In The Know: Rural virus deaths continue to climb | Bills filed for upcoming session | Gov. discusses his legislative priorities

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.

Oklahoma News

COVID-19 deaths continue to mount in rural Oklahoma: More than 300 rural Oklahomans have died from the coronavirus since the first of the year, as the gap between rural and urban deaths from the virus continues to widen. About 40% of deaths from COVID-19 in January in Oklahoma have been in rural areas. The Oklahoma State University Center for Rural Health says this is a record for the pandemic. [KOSU]

  • COVID hospitalizations fall below 1,400, but 35 more Oklahomans reported dead [Public Radio Tulsa] | [Tulsa World]
  • State piloting text notification system for COVID vaccines in southern Oklahoma [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma seeking to return $2M worth of drug once touted as coronavirus treatment [AP News]
  • Hospital staff shortages forecast as current COVID wave strains workforce [Southwest Ledger]
  • COVID: Health Department addresses technology barrier for 65+ group [KSWO]

Upping minimum wage, protecting gun rights among bills filed for Oklahoma’s 2021 legislative session: Oklahoma lawmakers filed 1,942 House Bills, 44 House Joint Resolutions, two House Resolutions, 1,035 Senate Bills and 26 Senate Joint Resolutions. Appropriations bills may be filed throughout the session. Also among proposed legislation: abortion restrictions, tweaks to medical marijuana law, abandoning Daylight Saving Time, civics education for high-schoolers and several bills in response to the pandemic. The 58th Legislature begins noon Feb. 1 with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address. [Tulsa World]

Halfway through his term, Gov. Kevin Stitt outlines his priorities for the year: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s third year in office will serve as a fresh start for the Republican who closed out the last legislative session at odds with leaders of Oklahoma’s Legislature. Forced to respond to the worst health crisis in modern history, the pandemic, budget woes and tension between the governor and legislative leaders derailed most of Stitt’s policy agenda last year. [The Oklahoman] Governor’s prayer event moves to virtual format [The Oklahoman]

Gov. Stitt says no budget shortfall ahead of upcoming session, talks Medicaid privatization: Getting the Oklahoma state budget nailed down will rank among the most pressing issues facing lawmakers when they return to the Capitol on February 1. Governor Kevin Stitt said the state’s fiscal outlook is looking better. Coinciding with the expansion is the governor’s push to privatize SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid system. [NewsOn6

State Government News

First-time state unemployment claims earlier this month were highest since August: Continued unemployment claims declined again last week, while first-time claims earlier this month hit a mark not seen since early August, according to a government report. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 5,302 Oklahoma workers filed initial unemployment claims the week ending Saturday. [Tulsa World]

Top senator with history of criminal justice reform bills not taking on fines and fees this year: An Oklahoma lawmaker who is a proponent of reforming court fines and fees does not plan to carry legislation on it this year, dealing a blow to advocates who see that step as a priority. During a panel discussion at Oklahoma Policy Institute’s budget summit this week, Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said Oklahoma’s courts are actually in line for a supplemental appropriation of around $15 million early in the legislative session because they haven’t collected enough in fines and fees this fiscal year. [Public Radio Tulsa] Video of OK Policy’s State Budget Summit, panel discussion, and keynote speech are available for viewing. 

Workforce stimulus: House Bill 2455 filed in Oklahoma: Legislation to direct a portion of future stimulus money to frontline workers has been filed for the 58th Legislative Session. House Bill 2455, authored by House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, requires that a portion of future dollars from any stimulus be paid to employees of businesses deemed essential during the pandemic. [Shawnee News-Star]

Oklahoma lawmakers to consider election-related bills: State voting laws became a hot topic among legislators across the country after November’s election despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Now Oklahoma state senators have filed contrasting election-related bills ahead of the 2021 legislative session. [KGOU]

OMES under fire for IT invoice: Several state agency executives – and several legislators who participate in writing the state budget – have registered their concern and displeasure about the soaring cost of computer and internet service provided by the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services. [Southwest Ledger]

Bill filed to ‘repurpose’ Manitou center: A measure to keep the Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center (SWOJC) in Manitou operating has been filed in the Legislature for consideration this year. The 60-bed secure-care facility for boys is to be consolidated in accordance with legislation enacted in 2017, which will move all secure-care treatment for Oklahoma youth to one location, the Next Generation Campus at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center (COJC) in Tecumseh. [Southwest Ledger]

Federal Government News

Biden White House to circumvent governors, publicly release weekly state COVID reports: The Biden White House announced Wednesday it will publicly release weekly, state-level COVID-19 reports previously kept from view of anyone but state officials. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Private prison company operating in Oklahoma reacts to Biden’s executive order: President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Justice on Tuesday to stop using private companies to house federal prisoners. The order resurrects an Obama-era decision to phase out use of private prisons, which was overturned by the Trump Administration. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma Information Fusion Center a little-known hub of state law enforcement: The Oklahoma Information Fusion Center aims to promote “prevention through awareness,” according to the motto on the homepage of its website, but chances are that few citizens are aware it exists. [NonDoc]

