In The Know: Fines & fees trap Oklahomans in court debt | Medical assoc. sues state over managed care | Virus cases trending down

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.

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(Capitol Update) Proposed bills again seek to undo will of the voters: There have been some in the legislature, beginning immediately after the passage of SQ 780, who argued that the people did not understand what they were doing, that they, the legislature, know better. This of course is nonsense. Incredibly, this week the Senate Public Safety Committee will hear three bills seeking to roll back the provisions of SQ 780 and return Oklahoma to long-term felony punishments for low-level offenses. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Fines and Punishment: Oklahoma’s justice system is funded through an intricate web of fines and fees, which can trap residents with five-figure court debt after being released from prison. OK Policy’s Ryan Gentzler spoke with NPR’s Planet Money about the issue for its podcast, which also features the stories of Oklahomans who face enormous uphill struggles to pay off those debts. [NPR] OK Policy has argued criminal courts and court services should be funded through appropriated revenue so state courts are not reliant on fines and fees from low-income families. Learn more about this and other OK Policy’s 2021 policy priorities.
Oklahoma State Medical Association to file legal challenge against state’s managed care contracts: The Oklahoma State Medical Association announced Saturday it intends to file a motion next week asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to issue an injunction against Medicaid managed care contracts. The move comes nearly a week after the Oklahoma Health Care Authority voted to push forward with advancing the state’s Medicaid program to privatized managed care from a fee-for-service model. [Tulsa World] OSMA will file the motion next week, a move that the OSMA Board of Directors supported with a unanimous vote, according to an OSMA news release. [KFOR] OK Policy: Managed care is a bad investment for Oklahoma, but could be especially harmful for patients, providers, and Indigenous communities.

Oklahoma follows national trend of lower COVID-19 cases: Oklahoma is following the national trend of lower daily coronavirus cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19, but it still has the nation’s highest rate for positive tests even as its vaccination rollout continues to earn praise. The state saw big weekly declines in its seven-day moving average of new cases, which fell to 2,216 on Friday. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Oklahoma reports 2,174 new COVID-19 case, 52 more deaths [AP News] | [Tulsa World]
  • COVID-19: 51 more deaths reported Saturday as Oklahoma surpasses 400,000 total cases [Tulsa World] | [AP News]
  • COVID-19 variant common to Brazil found in Oklahoman with related travel history, state epidemiologist says [Tulsa World] | [AP News] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • For Saint Francis hospitalist, frontline COVID fight is about ‘loving our neighbor’ [Tulsa World]

Leaders: Legislature must focus on COVID-19 recovery: A holistic approach is required by the state government to get Oklahoma past the pandemic, leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature said during Thursday’s First Week Forum webinar, hosted by The Journal Record. The COVID-19 crisis brought to light key areas of government that are now top of the agenda for the current legislative session. [The Journal Record]

  • Virus outbreaks stoke tensions in state capitols [The Journal Record]
  • How 2021 projects hinges on pandemic behavior, but epidemiologist suggests vaccination rate indicates state could avoid surge [Tulsa World]
  • Ginnie Graham: Time’s up for Tulsa businesses continuing to flout mask mandate [Column / Tulsa World]

Health News

Oklahoma seniors struggle with state’s coronavirus vaccine scheduler: Fran Britton faintly remembers getting her polio vaccination at age 10. Alongside her mother, who got priority as a federal worker, she waited in a long line that wrapped around a massive government building. Trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine has been an entirely different experience. [The Oklahoman]

  • Yukon library to offer seniors help with vaccine scheduling [The Oklahoman]
  • Watch now: Text alerts help Oklahomans seeking vaccine appointments through state portal [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Opinion: Stitt on leading Oklahoma toward becoming a ‘top 10 state’: This week, we hit a milestone in our COVID fight: over half a million vaccines have been administered, meaning more Oklahomans have received the vaccine than have tested positive for the virus. On top of that, hospitalizations have been cut in half while case numbers continue to trend downward. We can’t let up now. [Governor Kevin Stitt / The Oklahoman]

