In The Know: Gov. rules out school mask mandates | Virus rates increasing in Indian Country | Racial health disparities

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

Joint committee to evaluate uses for federal relief dollars (Capitol Update): Last Wednesday the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding — co-chaired by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, and Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston — outlined the process it will use to distribute the $1.87 billion that will be coming to Oklahoma through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The ARPA funds will be delivered to the states in two allocations over two years and can be used only to respond to the public health emergency and negative economic effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Such uses can include payments to state agencies, nonprofits, industry, and households. They can also include investments in public infrastructure. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

COVID in Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt rules out school mask mandates, ‘not planning’ emergency order: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday said he won’t implement another state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, ruling out the possibility of mask mandates in Oklahoma schools. Despite calls from some health leaders to make the declaration, Stitt said he is “not planning on declaring an emergency,” a measure that is now a prerequisite for public schools to require masks. “This is about personal responsibility,” Stitt said at a press conference in Tulsa. “This is about freedoms.” [The Oklahoman] National statistics indicate that only about 40% of Oklahomans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which puts the state in the bottom tier of states. [Tulsa World] Senate Bill 658, which Stitt signed into law in May, prohibits public school districts from implementing mask requirements unless, at minimum, a governor-declared state of emergency is in effect in their area. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Pandemic surge hitting Oklahoma more rapidly than a year ago as delta variant is ‘fastest and fittest’ yet [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma coronavirus cases, hospitalizations spike again as vaccination efforts stall [Oklahoma Watch]
  • New Oklahoma virus cases top 1,000 for 3rd consecutive day [AP News]
  • As COVID-19 cases surge in Oklahoma, state health officials look to re-hire contact tracers [The Frontier]
  • District-wide mask mandates are unlikely this fall in Oklahoma schools. But what about in individual classrooms? [KOSU]

As COVID-19 infections rise again in Indian Country, Oklahoma becomes epicenter: Oklahoma’s rising COVID-19 caseload is driving a resurgence of infections in Indian Country. New cases in Oklahoma and neighboring Kansas add up to half of all cases reported since late June by health care providers that primarily serve Native Americans. The rise worries clinicians like Dr. George Adam Vascellaro, who has watched the coronavirus pandemic wage a devastatingly disproportionate toll on Indigenous families and communities. [The Oklahoman]

  • White House sending $1.7M to Oklahoma rural health clinics to help boost COVID vaccination rates [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Oklahoma health systems face backlash over COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers [The Oklahoman]
  • As Delta variant spreads, Oklahoma Corrections Department reports few new COVID-19 cases [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Will Oklahoma houses of worship return to COVID safety protocols? Some never ceased such measures [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Panel examines roles of Tulsa Race Massacre, Medicaid expansion in health disparities: We’re hearing from experts about how the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre played a role in some of the health disparities Black Oklahomans face even to this day. And how the recent expansion of Medicaid could address some of the disparities. [KOCO]

Resistance to Medicaid expansion creates different health care access along state borders: Missouri and Oklahoma are the most recent states to adopt Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma expanded coverage July 1. A voter-approved amendment would have expanded coverage by July 1 in Missouri too, but it faced legal challenges. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court upheld the amendment’s constitutionality, overturning a lower court’s ruling. [Public Integrity]

State Government News

Stitt taps Tulsa man for AG despite ‘not qualified’ rating: A Tulsa attorney whom the American Bar Association rated as “ not qualified ” to serve as a federal judge was tapped Friday by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to serve as the state’s next attorney general. After a two-month search that began in May after Republican Mike Hunter stepped down suddenly, Stitt selected John O’Connor, 66, to fill the vacancy, giving the governor an ally in his increasingly contentious relationship with some of the Native American tribes in the state. [AP News]

  • American Bar Association questioned Oklahoma AG John M. O’Connor’s experience, judgment [The Oklahoman]
  • Gov. Kevin Stitt appoints new Oklahoma AG who plans to run in 2022 [The Oklahoman]

Political notebook: Area lawmakers given leadership posts on committee managing $1.9 billion in federal aid: Several area lawmakers snagged leadership positions on the joint legislative committee overseeing the state’s $1.9 billion in pandemic relief funds authorized by the American Relief Plan, or ARPA. The joint committee will work with the administration in determining how the federal funds will be spent over the next two years. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma House denies interim study on reparations for Tulsa Race Massacre: Oklahoma lawmakers have denied a request for an interim study on reparations surrounding the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The proposal from Representative Regina Goodwin who says the house denying that study is basically saying they don’t want to talk about it. [FOX 25]

New survey highlights Oklahomans’ differing perceptions on race: Oklahomans’ opinions of their home state vary considerably by skin color, a recent survey for five nonprofit organizations found. “When you ask Black and white Oklahomans about their experiences at work, they’re incredibly different,” said Kevin Jessop, whose company Evolve Research conducted the survey. “Black Oklahomans are far less happy at work than white Oklahomans. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Counties struggle to decide how to spend millions in federal dollars: County commissioners in Southwest Oklahoma are grappling with how to spend millions of dollars from the federal government. Comanche County will receive almost $23.5 million from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan signed into law March 12. [The Lawton Constitution]

