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. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.
Stitt says he plans to veto key piece of state budget plan: Gov. Kevin Stitt said Monday he plans to veto a key piece of the Republican Legislature’s budget plan, setting up a showdown with lawmakers of his own party who appear increasingly frustrated with the first-term governor. [AP News] Stitt said he is vetoing House Bills 2741 and 2742, which would divert money that was to go to various pension programs to fund education. [Tulsa World] Both bills cut by 25% funds the Legislature directly contributes to shore up four of the state’s pension systems. Normally, the Legislature would contribute about $300 million annually into the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System. HB 2741 would result in about $73 million less annually for the next two years, with that money being repaid over the next five years. [The Oklahoman] Despite admitting that his office did not respond to a letter from a legislative appropriations leader seeking collaboration, Gov. Kevin Stitt decried a “he said, she said” argument today about who cut whom out of budget negotiations. [NonDoc]
Legislature setting agency spending limits, mandates: The Oklahoma Legislature launched into joint appropriations meetings this morning, moving forward 14 bills that set agency spending limits. Those bills are expected to hit the full House and Senate floors for consideration this week, which could conclude the 2020 regular session. [NonDoc]
Gov. Kevin Stitt: State on track for Phase II of reopening: Oklahoma’s rolling seven-day total of new COVID-19 cases reached its lowest point since tracking began in early April, according to figures released Monday by Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office. Phase 2 would include allowing bars to reopen and some outdoor sports to resume. Several youth sports programs plan to begin practices as early as next week. [Tulsa World] Visit coronavirus.health.ok.gov for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.
Facing delays, many unemployed Oklahomans opt to pay debit card company for ‘expedited’ delivery: As thousands of Oklahomans who were laid off or furloughed because of the COVID-19 crisis continue to wait weeks to receive a mailed debit card loaded with their unemployment benefits, the company responsible for distributing those cards is expediting delivery of some — for a fee. [The Frontier]
Hundreds line up at casino opening: Thunderbird Casinos in Norman and Shawnee did a soft opening Monday to allow patrons a chance to gamble on select slot machines. The line to get inside Thunderbird Casino stretched nearly 250 people long. [The Oklahoman]
Guymon COVID-19 outbreak ‘happening in slow motion’: Seaboard Foods CEO Duke Sand sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur on Monday announcing his company’s intention to begin site-wide COVID-19 testing at its Guymon pork-packing plant. [NonDoc]
COVID-19 tests on hold for many: There’s not enough testing machines to process the increases, said a state Department of Health spokeswoman. The state does have enough test kits and the necessary reagent to process them. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]
- OSU veterinary lab is the linchpin in one state’s COVID-19 testing approach: OSU’s Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory — which typically tests for diseases such as rabies in dogs and respiratory ailments in Oklahoma’s large cattle industry — was running more human COVID-19 tests than any other lab in the state. It had recruited a raft of volunteers and hired additional staff to work until 3 a.m. processing thousands of tests a week — nearly a quarter of the state total, and four times more than the decaying state public health lab.[The Washington Post]
As Oklahoma reopens, cities shy away from enforcing restrictions: Police in some of Oklahoma’s largest cities are electing to use a softer touch, rather than aggressive enforcement, with state and local business restrictions as Oklahoma gradually reopens amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [Oklahoma Watch]
State Government News
Oklahoma NAACP calls state’s legislative action “Voter Suppression”: Oklahoma State Conference National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), oppose the Oklahoma state legislators’ passing a law that amounts to voter suppression and violates the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. [Black Wall Street Times]
- Tulsa World editorial: Legislature moves to make absentee voting difficult and unworkable: The Oklahoma Legislature has overturned an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that eliminated a requirement for absentee ballots to be notarized. The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on contradictions within state law, but it had an important effect: It meant Oklahoma voters wouldn’t have to risk their health during a pandemic by either going to polling places on election days or by getting absentee ballots notarized. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]
Corrections employee pay raises, protective gear for poll workers and more state budget highlights: Some Oklahoma Department of Corrections employees who were accidentally left out of pay raises last year are likely to receive $2-per-hour raises in the upcoming fiscal year. Oklahoma legislators on Monday advanced House Bill 4160, a budget companion bill, that would require the Department of Corrections to use $1.6 million in the next fiscal year to give pay raises to about 430 corrections employees. [The Oklahoman]
Bill to allow long-term care monitoring passes house: The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday passed the Barbara E. Hoover Act that will extend electronic monitoring of family members to long-term care facilities. [FOX25]
Governor’s pick to lead health agency lacks Senate support: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s pick to lead the Oklahoma State Department of Health doesn’t have enough support in the state Senate to secure the job, a key senator said Monday. [AP News] Questions about qualifications and spending during the current pandemic will reportedly have the Governor looking for new appointee at the end of the legislative session. [KFOR]
‘Oklahoma is open for business,’: Gov. Kevin Stitt invites Tesla to move headquarters to Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt is inviting Tesla to move its headquarters to Oklahoma. The company is currently based in California. [KOCO] State Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, joined Gov. Kevin Stitt and other Oklahomans in their invitation to move Tesla headquarters to Oklahoma after an announcement by CEO Elon Musk over the weekend that he’s moving the company out of California because of overly strict coronavirus restrictions. [Ponca City Now]
Federal Government News
Gorsuch, likely key vote, seems to favor Oklahoma tribe: Justice Neil Gorsuch appeared Monday to be a pivotal vote for the proposition that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation, a question the Supreme Court failed to resolve a year ago. [AP News] In about 90 minutes of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this morning, state attorneys asserted that eastern Oklahoma is not today — nor has it ever been — a Native American reservation. [NonDoc] The argument touched on the dark history of the nation’s treatment of Native Americans and the practical implications of a ruling that Congress had never clearly destroyed the sovereignty of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation over the area, covering about half the state. [New York Times] A decision in the case is expected this summer. [The Oklahoman]
Rich hospitals, poor safety plans leading up to coronavirus: Should rules change for them now?: The federal government’s decision this month to send $22 billion to rural hospitals and those hardest hit hardest by COVID-19 partially satisfied critics who charge Washington is rewarding wealthy tax-exempt hospitals that planned poorly for viral emergencies. But as nearly $50 billion more is about to be divvied up, advocates for struggling hospitals say help for well-endowed nonprofit hospital systems should be scrutinized. [USA Today]
Criminal Justice News
Comanche County Detention Center works to contain COVID-19 outbreak: The Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton has 18 prisoners and five staff members infected with COVID-19. Now, the state health department is testing all of its jail staff and 345 prisoners. [KOSU] OK Policy joined eight other Oklahoma organizations to urge elected officials and state officials to take urgent action to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Oklahoma Corrections facilities.
