In The Know: Lawmakers making initiative petition process harder | HB 1775 would whitewash history | Health Dept. changing virus reporting

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.

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Policy Matters: HB 1775 would whitewash our history: Our national and state history is littered with dark stains stemming from racial inequities ingrained in our economic, political and legal systems. House Bill 1775, which now sits on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for signature, would direct Oklahoma educators to turn a blind eye to the historical events that led us to this place and keep us from fully exploring the paths that move us away from these inequities. If signed into law, HB 1775 would prevent public schools and universities from fully teaching about the inequality and racism threaded throughout our history and public systems. It would have a chilling effect on teachers wanting to examine atrocities like the Trail of Tears and the Tulsa Race Massacre, events that influence the daily lives of Oklahomans. It also would ban mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Two new hurdles make the initiative petition process more stringent in Oklahoma: State lawmakers have pushed through two bills adding additional hurdles to the initiative petition process as part of a Republican-backed response to successful citizen-led ballot measures on Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana and criminal justice reform. [The Frontier]

Bill forbidding schools from teaching critical race theory divides Oklahoma educators, politicians: Political pressure is mounting on both sides of a controversial bill that would ban public schools and universities from teaching critical race theory. Some educators are urging Gov. Kevin Stitt to veto the legislation, which passed both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature with overwhelming Republican support. House Bill 1775 would prohibit instructors from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another,” and that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” It would explicitly forbid critical race theory, which examines the way race and racism influence American politics, legal systems and society. [The Oklahoman]

COVID-19: Oklahoma State Health Department to undergo reporting changes as cases hold steady across state: The Oklahoma State Department of Health is removing several facets of its COVID-19 reporting metrics and altering some others after Gov. Kevin Stitt’s emergency declaration that required certain data be tracked ended Tuesday. State Epidemiologist Jolianne Stone said in a news conference then that the data needed by OSDH to closely monitor the situation and update the public will continue to be available. [Tulsa World] The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 449,266 total cases of COVID-19 in the state on Wednesday. The 1,624 new cases reported over the past week were down 55 from the number reported the week before. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • COVID-19 Variants On The Rise, But Full Vaccination Can Help Stop Spread [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Oklahoma County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 34% of people fully vaccinated [The Oklahoman]
  • Pottawatomie County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 26% of people fully vaccinated [The Oklahoman]
  • Canadian County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 33% of people fully vaccinated [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma Blood Institute Promotion Seeks To Get More Oklahomans Vaccinated And ‘Back In The Game’ [Public Radio Tulsa]

Health News

Saint Francis, BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma set to part ways over contract impasse: Unable to reach an agreement in their latest negotiations, the state’s largest health care provider and largest member-owned health insurer appear to be headed for a split. BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma officials said this week that they and Tulsa-based Saint Francis Health System failed to agree on a new contract by the April 30 deadline, meaning Saint Francis will no longer be part of the BCBSOK network as of July 29. [Tulsa World] The split, first reported by KTUL, impacts all Saint Francis hospitals, off-campus locations, and all Laureate and Warren Clinic doctors and health care professionals, according to BCBSOK, which said Wednesday it was in the process of informing 59,000 member households of the situation. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahomans struggling with medical debt: A new report shows 41% of Americans – nearly 80 million people – are struggling with medical debt at a time when health care costs are increasing at a faster rate than wages. People are spending an average of 12% of their income on medical costs and have $770 worth of medical debt in collections, according to health industry analysts at QuoteWizard, a LendingTree company. [The Journal Record]

State Government News

Fight over pharmacy bill may not be over: Pharmacy benefit manager CVS Health rejoiced when Gov. Kevin Stitt heeded its request to veto Senate Bill 821, an act relating to the Patient’s Right to Pharmacy Choice Act. But the session – and the battle between pharmacy benefit managers and Oklahoma’s independent pharmacies – is not yet over. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma House of Representatives game for play-based student learning model: The members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives don’t always play well with each other, but most of them seem to think young children could learn from doing so. House Bill 1569, by Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, assures teachers can employ what are known as play-based learning techniques from pre-kindergarten through third grade. [Tulsa World]

Governor signs bill welcoming retired teachers back to classroom: More of Oklahoma’s retired teachers can return to the classroom following the signing of Senate Bill 267 Monday. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chair and Education Committee Vice Chair, Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, is the author of the bill to remove the earnings cap for retired educators who choose to return to the profession. [The Oklahoma Eagle]

Law will allow more people to claim second homestead exemption: A new state law will allow more Oklahomans to claim a second homestead exemption by increasing the income qualifier from $20,000 to $25,000. It also reduces by $1,000 the assessed valuation on the homestead of a homeowner whose gross household income is below the qualifier limit. [The Journal Record]

New state law targets illegal sale of untaxed tobacco products: Legislation that passed into law this week targets illegal tobacco sales in Oklahoma. Passage of House Bill 2292 will create a new Tobacco Products Tax Enforcement Unit in the state to investigate cases of tobacco sold illegally without taxation. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma House, Senate members announce new Latino Caucus: Four members of the Oklahoma Legislature — two state senators and two state representatives — announced Wednesday the creation of a new bipartisan Legislative Latino Caucus. The founding members include Sens. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City, and Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, and Reps. Jose Cruz, D-Oklahoma City, and Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond. [AP News] The lawmakers said they may not agree on everything, but this will open a dialogue. They also said they hope they will set an example. [KOCO] “Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group in the state of Oklahoma. We’re probably upwards of close to a half million people, we have 10,000 business owners in the Latino community and [in] several school districts, over half of the students are Latino,” Brooks said. According to census data, more than 11% of Oklahomans identify as Latino. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Lawmakers consider overhauling hunting, fishing licenses: Lawmakers are weighing streamlining and simplifying the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses. House Bill 2214 proposes making Oklahoma’s annual hunting and fishing license valid for 365 days from the date of purchase. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole slams Biden administration ‘priorities’ on civics, history education: Rep. Tom Cole pressed the U.S. education secretary on Wednesday about civics and history curriculum, saying the Education Department’s recent request for public comments elicited a “blizzard” of bipartisan criticism over the focus on race and discrimination. [The Oklahoman]

