In The Know: Lawmakers send COLA, Medicaid bills to Gov.; COVID-19 vaccine could meet resistance in state; 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. Some stories may be 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.

Note: During the pandemic, OK Policy began publishing In The Know on Saturdays and Sundays in order to keep our subscribers up to date on the latest information going on in the state and the nation. As Oklahoma has moved into reopening and the Legislative session has wound down, we will resume our Monday through Friday publishing schedule after this edition.

Oklahoma News

State pension COLA sent to Stitt: The Oklahoma State Senate sent a cost of living adjustment for retired state pension recipients to Gov. Kevin Stitt today, marking the first time the state Legislature has passed a such an increase to monthly payments in more than 12 years. [NonDoc] House Bill 3350 bases the increases on the number of years pensioners have been retired. Those retired at least five years would receive a 4% increase. Those retired 2 to 4 years would receive 2 percent. Everyone else gets nothing. [CNHI] It applies to members of the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System; Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System; Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges; Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma; and the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System. [Tulsa World] The measure now heads to Stitt’s desk. It’s unclear if Stitt, who has been vocal this week about protecting the state’s pension systems, will sign the bill. [The Oklahoman] House Bill 3350 was sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt for his consideration after advancing through the upper chamber of the Legislature on a vote of 41-5. The measure had previously cleared the House of Representatives on a vote of 99-0. [The Journal Record] OK Policy analysis has shown this COLA would boost the state’s economy without a budget impact.

Republican legislators vote to fund Stitt’s Medicaid expansion: With the vote on a state question to expand Medicaid looming, Oklahoma’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed legislation to fund Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Medicaid expansion plan. Republicans in the House passed Friday a bill to increase a fee on some Oklahoma hospitals to bring in about $134 million to pay for most of the state’s share of Medicaid expansion. [The Oklahoman] Senate Bill 1046, which would increase Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program (SHOPP) fees paid by dozens of hospitals. [The Journal Record] Oklahoma Watch reports the Governor has not yet looked at the funding or decided on whether he will sign them. 

COVID-19 vaccine could meet resistance in Oklahoma: In states like Oklahoma, efforts to require and promote the vaccine could run into strong headwinds.  Anti-vaccine activists are vocal and influential in the state, spurred on by a national movement. It’s one reason Oklahoma is one of only 15 states, including Texas and Arkansas, that allow parents to cite personal reasons to exempt their children from immunizations required by schools and day-care centers. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma lawmakers end one of the most bizarre legislative sessions on the books: One of the most bizarre legislative sessions in state history ended — maybe — Friday night as lawmakers adjourned but left open the possibility of returning if something (such as more vetoes by Gov. Kevin Stitt) comes up. [Tulsa World]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma update: Oklahoma’s number of positive COVID-19 cases now stands at 5,086 with 124 additional cases and one new death reported Friday. [The Oklahoman] Texas County, with fewer than 20,000 residents, accounted for 65 of the new cases. It now has 606 reported cases of COVID-19, third most behind Oklahoma County’s 1,035 and Tulsa County’s 752. [Public Radio Tulsa] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

Antibody testing in Oklahoma shows 3% have encountered COVID-19: Expanded testing in Oklahoma for antibodies to COVID-19 has shown about 3% of those tested have been exposed to the virus, according to a report from the state’s interim epidemiologist. [The Oklahoman]

Most US states fall short of recommended testing levels: As businesses reopened Friday in more of the U.S., an overwhelming majority of states still fall short of the COVID-19 testing levels that public health experts say are necessary to safely ease lockdowns and avoid another deadly wave of outbreaks, according to an Associated Press analysis. [AP News]

Rural communities without a hospital struggle to fight rising coronavirus cases, deaths: Rural communities may be on the brink of disaster. A USA TODAY analysis found that new cases have been confirmed at faster rates in rural and nonmetropolitan counties since mid-March, which is when growth began to slow in hard-hit cities but sped up everywhere else. [USA Today]

State Government News

Bill could hide donor and lobbyist info from the public: A bill pushed through the Legislature in the final days of the legislative session could prevent the public from knowing who is donating to political action committees or who lobbyists are working for, a move that would bring significant secrecy to the legislative process. House Bill 3613 is now awaiting action by the governor, but if approved it could result in the state’s electronic campaign reporting system being taken offline. [The Frontier]