Lawmaker proposes ‘Conviction Integrity Unit’ to review death penalty cases: The unit would fall under the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, and the bill comes less than a year after Attorney General Mike Hunter ruled the board could review commutation requests filed by inmates on Oklahoma’s Death Row. [The Frontier]

Need your state ID? Prepare for a ‘nightmare’ wait as Real ID stalls system, tag agents say: For Oklahomans needing state-issued identification, a long wait is likely as the software needed to make Real IDs has gummed up the entire system, Tulsa tag agents say, forcing them to book appointments sometimes months in advance. [Tulsa World]

The Hot Seat: Oklahoma Earned Income Tax Credit: Political analyst Scott Mitchell and Andy Moore with OKC Tax Help discuss Oklahoma’s state earned income tax credit and how to qualify. [News9] To help working Oklahomans, OK Policy has argued for gradually increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit and make it fully refundable starting with tax year 2020. 

Federal Government News

Oklahomans in Congress oppose budget bill: Oklahoma lawmakers voted against a budget blueprint on Friday that included provisions they favored and even authored, as they warned that Democrats would make the bill a vehicle for a wide range of spending and policy measures. [The Oklahoman]

  • Citing budget gap, Bynum ‘thankful’ Biden plan contains coronavirus aid to local governments [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Inhofe, Lankford slam Democrats for approving budget resolution for COVID relief package [Public Radio Tulsa]

As Democrats take control, Sen. Jim Inhofe relinquishes gavel of Armed Services Committee: Sen. Jim Inhofe officially turned over the reins of the Armed Services Committee last week, and Sen. James Lankford relinquished control of the Ethics Committee as Democrats became the majority in the evenly split Senate by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ position as president of the Senate. [The Oklahoman]

President Biden’s executive order could hurt production and spike the price of natural gas used in advanced medical tools and birthday balloons: Estimates place domestic demand for the gas at about 2 billion cubic feet (Bcf), annually, and some analysts fear President Joe Biden’s recent executive order that pauses oil and gas-related leasing activities on federal lands could hamper development of future helium sources. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nation News

Capitol Insider: Governor Kevin Stitt on state-tribal relations: Oklahoma’s 2021 legislative session is off and running following Governor Kevin Stitt’s annual State of the State address. In his speech, he identified several issues the legislature needs to focus on in the year ahead and most important among them, he said, is the relationship between Oklahoma’s government and the sovereign Native American nations within the state. [KGOU]

Oklahoma tribe allowed to intervene in Arkansas casino suit: The Arkansas Supreme Court is allowing an Oklahoma-based tribe to intervene in a lawsuit by a Mississippi company over a casino license in Pope County. The court on Thursday overturned a prior ruling by Circuit Judge Tim Fox and allows Cherokee Nation Businesses of Catoosa, a subsidiary of the Cherokee Nation, to intervene in the lawsuit, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. [AP News]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma jails and prisons don’t know when they will receive the COVID-19 vaccine: While Oklahoma has administered more than 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since December, jails and prisons, which have cultivated some of the state’s biggest outbreaks of the disease, are still on the waiting list. [The Frontier]

Education News

Five education bills to watch this session: It’s been a disruptive and uncertain year for public education. And the initiatives to be considered by the Oklahoma Legislature could continue to shake things up. Districts experienced huge shifts in student enrollment this year. Most declined slightly, especially in the youngest grades. Meanwhile, enrollment in virtual charter schools skyrocketed. [Oklahoma Watch]

What exactly are ‘ghost students’? There’s more than one definition in Oklahoma: Merriam-Webster doesn’t define “ghost student.” The dictionary would have a difficult time anyway. There are several competing definitions in Oklahoma. Gov. Kevin Stitt referred to “ghost students” in his State of the State address last week as students who no longer attend a district, but their former school still receives state funds as if they did. Stitt’s use of the phrase might have come as a surprise to some. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

