In The Know: More groups now eligible for vaccine | Paid family leave helps modernize our economy | 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

Paid Family and Medical Leave is a crucial step towards modernizing our economy: The topic of paid family and medical leave (PFML) has been on state policymakers’ radars throughout the last two decades, with California being the first state to guarantee paid family leave in 2002. Since then, nine states have passed paid family leave laws. In the years following the implementation of these laws, researchers have examined the impacts of these policies and found that increased employee access to paid leave improves infant and maternal health while adding minimal (if any) cost to employers. Despite its benefits, access to paid family leave is not widespread, especially for lower-wage families. In 2020, four in five workers in the U.S. lacked access to paid family leave. To improve Oklahomans’ health and increase the labor force, the Oklahoma Legislature should guarantee paid family leave benefits to our state’s workers. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma to open up COVID-19 vaccine to essential workers, colleges and daycares: Most Oklahomans will soon be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. Beginning Tuesday, Oklahoma will expand vaccination eligibility to teachers, students and school staff outside of preK-12, including childcare facilities, state health officials announced during a virtual news conference on Monday afternoon. Staff and students of universities and vocational technology centers are included in that group. Thousands of essential workers will also become eligible. [The Frontier] The “vast majority” of Oklahomans will be eligible for a vaccine beginning Tuesday, state health officials announced Monday. [The Oklahoman] Reed says the latest expansion should include all but about 500,000 Oklahomans. [AP News] Reed said it was too early to say when vaccinations will be available for those in Phase 4. [Tulsa World] Appointments will be available through the portal, as well as through partner providers like pharmacies, which schedule their own appointments. The state portal will be offline briefly Monday night as a Spanish version is launched as part of an update. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Tulsa Health Department expands vaccine access in minority communities [Tulsa World]
  • CDC offers new guidance for fully vaccinated people, easing restrictions for small gatherings [The Oklahoman]
  • Data discrepancy: Oklahoma officials provided out-of-date look at coronavirus deaths [The Oklahoman]
  • COVID-19: 165 new cases reported Monday; 17 deaths, state death toll reaches 7,210 [Tulsa World] | [KOSU]
  • COVID Update: Downward trends continue for new cases, hospitalizations [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Government News

After racial justice protests, Oklahoma lawmakers push pro-police, anti-protest bills: Following the death of George Floyd, thousands of Oklahomans took to the streets last year to advocate for racial justice through a series of protests that were largely peaceful. Instead of heeding calls for serious police reform and bringing more transparency to police misconduct, Oklahoma’s GOP-controlled Legislature this year is doubling down on its support for local law enforcement. [The Oklahoman] The bill, approved on a 38-8 party-line vote with Republicans in favor, is one of a series of Republican-backed proposals across the country that would increase criminal penalties for activities associated with protests last summer over racial injustice and police brutality. [AP News]

‘Unsexiest big-deal bill of the year’: Overhaul of state workers’ HR system in the works: An overhaul of Oklahoma’s human resources system for state employees, a change critics say is years overdue, is in the works at the state Legislature. Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond, says he has found a path to modernize the state’s merit protection system in a way he believes is palatable to state employees, managers, agency directors, elected officials and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. [The Oklahoman]

Bill would increase benefit allowance for state employees: State employees would receive an increase in their allowance for flexible benefits if a bill progressing in the Oklahoma Legislature passes into law. [The Journal Record]

Senate bill would require data on student tribal affiliation: A bill that would require the Oklahoma State Board of Education to collect information about a student’s tribal affiliation passed the House unanimously last week. [Lawton Constitution]

Bill would allow courts to approve organ donations from some children: A bill by Altus Republican Brent Howard would authorize anatomical gifts from some children being removed from life support. [Lawton Constitution]

McCall talks managed care, governor rumors: When Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, sat down Feb. 25 with NonDoc’s Tres Savage to discuss his proposals to lower tax burdens in Oklahoma, he answered a couple of other questions as well. [NonDoc]

‘A lot to keep track of’: OMMA’s seed-to-sale program coming to fruition: Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry is heading toward another significant milestone this spring as its long-awaited seed-to-sale tracking program rolls out across the state. According to state officials, the seed-to-sale program’s aim is to make the industry safer for consumers by ensuring the state knows who grew what plant, who transported it, and who turned it into what kind of products. [NonDoc]

Federal Government News

Lankford and Inhofe slam COVID relief bill narrowly passed by Senate Democrats: In separate statements over the weekend, Oklahoma’s two Republican senators slammed the Saturday Senate passage of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill. [Pubic Radio Tulsa]

