is my purpose? These three questions have fueled my journey toward a greater knowledge of self and personal family history. Like the author Alex Haley, I have wanted to know and understand everything that shaped and influenced me through inheritance or environmental factors. So, who am I? I want to learn and share knowledge of the family. Where did my ancestors come from, and how did they live and die? The idea that many of my ancestors were bought, sold, bred, tortured and enslaved for over 300 years is haunting. Part of my ancestral discovery has led me back home to the state of Oklahoma. [Maurice Franklin / The Oklahoman]

Health News

Rising COVID-19 and influenza cases a concern for beleaguered hospital workers who fear ‘twindemic’: Experts are raising concerns about a possible “twindemic” this winter as influenza and COVID-19 cases rise, harboring worries about the strain it might place on already exhausted health care workers. Oklahoma ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for flu activity in the Walgreens Flu Index for the week ending Nov. 13. Oklahoma City was ranked the 4th highest market in the index. [Tulsa World]

  • COVID-19 rebounds; threat rises again in Oklahoma [The Journal Record]
  • With coronavirus on the rise again, what will another pandemic winter look like in Oklahoma? [The Oklahoman]
  • Deer and other animals can get COVID-19. Here’s what that means for hunting season. [KOSU]

Editorial: State’s anti-mandate court moves undermine COVID-19 fight: Oklahoma’s full-court press against COVID-19 vaccine mandates has grown substantially in recent weeks and years, which makes us wonder if the state is more committed to that fight or actually combating the disease. The state is now suing over vaccine mandates in four jurisdictions, two of which are out of state. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]

Citizen Potawatomi requiring COVID-19 shots for unvaccinated workers: ‘You are a hazard’: An Oklahoma tribe will require employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19 “without exception,” its chairman announced in a terse, one-page letter to employees. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Julius Jones still waiting to be moved out of Oklahoma Death Row unit; best friend tells KFOR about reaction to commutation from Gov. Stitt: Julius Jones has not yet been moved out of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary’s death row unit. Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials confirmed to KFOR on Friday that Jones was moved to a different cell within H Unit, which is the death row unit at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. [KFOR]

  • ‘We will never give up that fight.’ Julius Jones is off death row, but will he ever be free? [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘We aren’t sure what our legal options are’: Family, experts examine what’s next for Julius Jones after clemency [Tulsa World]
  • Julius Jones’ sister says Gov. Stitt’s commutation isn’t enough: ‘We are committed to bringing him home’ [Business Insider]
  • Students Walk Out to Protest Death Sentence [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Faith and politics collide in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to spare Julius Jones’ life [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma death penalty supporters fear executions ending: After a six-year moratorium on the death penalty following a series of botched lethal injections, Oklahoma officials announced in August they would seek execution dates for seven condemned men . By the next month, their executions were scheduled, leading some death penalty supporters to believe the state’s executions would resume posthaste. [AP News]

Advisory council accepts recommendation for new jail in Oklahoma County: Oklahoma County is one step closer to having a new jail after the Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) accepted a recommendation from its facilities subcommittee Thursday to build one. [NonDoc]

  • Reports detail ongoing health and safety issues at Oklahoma County Jail [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Questions surrounding Hotel to Housing homeless program lead to new city requirements for funding: Mayor G.T. Bynum said Friday he fully supports a recommendation that future city funding contracts with Housing Solutions and other organizations running noncongregate homeless shelters include standards by which those facilities are expected to operate. [Tulsa World]

Podcast: Bailey Perkins Wright talks hunger in Oklahoma: After a long break to let the air clear from our last podcast episode, the Live from the News Dungeon team is back this week with a wonderful guest: Bailey Perkins Wright, the state advocacy and public policy director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. [NonDoc]

Economy & Business News

State cannabis industry causing a ‘seismic shift’ with jobs, revenue, licenses: Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry continues to grow as workers leave other industries for the booming cannabis business. In Garfield County, there are 29 dispensaries, 65 grow operations and 14 processors, while nearby Kay County has 38 grow operations, 135 grows and 15 processors, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. [Enid News & Eagle]

Education News

Education notebook: State to invest $5 million in COVID-19 funds to train math tutors: Math tutors wanted: The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced Tuesday that it will use $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to train and pay 500 math tutors to work with up to 1,500 seventh, eighth and ninth grade students across Oklahoma annually through summer 2024. [Tulsa World]

Enid school districts drafting policies for new open-transfer law: Local school districts have only weeks to decide how many students are too many before capping outside transfers next school year. Boards of public school districts throughout Oklahoma are set to enact policies next month changing rules on out-of-district transfers, in compliance with with a new state law before it goes into effect on New Year’s Day 2022. [Enid News & Eagle]

COVID leads Tulsa Public Schools middle school to embrace urban farming: When Monroe and other TPS sites were in distance learning to start the 2020-2021 school year, Principal Rob Kaiser and the north Tulsa middle school’s science department huddled up to figure out ways to safely provide hands-on educational experiences for students. [Tulsa World]

General News

New pedestrian-bike bridge being built symbolizes debate over road usage: This week saw the beginnings of construction on a massive and modern new bridge project intended to offer a safer option for cyclists and pedestrians crossing NW Expressway. But, not every cyclist is happy with the concept. [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma Co. Commissioners approve new districts, leaving some residents frustrated [The Oklahoman]
  • Cleveland Co. Commission to vote on new district boundaries [The Norman Transcript]
  • Survey: Tulsa has lowest gasoline prices in the country this week [AP News / Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“I don’t think we’ll see some of the huge increases that we saw before, but anything could happen. If we’ve not learned anything yet, it’s that COVID zigs when we think it’s going to zag more often than not, and it could certainly happen again.”

-Dr. David Chansolme, medical director of infection prevention with Integris Health, discussing the increase of the state’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Percentage of persons eligible for criminal record expungement who actually access expungement relief [OK Policy]  

Policy Note

National maps on expungement, pardoning, and voting rights restoration: The Collateral Consequences Resource Center unveiled six new maps that visualize the Center’s research on national laws and policies for restoring rights and opportunities to people with a record. These maps are now available below and on the 50-state comparison pages (expungement, sealing & other record relief; civil rights; and pardoning). [Collateral Consequences Resource Center]

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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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