In The Know: Marking 2 years of pandemic | Addressing disability waiting list | A look at education bills

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 and COVID-19: Two Years Later) Medicaid expansion has helped Oklahomans weather the pandemic: Since the start of the global pandemic, more than 14,500 Oklahomans have died of COVID-19. The enormity of this loss is unimaginable and unnecessary. While the state’s top leadership and policymakers did little to slow the virus’ spread in Oklahoma, voters recognized the difference they could make from the beginning. Voters decided on June 30, 2020 to expand Medicaid to low-income adults, indicating their understanding that access to health care is vital, particularly during a deadly pandemic.  [Emma Morris / OK Policy

Oklahoma and COVID-19: Two Years Later: On March 6, 2020, Oklahoma reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and declared a statewide emergency 10 days later. As the pandemic now enters its third year, Oklahomans continue grappling with the impact of lives lost and the immense disruptions it has created. OK Policy will be reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts and challenges. Our hope is that this will highlight opportunities for collaborative decision-making, future improvements, and prosperity for all Oklahomans.

Oklahoma News

‘We’re in this together’: Oklahoma City hospital staff marks two years of COVID pandemic: In the absence of a newly planted tree, an angel statue symbolized hope on Friday as an Oklahoma City hospital marked two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.  [The Oklahoman

  • Editorial: Avoid COVID amnesia, remember lessons of the pandemic [Editorial / Tulsa World]
  • At 2-year mark, Oklahomans reflect on how COVID-19 changed lives and future with the virus [The Oklahoman

Stitt proposes $20M to clear disability waiting list. Provider rates still a challenge: Gov. Kevin Stitt in his budget proposal recommends spending $20 million in the upcoming fiscal year to clear the state’s disability waiting list by providing government-funded services to all residents on the list. But eliminating the state’s 13-year wait for Medicaid home and community-based services for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities may be more complicated. [The Oklahoman

  • Column: Make Oklahoma a Top Ten state for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities [Column / Tulsa World
  • Disabled Oklahomans vulnerable from DHS data breach [KFOR]

What to know about a proposed Oklahoma tax write-off for donating cash to teachers: Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall wants to boost teacher pay, but his plan to make it happen did not sit well with some of his legislative colleagues. The Oklahoma House last week advanced a bill from McCall, R-Atoka, that would create a 100% tax credit for parents who want to give donations of up to $1,000 to their child’s schoolteacher. [The Oklahoman]

  • While Oklahoma educators await fate of school voucher bill, state lawmakers advance flurry of education measures [Public Radio Tulsa
  • Legislation advancing in Legislature would strip school lunch programs from State Ed Department and move to Ag [Tulsa World
  • Local, nonpartisan education advocates stand opposed to state voucher bill [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Incentives for students studying teaching pass through the House [KTUL
  • Column: Lawmakers can do better to find solutions to help struggling public school students [Column / Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma State Auditor Q&A: ‘I believe people own the government’: Since taking office as the State Auditor & Inspector, Cindy Byrd has handled some political footballs with audits of the state’s largest virtual charter school, the state Health Department and numerous other schools and municipalities. “I believe people own the government and government entities are just stewards of the people’s checkbook. And my role is to go and make sure those checkbooks are in order,” Byrd said. [Oklahoma Watch

Lawmakers approve $106 million in federal funds to expand Oklahoma nursing, water projects: A legislative committee has approved $106 million to expand nursing school programs, build new water infrastructure and repair faulty dams, recommending several projects across the state to receive federal pandemic relief funding. [The Oklahoman

Oklahoma Lawmakers allow proposals expanding voting opportunities to die quietly: Oklahoma voters are unlikely to see big changes making voting easier or more convenient when they cast their ballots in this year’s crowded electoral lineup. Many bills seeking to expand voting and voter registration opportunities failed to make it out of committee and are essentially dead. [Oklahoma Watch

House GOP moves to regulate Oklahoma medical marijuana as industry waits for enforcement: In an effort to address concerns and criminal activity in Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry, House Republicans have made clear their intentions to rectify problems without over-burdening legitimate businesses. [The Oklahoman]

‘How are you going to win?’ Property owners face long odds fighting turnpike expansion plans: Dozens, if not hundreds, of homeowners and businesses are likely to be displaced, forcibly if necessary, to make way for new turnpikes in south Oklahoma City, Norman and elsewhere despite assurances the roads are planned for largely undeveloped corridors. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

$1.5 trillion bill to fund road and water projects, final $1 million for OKC memorial: Oklahoma lawmakers scored more than $170 million for local projects in the $1.5 trillion spending bill that cleared Congress last week, with money directed to roads, hospitals, city water systems and universities. [The Oklahoman]

  • Huge boost for Native American health care left out of federal spending bill [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation silent on possible medical center closure: Oklahoma’s congressional delegation remained silent this past week when asked to weigh in on reports that recommendations in a report mandated by the VA MISSION Act will include the potential closure of the Muskogee facility. The VA will publish its report Monday in The Federal Register. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Tribal Nations News

