In The Know: Oklahoma declares state of emergency; bipartisan House caucus called to discuss session plans; 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

OK Policy in the News

Listen Frontier: Coronavirus and Oklahoma’s vulnerable workforce: The Frontier interviewed Economic Opportunity Analyst Courtney Cullison about her “Valuing Work” paper that examines Oklahoma’s workforce and the discussed how the most vulnerable members of the workforce could be impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Listen Frontier podcast]

In The News

Governor Stitt, Mayor Holt give emergency declarations: Oklahoma is now under a state of emergency after an eighth case of coronavirus was confirmed by the governor and the first case of community spread was discovered in Oklahoma City. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Sunday declared a state of emergency across Oklahoma in response to the coronavirus. Citing an eighth case of coronavirus discovered in Oklahoma, Stitt signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in all 77 counties. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt declared a state of emergency after a case in metropolitan Oklahoma City showed evidence of local spread. The city of Tulsa adjusted its directive on public gatherings Sunday, ordering “the postponement or cancellation” of events of 50 or more people, cutting the number from 250 that had been announced Saturday. [Tulsa World] Emergency declaration triggers Oklahoma’s price-gouging law. [AP News]

Bipartisan House Caucus to talk COVID-19, session plans: Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall has called a bipartisan House Caucus meeting at 11:30 a.m. today to discuss the Legislature’s options for continuing and concluding its 2020 session during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking by phone Sunday evening, McCall, R-Atoka, said the unusual caucus between Republican and Democratic representatives “might be unprecedented” and would feature an update from Oklahoma State Department of Health officials. [NonDoc] Over the weekend, legislative leaders have discussed possible legislative protocols and contingency plans going forward. McCall said they have looked at what other state legislatures are doing in response to COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]

Department of Education ‘removing barriers’ that would prevent schools from closing: Oklahoma’s Department of Education is telling schools not to worry about assessment benchmarks, attendance-based funding or other requirements when considering whether to close in response to the growing threat of COVID-19. While Oklahoma’s top school official isn’t ready to say schools across the state should close, she said the department wants districts to feel free to consider local health concerns. [The Frontier] Tulsa Public Schools to hold emergency meeting to discuss post-spring break plan amid COVID-19 concerns [Tulsa World]

State lawmakers discuss budget concerns amid economic downturn from coronavirus, oil and gas: With the recent plummet in the oil and gas industry and national coronavirus concerns worsening, Oklahoma’s already tight budget has lawmakers on high alert. Budget projections for Fiscal Year 2021, which starts July 1, were presented to lawmakers in February and showed the state was already expecting to come in $85 million short of last year’s budget. [The Oklahoman] “Well, it definitely will have a huge impact,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. “We are running $20 a barrel below what our budget is based on.” If everything remains the same, the state can probably finish the current fiscal year without a financial failure, Thompson said. [Tulsa World]

Hern among congressional members to vote against emergency coronavirus spending package: Congress and the White House struck a deal late Friday on a relief package to assist individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic, moving to confront the situation that has shutdown sporting events and created concern in financial markets. First District Congressman Kevin Hern, though, was among 40 members to vote against the bill. Representatives Frank Lucas, Tom Cole, and Kendra Horn voted for the bill. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who was been dealing with a family medical situation, was absent. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma health department changes COVID-19 testing guidelines to match the CDC’s: Oklahoma State Department of Health officials announced Friday it changed its COVID-19 testing guidelines to match those of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and acknowledged it had denied some physicians’ requests for tests due to a shortage of testing supplies. The agency also said the state lab received 500 additional test kits, as well as key chemicals needed to run the tests, also known as reagents. [The Frontier]

State Health Department explains why COVID-19 testing for NBA team was completed in fraction of time compared to general public: Jamie Dukes, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said state residents weren’t waiting for test results as the Jazz situation rapidly unfolded. “This testing was done without disruption to testing Oklahoma patient samples,” Dukes said in an email Friday afternoon. [Tulsa World]

Stitt, health officials pushing to get cruise ship passengers back to Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Health Department continued to work Saturday to secure the return of 26 Oklahomans who were dispersed to military bases in three states after leaving a quarantined cruise ship in California. [The Oklahoman]

Stitt deletes tweet, but stands by call to ‘keep living life’: After deleting a tweet of him enjoying dinner in a crowded Oklahoma City food hall, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office said he has not changed his position that healthy Oklahomans should continue to go out to eat and attend events during the coronavirus pandemic. [The Frontier] Despite coronavirus spread, governor visits packed food hall, urges Oklahomans to join him. [The Frontier]

Hospitals securing face masks, hand sanitizer: Hospitals officials say Oklahomans aren’t stealing face masks or hand sanitizer amid growing concern over the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, but they’re still taking no chances. Many facilities across the state say they’re guarding their existing personal protective equipment — gowns, gloves, N95 face masks — to ensure there’s enough for staff use if the coronavirus crisis continues to escalate and shortages occur. [CNHI / The Enid News & Eagle]

