In The Know: Hospitalization rates rising in NE Oklahoma | Contentious McGirt forum ends early | 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. 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

Oklahoma’s children deserve better: Leveraging federal aid and policy solutions to improve child well-being: From school and child care closings to economic disruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed many gaps within our state’s systems that support children and families. As we look toward recovery, it will be important to develop equitable strategies that benefit the individuals and families most harmed by the pandemic. While Oklahoma state leadership failed to enact many policies during the pandemic that would protect the most vulnerable Oklahomans, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will allow the state to address some of its residents’ most critical needs. Signed into law in March 2021, ARPA builds on previous pandemic relief efforts and is designed to provide aid to states, localities, territories, and tribal nations to fill revenue holes, address needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and help the learning needs of students. [Gabrielle Jacobi / OK Policy]

CoverOK Health Care Coalition Releases SoonerCare Enrollment Guide, Video: A statewide coalition of health care advocates and providers has created resources to help connect newly eligible Oklahomans to life-changing health care coverage provided by Medicaid. According to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, more than 130,000 Oklahomans have already been approved for benefits through expansion. However, thousands more Oklahomans are eligible for health coverage but have yet to apply. As a result of Medicaid expansion, adults with low incomes are now eligible for SoonerCare. [CoverOK]

Oklahoma News

In northeast Oklahoma hospital, beds are full again as COVID-19 delta variant takes hold: At Integris Miami Hospital in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, hospital beds are full again, like they were at the peak of the pandemic. Like everyone, hospitalist Dr. Justin Mitchell and his colleagues there hoped the worst of COVID-19 was behind them. They still do. “But it’s been ramping up quite a bit over the past month,” he said. “We went through a period at the height of the pandemic, where all of our COVID beds were consistently full, and anytime we were able to get someone out of hospital, there was someone waiting for that bed.” [The Oklahoman]

  • ‘Flood of red’: Delta variant behind rising hospitalizations in northeastern Oklahoma, prompting experts’ pleas to get vaccinated [Tulsa World]
  • Trend of rising coronavirus cases reaching central Oklahoma [AP News]
  • Oklahoma is reporting an average of 364 infections per day in the past week. [KOSU]

Contentious McGirt forum ends early after shout-down from audience: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and a panel of district attorneys sought Tuesday to explain their views on how the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision had unintended consequences for victims of crime regardless of tribal citizenship. But Stitt ended the “McGirt v. Oklahoma Community Forum” roughly an hour earlier than planned, descending from the podium to jeers and chants of “Shame on you” due to audience members’ belief that prosecutors disrespected tribal sovereignty. [Tulsa World] The forum organized by Stitt and prosecutors had drawn criticism days before it began. Leaders of the tribes whose reservations were affirmed by the Supreme Court ruling have said they weren’t invited to speak. The Chickasaw Nation said Tuesday that it received an email about the event. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin had described the event as “an anti-McGirt rally for political reasons.” [The Oklahoman] The McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling applied to only the Muscogee Nation initially, but since last summer, numerous cases have passed through the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals that have affirmed the boundaries of the other four major tribal nations’ reservations. [KOSU]

Stitt taps former company exec to serve as Oklahoma’s COO: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Tuesday he’s named an executive from his former company to serve as the state’s chief operating officer. Steven Harpe, who previously worked as chief information officer at Stitt’s Gateway Mortgage Group, will continue in his current role as director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and as deputy secretary of digital transformation and administration. [AP News] Harpe is the state’s second chief operating officer — a position created by Stitt. He follows John Budd, who resigned this month. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Oklahoma Medicaid terminates managed care contracts, Medicaid expansion launches in fee-for-service: In response to a June ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) has terminated the Medicaid SoonerSelect managed care contracts that were awarded in January 2021, and slated to go live on October 1, 2021. The court ruled that because OHCA issued a procurement for Medicaid managed care services on October 15, 2020—but the state legislation giving OHCA that authority was not in effect until May 27, 2021—the procurement was invalid. On July 12, 2021, an OHCA spokesperson said there has been no decision regarding the future of managed care. [Open Minds]

