In The Know: Hospitals ‘like a war zone’ | State employees sub in schools | Early bill filings | 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

Policy Matters: Every number is a story: After Oklahomans voted to expand Medicaid, more than 241,000 people have connected to life-changing health care since summer began. When the Oklahoma Policy Institute examined preliminary numbers this fall, about two-thirds of the new enrollees previously had been without health care. (Not an uncommon occurrence in Oklahoma, which had the nation’s second-highest uninsured population before Medicaid expansion began.) [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]

OK Policy Analysis: Medicaid expansion is working just as expected

Three early bill filings that caught my attention (Capitol Update): It’s interesting to read the early bill filings each year. Some are remarkable in the degree of change they would make. Others are not so consequential, and yet others give you the feeling they’ll never see the light of day. Three of the early filings, among others, caught my attention. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma COVID-19 hospitalizations outstrip delta variant wave’s peak from summer: The number of statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations reported Wednesday surpassed the delta variant wave’s peak, with Oklahoma rapidly climbing into the top 10 worst states in four key pandemic metrics monitored by the federal government. [Tulsa World

  • Oklahoma struggles to get most effective omicron treatments [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]
  • ‘Like a war zone:’ Oklahoma City hospitals are in crisis again as COVID-19 tears through state [The Oklahoman]
  • Omicron surge affecting Indian Health Service too, but Oklahoma official says they’re prepared [KGOU]
  • COVID cases may peak soon, but strain on hospitals won’t let up yet, top health official says [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma’s omicron variant will peak, but officials don’t know exactly when [The Lawton Constitution]
  • Increased availability of in-home tests expected to curb COVID spread [Tulsa World]

After Stitt executive order, over 100 Oklahoma state employees volunteer to substitute teach: More than 120 state employees have volunteered to substitute in public schools, only a day after Gov. Kevin Stitt authorized them to cover classes.  The governor issued an emergency order Tuesday allowing Oklahoma’s 32,000 agency employees to substitute teach in schools while earning their regular pay and benefits. [The Oklahoman

  • Oklahoma schools not content with Stitt’s substitute teacher plan [KTEN
  • Oklahoma will allow state employees to work as substitute teachers to fight shortages [NPR
  • Enid area school districts asking for subs with new chamber initiative [Enid News & Eagle]

Health News

Newly released records shed light on issues in the state’s public health laboratory: Emails and invoices dating back to early 2020 depict employees kept in the dark, more than $1 million in fees to a local PR agency and concerns about legislative interference. StateImpact and The Frontier are publishing a story later today, taking a deep dive into the state’s embattled public health laboratory, and the Stitt Administration’s costly decision to move it to Stillwater. [State Impact Oklahoma]

State Government News

Rep. Jose Cruz resigning after ‘acting inappropriately’: Rep. Jose Cruz (D-OKC) is resigning from the Oklahoma Legislature this week after “acting inappropriately at a gathering” on New Year’s Eve. According to political consultant Danielle Ezell, Cruz is expected to resign effective 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21. [NonDoc] In a statement to local media, Democrat Jose Cruz did not provide details of his actions or the event, but said he apologizes, is embarrassed and must resign. [AP] State law does not allow for special elections when a legislator resigns in an even-numbered year. The House District 89 seat will go unfilled until someone can be elected for a full, two-year term through regularly scheduled elections this year. [The Oklahoman]

State representative files bill that could question death penalty in Oklahoma: An Oklahoma legislator filed a bill that could create a state question on whether the death penalty should exist in the Sooner State. “What I am hearing from my district, and people around the state, is an urgent need to end state-enacted murder in the name of a criminal legal system that seeks to kill people with impunity,” Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, said in a news release. [KOCO

Bill targets homeless camps, would require inspections, permits: A Norman lawmaker has filed a bill that would require municipalities to inspect homeless camps and issue permits for them just as they would for other building projects. Under Senate Bill 1381, municipalities would have 30 days to conduct inspections of homeless camps, and camps would have to adhere to building codes established by the Oklahoma Uniform Building Code Commission to be permitted. [The Journal Record

Oklahoma lawmakers seek transparency about Developmental Disabilities Services: Two Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced legislation to improve transparency about who is being served by the state’s Developmental Disabilities Services. People currently on the DDS waitlist are facing an average 13-year wait for at-home and community-based services. [The Black Chronicle

(Audio) Long Story Short: Investigating Utility Rates, Making the Legislature More Transparent: In Episode 3 of Season 2 for Long Story ShortOklahoma Watch journalists share insights from their recent and upcoming stories with executive director Ted Streuli, including the massive fuel costs from last February’s winter storm and transparency in the legislature. [Oklahoma Watch

Federal Government News

Biden’s first year furiously denounced by Oklahoma’s political leaders: Oklahomans haven’t shown much affection for Democratic presidents in more than half a century, and Biden didn’t seem likely to change that. He received just 32% of the vote in the state’s 2020 general election and less than 30% in 70 of 77 counties. [Tulsa World]

Billions are at stake in how the government defines a place as rural: Small towns far from big cities rely upon federal grants to help them, but numerous definitions of what the government considers rural make that complicated. A town of 1,000 people feels like a rural place to someone from Chicago. To a person living in a town of 200 people, that population of 1,000 feels almost urban. [KOSU]