Economy & Business News
Bill would protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits: Senate Bill 1946, if passed into law, would prohibit businesses from being held liable for any spread of COVID-19 that customers or others might allege, so long as the businesses followed guidelines for safeguarding public health as recommended by the state or federal government. [The Journal Record] The measure passed the Senate 34–11 with two Republicans joining all nine Democrats in the chamber opposed. It now goes to the House. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Grant money, tribal allocations a lifeline for local day cares: The state of Oklahoma is allocating $50 million to assist families with child care, but there are stipulations on who can access it. This funding was received from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and it is only available to those who lost jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis and now need child care. [Tahlequah Daily Press] OK Policy and other state groups have outlined needed emergency relief, policy changes urgently to support child care in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Energy Index down 35% from last year: The Oklahoma Energy Index, a measure of the industry’s health within the state, encountered its steepest single decline in March, falling 9.2%, with industry activity down 35.2% year-over-year and still declining, a report shows. [The Journal Record]
Debate over limiting oil production heard by commission: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s efforts to assist oil producers through current market conditions remain tentative as the commission took under advisement two requests for intervention, following hours of debate. [The Journal Record] Oklahoma’s energy regulators on Monday took no action on applications from oil and gas producers seeking to win state-support for measures they said would help stabilize oil prices. [Reuters]
Coronavirus is worsening seed shortages for farmers and gardeners: Both farmers and home gardeners may have trouble finding enough seeds to plant this spring, but while both are facing seed shortages, the causes are unrelated. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Oklahoma school districts are now able to access nearly $145 million in emergency federal relief funds: Nearly $145 million in emergency federal relief is now available for Oklahoma school districts, including more than $16 million for Tulsa Public Schools. [Tulsa World] The law lays out about a dozen different ways to spend the money. It is ultimately supposed to go to abating problems created by COVID-19 and districts must demonstrate how they will spend the money to receive it. [KOSU]
OU regents’ May meeting in noncompliance with Open Meeting Act, FOI Oklahoma says: The University of Oklahoma’s Board of Regents may have acted outside the guidelines of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act with its most recent meeting, according to Freedom of Information Oklahoma. [Norman Transcript]
U.S. faces an in-between moment: In coming years, when they write the narrative histories of the 2020 pandemic — those paperweight-level volumes that reconstruct these strange days in painstaking and vivid detail — the past week in American life will be a particularly curious moment to unpack. It was unlike what came before, and almost certainly unlike what is still ahead. [AP News via The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma Local News
- OKC Convention & Visitors Bureau to cut staff [The Oklahoman]
- Tulsa County commissioners approve $2 million in federal aid for COVID-19-related expenses [Tulsa World]
- Oklahoma City Council members help with grief during Coronavirus crisis [FOX25]
- City of Claremore details park and recreation openings, restrictions [Claremore Daily Progress]
- Muskogee County Masks gets $5k boost to continue work [Muskogee Phoenix]
- Payne County courthouse set to open to the public [Stillwater News Press]
- Woodward County Commissioners hear updates, vote to keep courthouse closed another week [Woodward News]
- Pittsburg County Courthouse reopening set for May 18, with restrictions [McAlester News-Capital]
Quote of the Day
“Now, there are literally thousands of people filing for unemployment and the only way they are getting the cards, are if they agree to pay the $15 fee to have it expedited. And conveniently, they deduct it from your account before they send the card.”
-Sally Cannon, describing how paying a $15 fee to a third-party vendor would expedite delivery of a family member’s state unemployment benefit. State official said non-expedited cards are facing delays of between 16 and 18 days. [The Frontier]
Number of the Day
The number of people (including jail staff and incarcerated individuals) diagnosed as infected with COVID-19 at the Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton since the outbreak began. The state health department is now testing all jail staff and 345 people incarcerated there.
In the middle of a pandemic, Oklahoma pursues a Medicaid funding cap: Capping federal funding during a public health emergency seems an odd choice. Medicaid serves as the principal source of health insurance for low-income Americans and it effectively acts as a public health “first responder” by growing rapidly to meet the coverage needs of millions of newly uninsured Americans. With job losses that ultimately could reach 47 million according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, extending Medicaid to all eligible people who need assistance will become increasingly important in the months ahead. [Health Affairs]
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