State & Local Government News

Officials explain how growth of state will affect redistricting: A virtual meeting on Oklahoma’s redistricting process was held Tuesday, with the Legislature preparing to redraw boundaries for the 2022 election cycle through 2030. Oklahoma’s Legislature is required to redraw district boundaries every 10 years, following the federal Census. With a delay in Census figures, state lawmakers will convene in a special session in the fall to approve legislative and congressional districts. Redistricting workers have used population estimate data to configure changes expected to take place. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Returns to work, stimulus, inflation to thank for growing sales tax revenue, OKC budget director says: The city continues to break sales tax records with the July sales tax check coming in at $45.1 million. The check represents Oklahoma City’s share of sales tax from the second half of May and the first half of June, which includes Memorial Day weekend. Oklahoma City Budget Director Doug Dowler attributed the healthy revenue to more folks back at work, federal stimulus money and inflation. [The Oklahoman]

State Faces Lawsuits Over Stitt Ending Federal Enhanced Unemployment Benefits: Several Oklahomans are suing over Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to end additional federal unemployment benefits late last month, alleging he overstepped his authority and violated federal law Stitt announced in May the extra $300 a week covered by federal coronavirus relief funding would stop June 26 and be repurposed for a back-to-work incentive. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has scheduled a referee hearing for Aug. 11 in one of the lawsuits. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Fatal law enforcement pursuits prompt Oklahoma House study request: Fatalities and injuries resulting from high-speed chases have prompted an Oklahoma City lawmaker to request a House study on policies guiding law enforcement pursuits across the state. A Tulsa World investigation has sought to shed light on those policies in the past five years following the deaths of an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper as well as eluding drivers, uninvolved civilians and others. [Tulsa World]

Lawmaker hopes to have legislation on the table soon to address racial equity in Oklahoma: The death of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed sparked a conversation surrounding racial equity in the U.S. It’s something state Sen. George Young said he has tried to take to the Oklahoma legislature in the past year with no luck. So, he’s trying again, recently getting a stamp of approval for five interim studies focusing on racial equity. [KOCO]

State lawmaker has ideas to tackle Oklahoma’s rising cost of child care: A state lawmaker wants to tackle the rising cost of child care in Oklahoma, saying he has three ideas to combat the issue through three pieces of legislation. State Rep. Mickey Dollens plans to file the bills to help curb child care costs for most Oklahomans. Dollens, a father of two young children, said he knows the struggles firsthand. [KOCO]

Oklahoma elections official dismisses GOP lawmaker’s request for election audit: Oklahoma’s chief elections official on Tuesday brushed off a request from a GOP state lawmaker seeking an election audit of some of the state’s 2020 general election results. Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax suggested an independent audit of Oklahoma’s election results is not allowed under state law. [The Oklahoman]

  • Lawmaker requests audit of 2020 general election results in Oklahoma County, 2 other random counties [KOCO]

Federal Government News

OKC Mayor David Holt to visit White House, talk infrastructure needs with President Joe Biden: Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt will meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that awaits action from Congress. As part of a bipartisan group of eight mayors and governors, Holt, a Republican, will visit the White House for a discussion on infrastructure needs across the country, according to the White House. [The Oklahoman]

Biden administration provides Oklahoma with $9 million for rural COVID-19 response: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is providing Oklahoma with a little more than $9 million to support COVID response efforts in rural areas through the Health Resources and Services Administration. The funding through the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program will go to 35 small rural hospitals in Oklahoma for COVID-19 testing and mitigation measures, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

EPA approved toxic chemicals for fracking a decade ago, new files show: There is no public data that details where the EPA-approved chemicals have been used. But the FracFocus database, which tracks chemicals used in fracking, shows that about 120 companies used PFAS — or chemicals that can break down into PFAS, the most common of which was “nonionic fluorosurfactant” and various misspellings — in more than 1,000 wells between 2012 and 2020 in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Because not all states require companies to report chemicals to the database, the number of wells could be higher. [New York Times]

Tribal Nations News

Kiowa voters, legislators to discuss budget: Kiowa voters are asked to join a Zoom meeting this morning and talk about money. An open hearing to discuss a newly-proposed budget from the Kiowa Legislative Branch will begin at 10 a.m., according to Anita Onco-Johnson, secretary of the Legislature. [The Lawton Consitition]

Criminal Justice News

Juvenile inmates ordered removed from Oklahoma County jail: State health officials notified the Oklahoma County Detention Center on Tuesday that all juvenile inmates must be removed from the jail by Friday after a surprise inspection found numerous deficiencies at the problem-plagued jail. [AP News] The Health Department found dozens of violations during the unannounced inspection June 23 even though jail officials had promised in May to make changes. It also found violations of procedures after a review of the June 24 inmate death. [The Oklahoman] The press release sent Tuesday said that at the time of the press release “only one juvenile meets the statutory definition of a ‘child’ or ‘juvenile’ and will be returned to the Oklahoma County Juvenile Detention facility as soon as possible before the OSDH deadline.” [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma County program for low-level offenders expands, keeping some out of jail: In an effort to help reduce the jail population, Oklahoma County officials on Tuesday announced the expansion of an alternative sentencing program that would allow some offenders to work weekend community service shifts instead of serving time behind bars. [The Oklahoman]