Bill allowing wrongful death suits against doctors providing abortions goes to Oklahoma governor: A bill sent to the governor by the Oklahoma House on Friday will let parents and grandparents bring wrongful death suits against doctors who perform abortions. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma voters to decide whether legislators can tap tobacco fund: Oklahoma legislators will ask voters’ permission to dip into the state’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. The Oklahoma Senate gave final approval to send to the ballot a measure that seeks to reduce the amount of settlement funds going to TSET from 75 percent to 25 percent. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma ScissorTales: Poll shows coronavirus is partisan, too: Oklahomans are concerned about the potential health risks associated with reopening the economy, but the survey shows they’re more concerned about getting the economy going. The greatest divide is along partisan lines — 65% of Republicans say economic disruption is a greater issue than is the health risk to the community, while 62% of Democrats say the health risk is the greater concern. [The Oklahoman]

Capitol Insider: An extraordinary week (audio): As the 2020 legislative session is nearing an end, cooperation and disagreement highlighted what will likely be the last full week before Sine Die Adjournment. KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley found some of the week’s events, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to be unlike any other year in recent memory. [KGOU]

Editorial: We hope July rollout of REAL ID licenses will be a smooth one: Better late than never. After years of delays, Oklahomans will be able to get their new, federally compliant REAL ID licenses starting in July. [Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]

Opinion: The Oklahoma Legislature comes up with a nonsolution to the nonproblem of absentee voting: Attention, Oklahoma legislators: Are you aware of the unaddressed issue of aliens voting in our elections? I’m not talking about people who are in the nation illegally. I’m talking about walking, talking aliens from outer space, who could — without anything in state law preventing them — register to vote, show up on Election Day (perhaps even using an absentee ballot, for those aliens that have returned to Tralfamadore by Election Day) and thus skew Oklahoma’s election results. [Opinion / Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Democrats push new $3T coronavirus relief bill through House: Democrats powered a massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the House on Friday, an election-year measure designed to brace a U.S. economy in free fall and a health care system struggling to contain a pandemic still pummeling the country. [AP News]

Cherokee Nation hopes further federal virus aid can be used to cover lost revenue: On a videoconference with Sen. Jim Inhofe hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber on Wednesday, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. asked the senator to consider allowing any future federal coronavirus aid packages to contain funding that can be used to cover lost revenue, a use currently prohibited in existing aid programs. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Criminal Justice News

Domestic violence poised to become a ‘violent crime’: A bill that would add four domestic violence offenses to the state’s list of violent crimes is headed for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk, and indications are he will sign it. [Oklahoma Watch]

Listen Frontier: Finding work after prison (audio): This week’s episode of Listen Frontier features an Oklahoma man who used the prison CareerTech program to secure a job upon his release. But last month he found himself unemployed as businesses across the state were hit by the pandemic and economic slowdown. [The Frontier]

Economy & Business News

Will Tesla come to Tulsa? Officials react to report that city is a finalist for new U.S. factory: Tesla has picked Austin, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, as finalists for its new U.S. assembly plant, a person briefed on the matter said Friday. The person says company officials visited Tulsa in the past week and were shown two sites. [Tulsa World] The stakes are high for state and local governments. Tesla has said the plant will be larger than its factory in Fremont, California, which employs 10,000 workers. Companies typically play finalists against each other in order to get the best package of tax breaks and other incentives. [Austin-American Statesman via The Oklahoman]

Cherokee Nation makes plan to reopen government offices, businesses:  Beginning June 1, Cherokee Nation will begin a phased reopening of government offices, as well as Cherokee Nation Businesses. [CNHI]

Marijuana authority issues first recall in state: More than 300,000 medical marijuana customers and dispensaries were told Friday about tainted cannabis from an Edmond company, the state’s first recall issued by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. The products tested for higher-than-allowed amounts of pesticide in vape cartridges and mints. [Oklahoma Watch]

Hanging on: Music venues, promoters face ‘existential crisis’: It will likely take many months for music venues to pick up full schedules once it can reopen, probably at reduced capacity. [The Journal Record]