Biden issues proclamation designating ‘Missing And Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day’: President Biden on Tuesday issued a proclamation declaring Wednesday, May 5th, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day” in the United States. The proclamation names the Muscogee Nation as one Tribe currently working with the federal government on a “community response plan.” [Public Radio Tulsa]

McGirt: Men currently serving life sentences charged in federal court after challenging state convictions: Three men serving life prison sentences for murder, including one for a killing nearly 33 years ago, are facing federal murder charges after challenging their state convictions on jurisdictional grounds. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma’s Shawnee Tribe helps lead to changes in COVID allotments for tribes: Some Native American tribes will receive more money from a federal virus relief package approved last year after the U.S. Treasury Department revised it’s methodology that tribal nations contend was badly skewed. [The Oklahoman]

The Muscogee Nation is dropping ‘Creek’ from its name. Here’s why: Describing it as a rebranding effort and “not a seismic change,” the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will stop using the parentheses and Creek name and will now be known simply as the Muscogee Nation in most circumstances, tribal authorities said Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

OKC proposes $300K to reduce police response to mental health crises: In its annual budget proposal, Oklahoma City officials allocated $300,000 to reinvent the city’s response to mental health 911 calls. But few details are known about the initiative, which seeks to minimize police involvement. [Oklahoma Watch]

Settlement reached about OKCPD arrests in Cleveland, Canadian counties: An unusual lawsuit that pitted judges against police has settled, with the Oklahoma City Police Department promising not to book persons apprehended outside Oklahoma County into the troubled Oklahoma County Jail. [NonDoc]

Economic Opportunity

Help available for thousands of Oklahomans protected under now-vacated CDC eviction moratorium: It’s likely thousands of Oklahomans will be affected by a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked authority to issue a national eviction moratorium. The moratorium was put in place last year to help people who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic avoid then losing their homes during the health emergency, putting them at higher risk of infection as they stayed with friends or family or went to shelters. According to Open Justice Oklahoma, more than 8,700 evictions have been filed in Tulsa County alone during the pandemic, with 2,800 since Jan. 1. More than 40% of evictions in Tulsa County have been granted. [Public Radio Tulsa] OK Policy and its Open Justice Oklahoma program have been tracking evictions in Oklahoma and noted that policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

StateImpact gets a haircut: Oklahoma City barber talks about COVID effects while trimming ungroomed reporter’s hair: From the moment he was forced to close down, he’s had to weigh client safety with his personal well-being. And even though it felt risky in the beginning, he knew he had to open up the shop. Now that he’s in the swing of things, it feels much safer, Naifeh said. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Economy & Business News

Construction begins on wind farm in Murray, Carter counties: Enel Green Power North America has initiated construction of $243 million wind power project in Murray and Carter counties. The 140-megawatt Rockhaven project is the company’s 11th in the state. It will be located adjacent to the company’s Origin wind farm. [The Journal Record]

Wheat prices are improving, leaving Oklahoma farmers hopeful for this year’s harvest: This year’s expected harvest for hard red winter wheat could be rather average. But thanks to high prices for the grain per bushel, farmers should expect to see higher profits nonetheless. [The Oklahoman]

Northeast OK feeling ‘squeeze’ of not being able to recycle; Tulsa facility expected to be down several months: What began as a small, probably unknowingly misplaced recyclable has erupted into a conundrum spanning the Tulsa metro that has left at least 40 people without jobs and millions of dollars worth of damage in its wake. And it will continue to divert tons of recyclables to a furnace or landfill for the next several months. [Tulsa World]

General News

KGOU Readers Club – Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre: On the night of May 31st and through the morning of June 1st in 1921, in Tulsa Oklahoma’s Greenwood district, also known as Black Wall Street, roving bands of white Tulsans all but destroyed the prosperous black community that was thriving there. It was a violent riot where people were gunned down, their homes and businesses burned, and their possessions looted. [KGOU]

Factbox: Who are the first members of Facebook’s oversight board?: One member, Evelyn Aswad, is a University of Oklahoma College of Law professor, and formerly served as a senior U.S. State Department lawyer. She specializes in the application of international human rights standards to content moderation issues. [Reuters]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC’s newest MAPS 3 wellness center soon to take shape [The Journal Record]
  • Tulsa City Council Asked To Approve 3% Sewer Rate Increase [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Amazon chooses Tulsa again for new merchandise sorting center [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“I think the development of (HB 1775) is done without the input, one, of educators and, two, of people of color. People of color are not asking for anything other than empathy, and you can’t understand our story if we can’t share it.”

-Cecilia Robinson-Woods, superintendent of Millwood Public Schools, speaking out against HB 1775, which would limit teaching on race-related issues [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


The percentage of people booked into the Tulsa Jail on court debt-related complaints in a typical year

[Source: Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights]

Policy Note

Enforcing Poverty: Oklahoma’s Reliance on Fines & Fees: Though debtors’ prisons are by law unconstitutional, recent decades have seen a marked rise in the number of individuals who are nonetheless incarcerated for failing to pay either public or private debts. The 1980s and 1990s marked a significant increase in the number of state and county justice systems that imposed fees and fines on individuals who interacted with the justice system. The problem has been exacerbated in the 21st century as “offender-funded justice”—a system where the accused offender must pay the cost of his or her own prosecution, incarceration, and rehabilitation—has been popularized. [Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights]

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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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