Biden administration plans revisions to waters of the United States: A U.S. federal court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block an effort by the Biden administration to revise how the country’s navigable waters are to be regulated. At President Joe Biden’s direction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to reverse the Donald Trump administration’s 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule and restore more stringent language that was in place from the implementation of the 2015 Waters of the United States regulations. [NonDoc]

Inhofe praises defense bill after funding added: U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on Thursday praised the annual defense bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying a last-minute amendment he offered provided a sufficient increase in funding. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Victim in McGirt case ‘plunged back into a black hole,’ federal prosecutors say: In the past year, the name McGirt has become widely used shorthand for the U.S. Supreme Court decision on criminal jurisdiction in Indian country in Oklahoma. The name evokes varying responses depending on a person’s view of the decision, which has led to most of eastern Oklahoma being affirmed as Indian reservations. [The Oklahoman]

Chickasaw Nation election preview: Three incumbents face challengers: Three legislative seats are up for grabs in the Chickasaw Nation general election, the ballot deadline for which was extended July 20 by the Tribal Legislature from July 27 to Tuesday, Aug 3. Ballots are due by 10:30 a.m. that day, with ballot tabulation slated to begin at 11 a.m. [NonDoc]

Criminal Justice News

Video shows OHP pursuit involving spike strips that ended in fatal crash but wasn’t considered a use of force: On a weekday afternoon, a state trooper stood beside Interstate 44 watching a stolen car speed toward him at 100-plus mph as precipitation fell amid freezing temperatures. His flashing lights on, the trooper waved through motorists before acting in “a small window of opportunity.” He pulled spike strips into the path of the eluder, who swerved and died in a violent barrel roll. [Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

Serial evictions in Tulsa County add to ongoing eviction crisis as CDC moratorium comes to an end: Serial evictions continue to pose problems for tenants in Oklahoma, trapping low-income renters in a vicious cycle of owing not only back rent to stay in their homes but other fees and court costs. Legal experts describe it as a way for landlords to collect more money, and it adds to the eviction crisis existing in Tulsa County. The Oklahoma Policy Institute launched a project called Open Justice Oklahoma, which tracks the most prolific serial evictors in the state. The data found Cobblestone Apartments in Tulsa County to be at the top of that list, with 629 evictions filed from 2019 to 2020. [KJRH] OK Policy: Turning the tide on evictions: Using federal aid, support to reduce Oklahoma’s eviction crisis

City officials explain how apartments like Vista Shadow Mountain can become uninhabitable: Regina Edwards enjoyed living at Vista Shadow Mountain Apartments — until she didn’t. Edwards, 59, was one of more than 100 tenants at the south Tulsa complex who had until Friday to get out because conditions had gotten so bad the city wouldn’t let them stay. [Tulsa World]

While food access improves in some parts of OKC, other areas still struggle with food deserts: Census tract data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas shows sprawling areas designated as food deserts across the metro area. Some of the emptiest stretch from downtown Oklahoma City toward Will Rogers Airport along Interstate 240, where the Rosales family lives. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Marijuana is Oklahoma’s latest boom industry. But can it be sustained?: At a distance, Shawnee’s Main Street looks like any postcard from small-town America. This wide stretch of pavement lined by historic buildings reflects modern commerce in a downtown born before its own state government. Quaint shops and restaurants contribute to the old-town feel, but Oklahoma’s newest billion-dollar industry has left an impressive mark — and coined a new name. [The Oklahoman]

Industrial park in Pryor opens amenities meant to attract big business: MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor opened up a retail center today that saw ground broken in 2018. It’s part of a 162-acre development that’s slated to eventually have a 300-unit apartment building and 100 homes. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Dilapidated Panhandle wind farm towers to be cleaned up: The owner of a dilapidated Oklahoma Panhandle wind farm has presented plans to clean up the most dangerous of the wind turbine towers. The plans are to address dangerously broken-down towers and turbines of the 60-tower KODE Novus I and II wind farm near Guymon, Oklahoma, The Oklahoman reported. [AP News]

Oklahoma Local News

  • How 2 Unite Norman conservatives are changing politics in Oklahoma’s most progressive city [The Oklahoman]
  • OKC Pride Alliance Parade rescheduled for July 31 [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“I think if we are going to be honest about the present-day health disparities in Black communities in Tulsa or anywhere in this country, we must be honest about the history of this country. We have to acknowledge and realize that the disenfranchisement, the marginalization, and the undervaluing of Black lives is the reason why we continue to experience these disparities.”

-Tulsa city counselor Vanessa Hall-Harper [KOCO]

Number of the Day

$65 million

Estimated increase in Oklahoma state and local tax revenue by 2025 due to Medicaid expansion

[Source: Commonwealth Fund]

Policy Note

Medicaid Continuous Eligibility Linked with Better Health, More Efficient Health Care Spending: Continuous health insurance coverage limits gaps in coverage and provides consistent access to health care, improves health status and well-being, and drives more efficient health care spending. By reducing the administrative costs associated with people cycling on and off of Medicaid due to temporary fluctuations in income, states can dedicate more of the Medicaid dollar to pay for health care. [Georgetown University Health Institute Center for Children and Families]

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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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