Truckers hit by coronavirus pandemic face rocky road to recovery: The pandemic has turned the global trucking industry on its head. As swathes of the world economy shut down and curbs on movement and gatherings disrupt supply chains, freight companies are hemorrhaging cash and sidelining thousands of truckers. [Reuters]

Education News

It’s a mystery how school will look in the fall, but Oklahoma educators are already prepping: Earlier this week, the State Department of Education laid out several options for school calendars that should prevent massive closures and a statewide shift to distance learning. StateImpact spoke with Oklahoma State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister – the state’s highest education official – about this semester and what school could look like next fall. [StateImpact]

Legislature approves reduction in charter school fees: A bill headed to the governor’s desk would reduce how much public school districts get to charge charter schools in fees. It also creates a $1 million fund to reimburse districts in the event of a charter’s closure. [The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: Best student outcomes are on campus: “We have labored over whether to resume classes this fall at the six universities in the Regional University System of Oklahoma. After much thought and discussion with our students, faculty and staff, our decision is ‘yes,’ we will be fully operational for the fall semester.” [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: COVID-19 could shake the foundations of higher ed: One observer believes that when all of this is over, many colleges will be dead or dying. What comes out the other side will look very different than the system we’ve known. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

General News

Concerned over Ahmaud Arbery’s death, Tulsans discuss how to cope and take action in virtual town hall: Following conversations with close friends around the country to gauge how they were processing the unfolding events, a Tulsa resident decided it was time to provide an inclusive forum for Tulsa-area residents to discuss the impact Arbery’s killing personally had on them and to formulate ideas about ways to productively move forward. [Tulsa World]

Free statewide virtual support groups provide ‘what we’re all hungry for’ amid pandemic: Understanding: An online support group through the Mental Health Association Oklahoma specifically meets the needs for those with a history of trauma, but several other groups are offered weekly for others, such as first responders and parents. [Tulsa World]

Poll: US believers see message of change from God in virus: The coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers of all faiths to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives, a new poll finds. [AP News]

Opinion: America shows its worst side — a maskless response to the pandemic: Mask defiance has become the latest weapon in the polarized culture war. Not even a deadly health crisis can bring us together anymore. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Editorial: It’s Armed Services Day; fly your American flag and thank those serving our nation: Since 1950, the United States has set aside the third Saturday in May to recognize the patriotic service of our nation’s active duty military. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • McDonald’s shooting suspect in pandemic-related event claimed self-defense [The Oklahoman]
  • Lexington police officer admits posting Facebook threat against Norman mayor [The Oklahoman]
  • Virtual graduations to celebrate Class of 2020 in OKC metro [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman playgrounds, dog parks among latest openings [The Oklahoman]
  • Some Tulsa bars reopen while others wait to see if COVID-19 numbers spike [Tulsa World]
  • Osage Nation casino fills to new occupancy limit less than two hours after opening [Tulsa World]
  • Several NE Oklahoma casinos reopening after COVID-19 closures [CNHI]
  • Lawsuit dropped, but effort to terminate Tulsa Stadium Improvement District will continue [Tulsa World]
  • Stillwater leaders upset about bill that takes health emergency powers away from city officials [Stillwater News Press]
  • Hundreds of OSU employees affected by unemployment fraud [CNHI]
  • Claremore Emergency Management Director talks phase 2 of city re-opening [Claremore Progress]
  • Guidelines set for Rogers County courthouse [Claremore Progress]

Quote of the Day

“To sit here and say, ‘Well I’ve got to be fiscally responsible so I can’t help you’… I have to question that because I have to look those people in the eyes. I know some of those people, and they really need it. We have people out there that we need to help.”

– Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, speaking about the need for a cost-of-living adjustment for Oklahoma’s public retirees [CNHI]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma state employees make an average of 17 percent less than their private counterparts, which makes retirement and other benefits are thus often a vital tool to recruit and retain highly-skilled employees. [Source: Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services and OK Policy

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Truly the last safe haven’: Libraries serve vulnerable communities during the pandemic: Like so many other services, libraries around the country have had to quickly adapt to the shutdowns and distancing measures put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but also to figure out how to reach the most vulnerable members of their communities under the new restrictions. [PBS]

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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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