For then VP-elect Kamala Harris, Jan. 6 was worse than we knew: On one of the most destructive days of our democracy, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was too close for comfort. According to POLITICO, it was recently discovered that Harris was near a planted pipe bomb at Washington’s DNC Building on the afternoon of January 6th.  [The Black Wall Street Times

Tribal Nations News

Stitt seeks negotiation and back pay, hints at lawsuit on unmet compact requirement: After allowing what he called unfair hunting and fishing licensure compacts with the Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation to expire Dec. 31, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt sent letters to the nations’ leaders Jan. 5 “commencing” a 30-day negotiation period and alluding to potential litigation over the fact that neither tribe ever purchased the minimum number of licenses specified in their compacts. [NonDoc]

Voting and Election News

Stitt reelection campaign says it raised $1.19 million in last quarter: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s reelection campaign raised $1.19 million in 2021’s fourth quarter and has $2.3 million in cash, the campaign said Wednesday. It said both are unprecedented heading into an election year. [Tulsa World

Gap widens in Oklahoma between number of Republicans and Democrats: Two high-profile defections from the Oklahoma Republican Party last year don’t appear to have hurt GOP voter registration. The number of registered Republicans in Oklahoma increased by 114,013 in the last two years, according to the State Election Board’s annual voter registration report.  [The Oklahoman

You have a chance to speak out on proposed changes to OKC City Council ward maps: Oklahoma City will soon shift its ward boundaries to adjust for a boost in population as the city council considers approval of a new map after receiving public input. [The Oklahoman

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma county commissioners approve measures for current, future jail improvements: Oklahoma County Commissioners on Tuesday approved requests for state funding for a proposed new jail and adopted a new system for some jail processing. Two similar items, seeking to request American Rescue Plan Act funding from the state, were proposed by Commissioners Brian Maughan and Kevin Calvey. Maughan’s request sought $110 million, while Calvey’s asked for $175 million. [The Oklahoman

Former Oklahoma jailer pleads guilty over inmate assault: A former Oklahoma jailer has pleaded guilty to violating an inmate’s civil rights by kicking and striking him in a 2020 assault, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. Johnnie Drewery, 27, faces up to 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced in a few months, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma said in a press release. [AP

Chandler man sentenced to probation for Jan. 6 breach of U.S. Capitol: A judge put a Chandler man on probation for two years Tuesday and fined him $1,500 after he expressed little remorse for breaching the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. [Tulsa World

Economy & Business News

Gaming, outdoor recreation are Oklahoma’s big tourism draws: Casino gaming and an array of attractive outdoor recreational opportunities bolstered Oklahoma’s tourism industry during the pandemic, a new state report shows. Tourism generated $7.1 billion in direct spending within the state in 2020, drawing in 17 million visitors. [The Journal Record

Medical examiner reports more than two decades of growth in two years due to pandemic: The chief medical examiner of Oklahoma says his office has been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Eric Pfeifer spoke to a state Senate appropriations subcommittee Wednesday.  “This practice usually grows at 11% per decade, and in the last two years we’ve grown 25%. That’s really hurting us,” said Pfeifer. [Public Radio Tulsa

Experts: IRS is overwhelmed; expect more of the same: An understaffed and overwhelmed Internal Revenue Service left millions of taxpayers frustrated last tax season and well beyond. As the new filing season begins Jan. 24, the IRS still has some 10 million unprocessed returns from last year. [The Journal Record

Warm, dry weather affecting Oklahoma’s wheat harvest: Excessively warm temperatures and dry weather are already impacting this year’s wheat harvest in Oklahoma. Over 94% of the state is experiencing some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. [KOSU]

Education News

Bartlesville, Collinsville suspend in-person classes. They’re just the latest to go to distant learning: Two more area districts are shifting their instruction plans for the week. Collinsville Public Schools will not have classes Thursday or Friday after more than 30% of the district’s employees called in absent, district officials announced Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

General News

‘Focus on gratitude in a time of fear’: Jewish leaders discuss safety in wake of Texas standoff: An Oklahoma City rabbi said negative implications ripple throughout faith communities whenever there are attacks like the recent standoff at a Texas synagogue. But Rabbi Abby Jacobson said she also found something hopeful in the aftermath. [The Oklahoman

Quote of the Day

“This time, it feels and sometimes even looks like a war zone. Cases have risen so rapidly, we have to care for patients in hallways, sometimes closets.”

— Dr. Julie Watson, the chief medical officer of Integris Health, describing the strain on hospitals caused by the latest COVID-19 surge [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoman workers earning less than $13/hour

[Source: Oxfam America]

OK Policy Analysis: The cheeseburger economics of the minimum wage

Policy Note

Ending the Tipped Minimum Wage Will Reduce Poverty and Inequality: The tipped minimum used to be tied to a percentage of the regular minimum wage—always at least half at the federal level—but the two wages were severed in 1996. So, while the regular minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, when it was set to $7.25, the tipped minimum has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991, losing almost half its value to inflation over the past 30 years. [Center for American Progress

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Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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