Huge boost for Native American health care left out of federal spending bill: One section of the $1.5 trillion spending bill passed by Congress shocked tribal health care providers. Lawmakers in both chambers had supported injecting much more cash into the Native American health care system to start fixing gaps that left Indigenous communities most susceptible to COVID-19. That’s why Stacy Bohlen was taken aback late Wednesday to learn the final Indian Health Service budget was $1 billion less than anticipated and half of what tribal leaders said they needed. [The Oklahoman

Native Explorers program works to inspire future doctors: As an undergraduate student and aspiring doctor, Brandon Postoak took the MCAT and did not do well. He was crushed and unsure of his future. He knew he would need a better foundation in science. Postoak entered a master’s program in biomedical science and research under Kent Smith, associate dean, Office of American Indians in Medicine and Science at the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. That unexpected educational detour turned out to be invaluable.  [The Journal Record

Tribal nations, community organizations start nonpartisan voter initiative: There’s a new one-stop shop website for Oklahoma voters to get election information. Vote Your Values is part of an engagement initiative that a group of Tribal nations and community partners are endorsing. [KOSU]

Voting and Election News

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt launches first TV ads for reelection bid: Gov. Kevin Stitt launched his first campaign commercials of the 2022 election cycle this week with a 60-second ad that touts successes from his first three years in office. [The Oklahoman]

Special Senate election puts campaigns on short schedule: Provided the Oklahoma Supreme Court does not throw out the entire special election cycle, Inhofe’s successor will almost certainly be chosen in the June 28 Republican primary or possibly an August runoff, thus cutting that one-to-two year timeline to a few months. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Detainee found dead in county jail: A prisoner in the Oklahoma County Detention Center was found dead in a holding cell Friday night. Charles Moore, 48, was booked into the Oklahoma County Jail on Wednesday on complaints of forcible sodomy, rape by instrumentation, first-degree rape, domestic assault and battery, driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license. [The Oklahoman] The State Medical Examiner’s office is now investigating and will make the final determination of the cause of death. [OKC Free Press]

Viewpoint: Fixing Oklahoma’s broken justice system: Did you know the primary way of paying for the justice system in Oklahoma is by fines and fees? The state depends on the offender to pay for justice system with less than 20% funded by tax money. Unfortunately, this isn’t working as Oklahoma continues to have the highest incarceration rate in the country with less than 30% of those fees and fines collected. [Enid News & Eagle

New from OK Policy: Criminal fines and fees don’t just burden families. They harm courts and law enforcement, too. 

Economy & Business News

Gender wage gap still favors men in Oklahoma, nationwide: Using aggregated data from government and academic sources, the analysis shows U.S. men will earn $10,381 more in 2022 than women. That number is $12,253 in Oklahoma, where men earn an average salary of $49,759 while women earn $37,506, or nearly 25% less. Only five states have a larger pay gap – Idaho, Mississippi, Louisiana, Utah and Wyoming. [The Journal Record]

Previously from OK Policy (2019): Women still earn less than men, and it’s putting them at risk of living in poverty.

General News

Tulsa Ukrainian refugee achieves U.S. citizenship dream, but ‘nightmare’ unfolding in her home country keeps occasion somber: Yana Sherdis, who teaches at Jenks West Elementary School, attained a long sought-after goal last week. Completing a journey that began after she arrived in 2016, she officially took the oath to become a U.S. citizen. But the naturalization ceremony, held Wednesday in Tulsa, was not as joyful for her as it should have been. [Tulsa World

Quote of the Day

Number of the Day

More than 15,000

The number of Oklahomans who have died of COVID-19 since the start of the global pandemic, as of Mach 9, 2022

[Source: CDC and Oklahoma Health Department]

Oklahoma and COVID-19: Two Years Later: On March 6, 2020, Oklahoma reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and declared a statewide emergency 10 days later. As the pandemic now enters its third year, Oklahomans continue grappling with the impact of lives lost and the immense disruptions it has created. OK Policy will be reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts and challenges. Our hope is that this will highlight opportunities for collaborative decision-making, future improvements, and prosperity for all Oklahomans.

Policy Note

The catastrophic cost of uninsurance: COVID-19 cases and deaths closely tied to America’s health coverage gaps: For decades, experts in contagious disease have warned that health insurance gaps accelerate the spread of epidemics. When people without health insurance begin to feel sick, they often delay seeking medical care or forgo care altogether because of cost concerns. Not only does this place the individual patient in danger, it lets disease spread undetected and unchecked to family members, neighbors, co-workers, and others. These warnings came true during the coronavirus pandemic. According to recent groundbreaking research, each 10% increase in the proportion of a county’s residents who lacked health insurance was associated with a 70% increase in COVID-19 cases and a 48% increase in COVID-19 deaths. This report uses that research to address one fundamental question: If everyone in America had health insurance, how many people who contracted COVID-19 could have been spared, and how many who died might still be with us today? [Families USA]

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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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