Homeless shelters face real limitations in battle against coronavirus: For Steve Whitaker, the president of Tulsa’s John 3:16 Mission, the biggest coronavirus-related worry he has about the population he serves is not what happens if someone experiencing homelessness shows symptoms of the virus. It’s what happens if the city grinds to a halt because of the outbreak. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma college students face ‘new reality’ in pandemic: Over the next week, college campuses in Oklahoma will be all but deserted. Of course, that’s to be expected during spring break. But in the ensuing weeks, several campuses will remain quiet and uncharacteristically devoid of students, hardly resembling the normal, lively atmosphere. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma’s casinos remain open, but not all shows: Oklahoma’s Indian casinos remain open with heightened sanitary precautions, but some entertainers have announced they are postponing appearances amid growing concern about COVID-19. At Norman’s Riverwind Casino, Willie Nelson & Family, One Two Ten, SquadLive, Jay Leno and Midas 13 have all announced postponements of their scheduled March appearances. [The Oklahoman]

Taking a slide: Cost of canceled sporting event placed at $15 million: The Women’s College World Series was scheduled to take place May 28-June 3 at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex at 2801 NE 50th St. in Oklahoma City. The weeklong event brings about 70,000 spectators from all over the country, and considering the money visitors are projected to spend on hotels, restaurants and local retail in the metro area, the CVB projected the event’s total economic impact at more than $15 million. [The Journal Record]

Will Coronavirus cause Oklahoma to expand mail-in voting?: Thousands of Oklahoma voters are expected to head to the polls in less than a month for school board and special elections in almost every county in the state. The April 7 election will be the first test of how the state handles the growing concerns of the coronavirus pandemic as election officials across the country are reevaluating voting procedures and the risks to voters and polling staff. [Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Election Board warns against ‘fake’ voter forms: The Oklahoma State Election Board warned Friday against invalid voter registration forms it said are being submitted through the website “This is a prime example of an organization creating misinformation that could cause Oklahoma voters to become disenfranchised,” said Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax. [Tulsa World]

Michael Overall: The 1918 flu epidemic still haunts Tulsa: In the early weeks of 1918, a small-town physician named Dr. Loring Miner noticed something unusual about his flu patients in southwestern Kansas. They weren’t getting better after the usual three or four days. And the youngest, strongest, otherwise healthiest patients seemed to be the hardest hit. [Tulsa World]

Mental health professionals say they’ll fight Stitt’s reorganization plans: Oklahoma’s mental health professionals seem determined to stop Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to incorporate the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services into the Oklahoma Health Care Authority — or at least get an explanation of why it would be a good idea. [Tulsa World]

Water well bill passes Senate, opponents plan ‘all-out effort’ to sway House: Water and poultry interests in northeast Oklahoma say they plan a “full court press” on House members after a water well bill (SB 1742) that state officials and irrigation interests contend merely simplifies bureaucratic processes passed the Senate. [Tulsa World]

Creek reservation case could change Oklahoma forever, Hunter argues: Ruling that a Creek reservation exists in eastern Oklahoma “would plunge the State into uncertainty for decades to come,” throwing in doubt everything from murder convictions to local tax revenue, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told U.S. Supreme Court justices last week. [The Oklahoman]

Bethany council launches probe into mayor’s conduct: In a standing-room-only meeting Thursday night, the Bethany City Council voted unanimously to investigate allegations of improper conduct made against Mayor K.P. Westmoreland. The meeting came only days after City Manager Bradd Brown submitted his resignation, which included a criticism of the mayor’s conduct. [The Oklahoman]

Count could affect Oklahoma’s voice in nation’s capital: Oklahoma’s congressional representation in the nation’s capital could change soon, depending on this year’s census outcome. In addition to influencing federal funding, Census 2020 will help determine distribution among states of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. [The Lawton Constitution]

Quote of the Day

“While impact in Oklahoma has continued to be relatively minimal to date, it is increasingly important for Oklahoma to be ready for this threat.”

-Gov. Kevin Stitt writing Oklahoma’s state of emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day

2 in 3

The number of workers in low-wage jobs (bottom 10 percent of earners) without access to paid sick leave. Even fewer workers (17 percent) have access to paid family and medical leave.

[Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Avoiding Coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t afford: Service industry workers, like those in restaurants, retail, child care and the gig economy, are much less likely to have paid sick days, the ability to work remotely or employer-provided health insurance. The disparity could make the new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19, harder to contain in the United States than in other rich countries that have universal benefits like health care and sick leave, experts say. A large segment of workers are not able to stay home, and many of them work in jobs that include high contact with other people. It could also mean that low-income workers are hit harder by the virus. [New York Times]

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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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