With its private prison empty, western Oklahoma town faces an uncertain future: Unnerved by the oil industry collapse, city leaders in 1987 formed the Hinton Economic Development Authority, a public trust tasked with attracting new businesses and diversifying the local economy. After learning that Mustang’s town council rejected a construction proposal from a private prison company, the trust did some research and grew convinced that a correctional facility could help bring both jobs and tax revenue back to Hinton. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma Pardon And Parole Board votes to hold enhanced second commutation hearing in Julius Jones case: The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted Monday to give death row prisoner Julius Jones a longer second stage commutation hearing to better understand the details of his case. Jones was convicted of murdering Edmond man Paul Howell in 1999. Jones claims he is innocent. [KOSU]

Economic Opportunity

Tenants scramble for resources after being forced to move due to unsafe conditions: What started out as a battle between tenants and the management at Tulsa’s Vista Shadow Mountain Apartments over an unpaid water bill has morphed into a scramble for housing after the Fire Marshall ruled the entire complex unsafe to live in, giving tenants mere days to find a new home. [The Black Wall Street Times]

The Frontier fact checked social media claims and urban myths about homelessness in Oklahoma: Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of affordable housing, homelessness has become an even more contentious issue for communities across Oklahoma over the past year. It’s still unclear how the pandemic affected the population of people experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma, but the problem has become more visible as the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness — or sleeping outside — has increased, said Greg Shinn, the chief housing officer for Mental Health Association Oklahoma. [The Frontier]

Economy & Business News

Despite OKC air travel nearing 2019 levels, industry has ‘long road to recovery’: Air travel out of Oklahoma City is nearing pre-pandemic levels, but a full recovery of passenger volume is difficult to predict, a local official said. In June, 180,880 passengers flew out of Will Rogers World Airport, an 18% decrease from June 2019. April and May saw passenger levels that were 35% and 25%, respectively, below those same months in 2019. [The Oklahoman]

International cannabis company to leverage Tahlequah nursery for marijuana production: A global cannabis brand is partnering with two Oklahoma companies to produce marijuana in the state. OG DNA Genetics, currently based in Los Angeles, this week announced licensing agreements with Tribal Farms LLC in Tahlequah, and MedVets LLC, a veteran-owned and operated, vertically integrated cannabis cultivator and dispensary in Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]

Education News

How Oklahoma’s largest virtual charter school decided to cut ties with its founders: When the pandemic began sending thousands of parents in search of virtual learning options last year, the enrollment at Epic Charter Schools, already one of the state’s largest school systems, began to explode. Projections showed the potential to add as many as 25,000 new students. But three senior staff members at the school told The Frontier they believed the prospect of nearly doubling the student count would be disastrous. [The Frontier]

  • Oklahoma virtual education officials reinstated as debates with Epic Charter Schools continue [The Oklahoman]
  • Epic gets three more months to tackle issue of sharing of employees between two separate schools with only one governing board [Tulsa World]

State Superintendent Hofmeister explains Oklahoma Board of Education’s emergency rules concerning critical race theory: Yesterday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education passed emergency rules on HB 1775, commonly known as the bill that bans critical race theory. Now, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister is explaining what these decisions mean for students and educators. [KFOR]

Oklahoma Local News

  • City of Tulsa encourages people to use lookup tool to see if their info was stolen in ransomware attack [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Hofmeister appoints interim Western Heights superintendent in state takeover [OKC Free Press]

Quote of the Day

“When you think about the vaccination rates here and our population, there is no reason to believe that it’s going to slow down anytime soon.”

-Dr. Justin Mitchell of Integris Miami Hospital in northeast Oklahoma [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma ranks as 9th worst nationally for new cases of COVID-19 [Source: via Tulsa World

Policy Note

Drop in childhood vaccinations during pandemic may raise risk of other outbreaks when schools reopen, CDC says: Routine childhood vaccinations dropped dramatically during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, and although they began rebounding last summer as families rescheduled doctors’ visits, many children and adolescents are behind on their shots, according to a federal health report released this summer. [Washington Post]

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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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