In The Know: Governor signs two budget measures, but third remains in limbo; racial data needed for virus testing; and more

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. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.


Oklahoma News

Stitt signs 2 of 3 bills to avoid April cuts, blames #okleg for ‘politics’: This afternoon, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed two of three bills to prevent cuts to state agencies for April, but he blamed “leadership” of the House of Representatives for playing “politics” with digital transformation funding. Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, and House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, held a Zoom videoconference call with media to address Stitt’s statements and the budget negotiations that led to the controversy. [NonDoc]

  • Saying legislative leaders in the House are playing “political games,” the governor called on legislators to pass bills that fund state government for the rest of the fiscal year and appropriate funds for the Digital Transformation Revolving Fund — a Stitt priority. [The Oklahoman]
  • Legislative leadership, however, said the governor has the bills on his desk needed to resolve an impending revenue failure in the state budget. They have no plans to return to the Capitol to backfill a cut made to the digital transformation fund. [Tulsa World]
  • Stitt said the Legislature can’t veto his decision because the funding measure he rejected becomes null and void if the state’s Board of Equalization, which he controls, doesn’t meet. If the governor and lawmakers fail to reach an agreement, state agencies face 2 to 3% across-the-board cuts in May and June. [CNHI]
  • Stitt did not sign Senate Bill 199, which would have made $302.3 million in the state Rainy Day Fund available to spend. [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • “The state needs stability now, and that is exactly what the Legislature has delivered,” Sen. Roger Thompson [Journal Record]
  • Opinion: It took nearly 16 months, but legislative leaders finally flexed their muscles this week, sending Gov. Kevin Stitt a blunt reminder they represent a co-equal branch of state government. [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record]

Impact of coronavirus on Oklahomans of color unclear with incomplete data: Though many states are releasing reports that indicate people of color are more likely to get sick or die from the novel coronavirus, it remains unclear whether that scenario is playing out in Oklahoma because the state so far has collected and released incomplete data surrounding the issue. [The Frontier] For the first time, Oklahoma on Thursday released breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and deaths by race, and the data, while incomplete, shows that the disease is killing a disproportionately high number of whites, with blacks the second largest group. [Oklahoma Watch] Op-Ed: Increase transparency around COVID-19 while respecting privacy. “Withholding this kind of potentially life-saving information goes beyond reasonably protecting privacy and, instead, fosters anxiety and public mistrust of health institutions.” [Op-Ed / CNHI]

Steep drop in deaths not a trend, health commissioner says: A steep drop in reported deaths in Oklahoma on Thursday doesn’t represent the trend public health officials are looking for to determine when the state is past the worst days of the coronavirus, Oklahoma Health Commissioner Gary Cox said. [The Oklahoman] Editorial: Oklahomans will determine COVID-19 surge [The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

State Government News

Note: Today (Friday, April 10) is the last day for filing for federal, state and legislative offices in Oklahoma. For more information and a complete list of candidates who have filed, visit the Oklahoma State Board of Election website.  

Commentary: The COVID-19 outbreak holds lessons for policymakers: We are currently getting a clear view of our government operating in emergency mode, and even in the midst of the widespread disruption, it’s worth paying attention to how policymakers are responding. [James Davenport Commentary / NonDoc]

As unemployment continues record rise, state works to fix claim system unprepared for surge: As newly-released numbers show unemployment claims in Oklahoma continued to climb to record levels for the third straight week because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the state agency responsible for processing those claims says it has been scrambling to stabilize and retrofit an unemployment claims system that was unprepared for the current crisis. [The Frontier]

Mask-maker: Senate staffer helps legislators returning to the Capitol: Chelsea Pinney made sure senators returning Monday to the Capitol were covered. Pinney, who serves as executive assistant to Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, made 50 masks for senators for their one-day return for a special and regular session to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and try to fix a budget hole. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa World editorial: In a COVID-19 world, requiring absentee ballot notarization is not just unnecessary, it’s dangerous: The Oklahoma Legislature should reconsider state absentee voting laws, which mandate notary public seals for most voters who want to avoid in-person balloting. State law requires most absentee voters to sign the envelope containing their ballot in front of a notary. That’s inconvenient at any time, but during a global pandemic it’s dangerous — to the notary and the voter. [Tulsa World Editorial Board]

Supplemental funding battle, health emergency powers, abortion order halted & more (Audio): This Week in Oklahoma Politics looks at battle between the Governor and lawmakers over $500M in supplemental funding passed overwhelmingly by the legislature, the governor’s expanded powers under the health emergency, and more. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

HUD gives $29M in relief funding to help Oklahoma tribes: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson today recently $28,822,877 in Indian Housing Block Grants to American Indian Tribes and Tribally Designated Housing Entities in Oklahoma to respond to COVID-19. Nationally, $200 million was awarded. [CNHI]

Health News

OU Medicine announces partnership with Mayo Clinic to find COVID-19 treatment: OU Medicine announced Thursday it is partnering with the Mayo Clinic to carry out a new clinical trial to assist with treatment of the sickest COVID-19 patients. The trial, which OU joined this week, takes plasma from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and gives it into those who are still extremely ill with the virus. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma to start testing for COVID-19 antibodies: Oklahoma health officials plan to start testing statewide to estimate what percentage might already have developed the COVID-19 antibody. The goal is collect an accurate sample so that statisticians can determine how many Oklahomans may already have developed an immunity to the deadly virus. [CNHI] COVID-19 drive-up testing site offers snapshot of history [NonDoc