Economic Opportunity

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s companies are evicting renters during a pandemic: U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and has refused to wear a mask around other Congress members. Now, despite the CDC’s moratorium on evictions, his companies are trying to evict renters in the middle of the pandemic. [Jacobin

Economy & Business News

Slow job recovery continues in Oklahoma: Oklahoma was one of the states hardest hit by COVID-19 when it comes to unemployment, and recovery is coming slowly compared to other states, according to a recent report. Albeit at a moderate pace, Oklahoma’s progress toward recovery has been steady, as unemployment claims declined for the 31st consecutive week. [The Journal Record]

Questions loom over mandatory vaccinations: As the effect of COVID-19 on the workplace continues to evolve, employers are facing more questions than answers in the new year. One “big-ticket item” is mandatory vaccination, Adam Childers of Crowe & Dunlevy said Thursday during the Oklahoma City Human Resources Society’s annual legal seminar. [The Journal Record]

  • Love’s to pay employees a bonus for vaccinating [The Oklahoman]

Education News

How federal coronavirus relief funds were allocated to Oklahoma school districts: Oklahoma has received more than $825 million in federal relief dollars for K-12 education since the start of the pandemic. The second allocation was more than four times the initial amount. The majority of the funds are available directly to districts, while a small portion was set aside for new and expanding charter schools, grant programs and agency administration. [Oklahoma Watch]

State Board of Education approves update to revoking teacher certifications: The State Board of Education unanimously approved changes to the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act regarding teacher certification revocation during Thursday’s regular board meeting. Assistant General Counsel Lori Murphy presented the proposal to the board, which has the authority to issue and revoke teaching certificates in the state. [NonDoc]

Pandemic isolation shows need for mental health counselors in schools: Oklahoma high school students have shared mental health stress throughout the pandemic, now they’re bringing those concerns to state leaders. [KTUL]

Osage County school district in hot water with state, feds for ignoring reporting requirements: An Osage County school district is facing sanctions by both federal and state education authorities. Woodland School District in the town of Fairfax reportedly has the dubious distinction of being the only public school district of all 17,000-plus in the U.S. to ignore mandatory federal reporting requirements since 2015. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Public Schools, unions call for vaccine support amid criticism from Gov. Kevin Stitt: The disagreement between Gov. Kevin Stitt and Tulsa Public Schools over when the district should resume in-person instruction has extended to discussions on where educators should fall on the vaccine priority list. [Tulsa World]

  • Governor Stitt says students need to return to school; Public health officials and Oklahoma educators disagree [Black Wall Street Times]
  • More vaccine coming to Oklahoma next week [CNHI]

General News

Turnout soared in 2020 as nearly two-thirds of eligible U.S. voters cast ballots for president: The smallest turnout increases, as shares of estimated eligible voters, were in North Dakota (3.3 percentage points), Arkansas (3 points) and Oklahoma (2.5 points). The lowest-turnout states were Tennessee (59.6% of estimated eligible voters), Hawaii and West Virginia (57% each), Arkansas (55.9%) and Oklahoma (54.8%). [Pew Research]

Tulsa Race Massacre graves committee to review reburial options: Remains uncovered at Oaklawn Cemetery possibly linked to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre could eventually be reburied at alternative sites, depending on what members of an oversight committee decide. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Cheat Sheet: OKC Ward 4 incumbent Todd Stone faces two challengers [NonDoc]
  • Oklahoma City plans final pass for storm debris removal [OKC Free Press]
  • Consulate in OKC aids Guatemalans [Southwest Ledger]
  • Oklahoma State: In-person classes are ‘top priority’ in Stillwater this fall [The Oklahoman] | [AP News]
  • Attorney Damario Solomon Simmons: “The Commission has no interest in accountability.” [Black Wall Street Times]

Quote of the Day

“Why are you guys moving so fast? We’re in the middle of a pandemic. You have a hospital provider network who is accustomed to fee-for-service, and in the middle of a pandemic, we are rushing to get this done. And it looks very much to this body as if we’re rushing to get it done before we get back into session so we can’t do anything about it.”

-Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, questioning Oklahoma Health Care Authority Secretary Kevin Corbett about OHCA’s decision to move forward with a managed care proposal for the state’s health care system [Oklahoma House of Representatives Video / Appropriations and Budget Committee Agency Budget and Performance Review

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahomans who use Medicaid to see a doctor and fill a prescription (as of Nov. 2020)

[Source: Oklahoma Health Care Authority

Policy Note

A Frayed and Fragmented System of Supports for Low-Income Adults Without Minor Children: Over 100 million people — about a third of the country’s population — are non-elderly adults who don’t have minor children in the family and don’t have severe disabilities. More than 1 in 8 of these adults are in poverty. Our system of economic and health supports — such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and refundable tax credits — is geared largely toward helping children and their parents, people with disabilities, and the elderly. The nation’s basic supports for low-income, non-elderly adults without children, particularly for those who do not meet a rigorous disability standard, are weak, fragmented, and often highly restrictive, leaving many of these individuals without help they need to afford the basics. These adults need stronger supports to help meet essential needs, a problem that the hardships inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic have magnified. [CBPP]

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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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