The week in coveducation: Stitt outlines #oklaed goals: Monday, Feb. 1, marked the beginning of the 2021 legislative session, where Gov. Kevin Stitt used his State of the State address to touch on his goals for the Oklahoma education landscape. [NonDoc]

  • Education podcast: Learning is a lifelong endeavor [NonDoc]
  • Area school districts resume in-person classes after COVID-19-induced distance learning period [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Turning what we have learned during this pandemic into action: This academic year has been a nonstop roller coaster for our schools, our students and their families, and our communities. The evolving and ever-changing environment led to near constant disruption for everyone. And COVID-19 has led to ongoing debates around topics like in-person versus remote learning, technology accessibility and whether to mask or not. Hopefully, some degree of normalcy is on the horizon as vaccines make their way across Green Country. [Karl Neumaier Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Wayne Greene: Oklahoma still doesn’t have the best paid teachers in the region; in fact, we’re going the wrong direction: Remember when Gov. Kevin Stitt was going to give Oklahoma the highest average teacher salaries in the region? That was one of his most common campaign promises when he ran for governor. The teachers are still waiting. [Wayne Greene Opinion / Tulsa World]

General News

Tulsa Massacre: Reviving the ‘Black Wall Street’ spirit 100 years later: Dwight Eaton believes his entrepreneurial spirit is part of his DNA, maybe even a genetic mutation. That genetic imperative may have been what drove his great-grandmother Minnie to move her family from Arkansas to Tulsa in the early 1900s. Lured like many Black families by the discovery of oil and the abundance of land, she opened a grocery store. [The Oklahoman

  • Review: The Tulsa Race Massacre, remembered by those who survived [New York Times]
  • ‘Goin’ Back to T-Town’ writer reflects on film’s past, and potential, impact [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Mayors David Holt, Breea Clark join national initiative to battle anti-Semitism [The Oklahoman]
  • Council member creates map of where pedestrians, cyclists have been killed on OKC streets [The Oklahoman]
  • Holt: Voters will weigh in on regional transit, eventually [The Oklahoman]
  • Fully funding police popular with OKC council candidates, mask mandate not so much [The Oklahoman]
  • Meet the candidates: Oklahoma City council [The Oklahoman]
  • Infrastructure, first responders main focus in Ward 1 candidate forum [OKC Free Press]
  • Outgoing GOP official’s nomination to city board gives some city councilors pause [Tulsa World]
  • Cheat Sheet: Last-minute withdrawal leaves three candidates in Norman Ward 2 City Council race [NonDoc]
  • Cheat Sheet: Interim faces three challengers in Norman Ward 5 race [NonDoc]
  • Small earthquakes continue to rattle northern Oklahoma [AP News] | [Tulsa World]
  • Well closures ordered after earthquake near Enid [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Every state taxpayer should be concerned. Do we want to allow unelected agency boards and commissions to potentially put the state on the hook for billions of dollars in future spending without discussion and approval by the legislators who must ultimately approve the funding? We are simply asking the Court to put the process on hold until the legislature can decide if this is a proper path forward.”

-Dr. George Monks, a Tulsa physician and president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, speaking about the organization’s lawsuit against the decicision to implement a managed care proposal for Oklahoma’s health care system [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahomans who use Medicaid to see a doctor and whose care would be managed by private insurance companies if the states privatizes the Medicaid program

[Source: The Oklahoman]

Policy Note

Public Health Systems Still Aren’t Ready for the Next Pandemic: Many public health officials say the blunders that occured during the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic are a direct result of a decade of neglect of the nation’s public health system by both the federal government and state and local governments. As state legislatures reconvene, lawmakers in many states will address immediate pandemic demands, such as vaccinations, testing and contact tracing programs. And some will work on measures designed to reopen schools safely. But most states, hamstrung by tight budgets, won’t be able to make the long-term investments needed to shore up their public health infrastructures. [Governing]

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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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