After a decade in exile, will earmarks rise again?: After 10 years in exile, congressional earmarks are poised for a comeback, as Democrats prepare to make home state projects a feature of spending bills this year. Republicans have yet to announce whether they will participate in the earmark system, and the party’s decision will determine whether any Oklahoma lawmakers can request money for roads, radars and other projects. [The Oklahoman]

Cherokee Nation Congressional Delegate-Nominee: Biden’s early moves bode well for Indian Country: Cherokee Nation’s nominee to represent the tribe as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives says President Joe Biden’s early actions since taking office in January are encouraging signs for how Indian Country will fare under his administration. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Health News

Oklahoma, Tulsa County Health Departments could see erosion of independence: Local board members in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties are casting a skeptical eye at a House bill that would give the state health commissioner a voice on their local governing boards and veto authority over any future picks for executive directors. [Oklahoma Watch]

More groups attempt to weigh in on Oklahoma’s partially privatized Medicaid plan: A trade group for health insurance companies is trying to weigh in on the lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s managed Medicaid plan. In February, a slew of medical trade groups sued state health officials, posing a legal challenge to their managed Medicaid plan. The program, SoonerSelect, would outsource health coverage for about 700,000 Medicaid enrollees to four major insurance companies. [KOSU]

  • Letter: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Medicaid decisions mean Oklahoma medicine provides fewer services to patients and gets less funding to providers [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Julius Jones commutation request moving to Phase 2: Julius Jones, an Oklahoma man who has spent two decades on death row after being convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, had his application for sentence commutation moved to a second stage during the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s Zoom meeting Monday morning. [NonDoc] Jones, whose case moved on by a vote of 3-1, now moves to a more intensive hearing, at which he can speak to the board members directly. [The Frontier] If approved at the second stage, the commutation request will be forwarded to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for a final decision. [AP News] The highly anticipated Jones decision — recorded without board commentary during a “jacket review” of commutation applications from hundreds of inmates — came in the midst of widespread debate over claims of institutional racism in the U.S. criminal justice system leading to the deaths of people of color in police custody and miscarriages of justice in court. [The Oklahoman]

  • More from [KOSU] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Listen Frontier: Julius Jones goes before the Pardon and Parole Board [The Frontier]
  • Julius Jones’ supporters in Oklahoma celebrate decision to move his commutation request forward [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Oil, gasoline prices continue to rise; the state benefits, but consumers pay more at the pump: The recent rise in crude oil prices to their highest levels since before the pandemic — while costing motorists more at the pump — benefits both the industry and the state, an expert said Monday. [Tulsa World]

Americans pay off record amount of credit card debt: Americans spent their time in lockdown during 2020 sharpening their chess skills and mastering the art of pie baking. They also paid off a record $82.9 billion in credit card debt, according to a new study by WalletHub. [The Journal Record]

Mail-order chickens usually arrive in 3 days, but extreme weather derails deliveries: The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for backyard chickens and other birds. For hatcheries, getting newborn chicks to their owner is a race against time. But, severe weather makes the process more challenging. [KOSU]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKCPS District 2 candidates focus on mental health, differ on Pathways to Greatness [NonDoc]
  • You can learn more about Edmond’s economic outlook during an upcoming virtual series [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘An unapologetic showcase’: Tulsa statues become interactive displays for International Women’s Day [Tulsa World]
  • Get a look at possible 2021-22 calendar for Tulsa Public Schools, new name for Dual Language Academy [Tulsa World]
  • Anonymous donor gives 600,000 masks to Oklahoma public schools [Tulsa World]
  • Grove aerospace company to add 25 jobs over next five years [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“Low access to health care is a pre-existing condition that has made COVID-19 more difficult and more dangerous to communities like north Tulsa. It is imperative to bring vaccine resources to communities that have grave health disparities and shorter life expectancy. It’s the right thing to do.”

-Tulsa Health Department Chief Operating Officer Reggie Ivey [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


The number of driver license suspensions that were issued for Failure To Pay and Failure To Appear in 2018. Of those suspensions, 45% (19,280) were for Failure to Pay. Each year court fines and fees unrelated to driving infractions cause thousands of Oklahomans to have their driver’s licenses suspended. Not having a driver’s license makes it harder for Oklahomans to keep a job, to take care of their kids, and to simply live a normal life.

[Source: Oklahoma Department of Public Safety]

Policy Note

How driver’s license suspensions in New Mexico drive people deeper into debt: It is common in the U.S. for drivers to lose a license for reckless driving or driving while under the influence. In New Mexico, which has one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country, licenses may also be suspended for a failure to pay a variety of court fines and fees, a failure to appear in court, and other offenses unrelated to driving. The policy has existed since a 1978 state statute; a decade after Trujillo lost his license for failing to pay his court fines, little has changed. [PBS]

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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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