Following first death, Cherokee Nation braces for increase in coronavirus cases: Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. says health system is as prepared as it can be, but food distribution is a major challenge for Cherokee citizens. [Public Radio Tulsa]

New virtual support groups planned April 11 for first responder, the general public: Mental Health Association Oklahoma is launching several new virtual support groups to help first responders and the general public process the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman] Ginnie Graham: A mother’s cry for better mental health services [Tulsa World

Economy & Business News

First-time jobless claims set another record in Oklahoma: Out-of-work Oklahomans set another unwanted record last week in initial unemployment claims, with 51,124 seeking benefits for the first time, eclipsing the prior week record by 7%. The record number means state workers sought unemployment insurance relief for the first time last week at an average rate of five claims every minute. [Tulsa World] Interactive graphic: Oklahoma unemployment claims over time [Tulsa World]

  • The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission will host a virtual town hall at 1 p.m. Friday to offer advice and field questions about the claim process. [Tulsa World]

How badly has air travel fallen? Traffic numbers in Tulsa show stunning decline: While secluding the country’s population, the COVID-19 pandemic has virtually grounded the nation’s airline industry. About 5,000 passengers, employees and other personnel filed through Tulsa International Airport’s security checkpoint on April 8 a year ago. This year, that number was 187, a decline of 96%. [Tulsa World]

Economy unlikely to recover as rapidly as it collapsed: There are emerging signs that any recovery will fail to match the speed and severity of the economic collapse that occurred in just a few weeks. The 2020 presidential and Senate elections likely will take place as the world’s largest economy is still attempting to climb back from the deadly outbreak. [AP / Journal Record]

Tourism across Tulsa takes $100 million hit; leaders look to the future: As tourism across Tulsa takes a $100 million hit, leaders are hopeful the future will provide restoration from the current pandemic. Hotel occupancy rates in Tulsa used to average annually near 68%, but that rate has fallen to single digits, about 8-10%. [Tulsa World]

Creek, Cherokee casinos to remain closed through April: Both tribes’ casinos and operations as a whole have been closed since March 16 as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Tulsa World] All Chickasaw Nation-owned businesses that are already closed due to the pandemic, including its WinStar World Casino, will stay closed through April 30. [CNHI]

Tulsa establishes website for small businesses: Small business owners in Tulsa have someone to call as they try to navigate what assistance may be available to them as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. provides information regarding two federal loan programs and a fund established by the city to assist small businesses. [Journal Record]

Education News

Home-based school a challenge when a home is hard to come by: For families experiencing homelessness and housing instability, the move to distance learning has siblings taking on the role of teachers, parents scrambling to find ways to access online lesson plans and families navigating the everyday challenge of accessing food and medication in addition to completing the school year without a classroom. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma school districts conduct distance learning without the internet: Monday was a new kind of first day of school in Oklahoma: the first one back since schools shuttered after spring break to combat the spread of COVID-19. With many students lacking internet access, district leaders are asking teachers to get creative without using the web. [StateImpact]

Oklahoma universities to get $107 million in federal relief funds: Oklahoma colleges and universities will get more than $107 million in federal stimulus funds, over $53.7 million of which is designated to go directly to students. The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday it would distribute $14 billion immediately to institutes of higher education across the country. This includes $6.28 billion in emergency cash grants to students. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • New data shows Tulsa County COVID-19 peak could be next week; projections lowered on potential cases, deaths [Tulsa World]
  • Three OKC metro counties show 95 new COVID-19 cases [OKC Free Press]
  • Norman stay at home orders extended to April 30 [The Oklahoman]
  • Cleveland County Health Department offering curbside testing after Thursday drive-thru event [Norman Transcript]
  • OKC church food give-away draws hundreds [The Oklahoman]
  • Use tax gain offsets sales tax decline in Oklahoma City [The Oklahoman]
  • Feasibility study for Tulsa levee system repairs expected to be finalized in May [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“We take our responsibility very, very seriously to make sure we are representing the people of Oklahoma, and I believe this week that when we have had almost 100 percent of Democrats and Republicans saying this is the path we want to go forward (…) I believe that the executive branch, (Budget Secretary Mike) Mazzei, needs to be working with us as well. So are there concerns there? Yes.”

-Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, speaking about budget dispute with Gov. Stitt [NonDoc

Number of the Day

$302.1 million

Amount from the state Rainy Day Fund that lawmakers have requested be used this fiscal year to address funding shortfalls due to the pandemic. The Governor and lawmakers are at odds over funding for the state’s digital transformation project, one of his priority projects.

[Source: CNHI

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

She’s 10, homeless and eager to learn. But she has no internet: On the first day of remote learning, while some parents in the city were posting cute photos of their children waving to their classmates and teachers as lessons were streamed live, Allia and thousands of other children living in New York City shelters and in overcrowded apartments did not have devices with built-in internet. [New York Times]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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