In The Know: State closings include capitol, public schools; Governor’s health care proposal released; 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.

New from OK Policy

Oklahoma releases restrictive health care proposal during pandemic: In the midst of determining our state’s responses to a pandemic, Oklahoma officials on Monday released for public evaluation the Governor’s health care alternative that could restrict or limit health care for up to 200,000 residents. The clock now is ticking on a 30-day window for Oklahomans to comment about this proposal, which is ill-conceived, ill-timed, and shameful. OK Policy has created a website that can share your comments about this proposal directly with health care officials, and we invite all Oklahomans to speak out today. [CoverOK.org]

It’s time to restructure Oklahoma courts’ wildly inefficient and unjust fines and fees system: Oklahoma courts remain overly reliant on fine and fee revenue to provide funding for basic functions of government. This system creates a dynamic where millions of dollars each year are funneled out of Oklahoma’s poorest communities to fund the agencies that should be focused solely on doing justice. Funding our justice system through fines and fees remains ineffective and traps Oklahomans in a cycle of incarceration and poverty. [OK Policy]

(Capitol Update) Uncertainty covers the current Legislative session, important work remains ahead: There are still important legislative issues on the table such as criminal justice reform, Medicaid expansion, and education, along with the state budget. Public safety and personal health must take priority, but hopefully the legislature will find a way to finish its work without leaving too much undone. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

In The News

Game changer: Legislature adopts new rules for Capitol: In an effort intended to show leadership by example during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma’s legislative leaders have adopted new rules that limit access to the State Capitol and allow attendance flexibility for some legislative work. McCall’s 100-member House took the most drastic measures Monday, voting 85-3 to adopt an emergency rule authorizing each caucus to designate a proxy representative who can vote on behalf of others. [NonDoc] The Oklahoma state Capitol will close to the general public amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Legislative leaders from both chambers announced Monday only elected officials, essential Capitol staff, credentialed reporters and state employees who are invited into the building are welcome at the Capitol. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma joins growing list of states that are closing public schools: In an unprecedented move, Oklahoma public schools are closed until at least April 6 as the state continues to calibrate its reaction to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. [Oklahoma Watch] Schools would be able to reopen April 6, but State Superintendent Hofmeister said the board may decide to extend the closure. [The Frontier] Hofmeister said the board may re-evaluate the circumstances near the end of its three-week period. The closure could be extended, and the next scheduled state board meeting is set for March 25. [NonDoc] The move comes after state education leaders were defiant last week, saying it would ultimately be up to local districts to make a decision about school closures. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Tulsa World editorial: With recessionary pressures bearing down on the state, the Oklahoma Legislature wants to make hard times harder: As the stock market and oil prices crashed, the Oklahoma Legislature prepared for the potential of a recession by … wait for it … cutting unemployment benefits for Oklahomans. Last week, the state House approved House Bill 3096, which would reduce the maximum number of weeks Oklahomans could draw unemployment benefits under current circumstances from 26 weeks to 12. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World] OK Policy has spoken out against this bill, saying that it’s bad for business because it would take money out of the economy and would make a recession worse.

Rural schools at risk for funding cuts: A bipartisan letter was sent to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos opposing the abrupt change to the methodology of eligibility for the Rural and Low-Income School grant program (RLIS). The letter, signed by 21 senators including Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, both R-Okla., prompted the Education Department to give schools more time to adjust to the change. The transition to the new plan for determining eligibility could have resulted in a loss of funding to many of the Oklahoma districts currently qualifying for the grant program. The catch? This change in data collection is only pushed back for a year. [Gaylord News / Enid News & Eagle]

Oklahoma doctors recommend broad testing, restaurant restrictions: The Oklahoma State Medical Association recommended on Monday that the state expand testing for COVID-19 as broadly as possible and take several steps to limit the spread, including a temporary ban on dining at restaurants. [The Oklahoman]

Integris medical director of infection prevention makes public plea: With community spread of COVID-19 now in Oklahoma, David Chansolme, M.D., the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at INTEGRIS Health, is making a plea to the public to take the threat seriously. Instead of reacting in fear and panic, he is encouraging Oklahomans to exercise caution and common sense. [Oklahoma Gazette]

Norman Mayor rules some businesses will close: COVID-19 has landed in Norman and Mayor Breea Clark is taking big steps to mitigate the virus spread by closing all bars, some restaurants and other businesses inside city limits for 15 days. Effective at the conclusion of Monday’s special session, all bars had 48 hours to close. The rule also applies to restaurants that do not offer delivery, drive-thru or curbside pickup, Clark declared. Those allowed to remain open must close by 9 every night. [The Norman Transcript]

OKC mayor urges private sector to act: Public officials are asking private business owners throughout Oklahoma to make their own difficult decisions as to how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the best interests of their businesses, their employees and the public as a whole. As Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt announced Sunday he would be signing a proclamation restricting groups of more than 50 people from gathering throughout the city, he noted that the emergency measure applies to the city’s public facilities and functions. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma County declares state of emergency over coronavirus: Oklahoma County is now under a state of emergency as local coronavirus cases continue to increase. Oklahoma County commissioners approved an emergency declaration at a special meeting Monday afternoon, following a similar declaration at the state level. [The Oklahoman]

Cleveland County courthouse suspends jury term; access to building restricted: Cleveland County judges postponed criminal and civil trials scheduled for April while also limiting public access to ongoing legal procedures due to concerns from the COVID-19 virus. The county’s district and special judges spent time this past weekend developing orders that address specific concerns and needs for a variety of hearings and judicial issues. [The Norman Transcript]

Jury and non jury trials postponed statewide; Payne County Courthouse open for emergencies: The Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Presiding Judge of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals entered a joint emergency order directing all district courts across Oklahoma to cancel all jury terms for the next 30 days. [CNHI / Stillwater News-Press]

Tulsa city, county health officials to consider placing restrictions on restaurants, bars: COVID-19’s numbers aren’t big in Tulsa County — three people with confirmed infections as of late Monday — but the impact of the potentially lethal disease is becoming more outsized by the day. Tulsa County and the city of Tulsa declared states of emergency Monday, and the Tulsa Health Department board will meet soon to determine whether to place restrictions on restaurants and bars. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa County public defenders stop jail visits to mitigate risk of COVID-19; courthouse implements changes: The Oklahoma Supreme Court and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued an emergency order on Monday instructing district courts to cancel jury settings for the next 30 days and telling judges to reschedule most nonjury proceedings due to the “impending threat” of COVID-19. [Tulsa World]

COVID-19 creating problems for Tulsa County elections officials ahead of April 7 vote: Tulsa County Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman is worried about the havoc COVID-19 could unleash on upcoming elections. “I would say at this point we’re a little tentative,” Freeman said after Monday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting. [Tulsa World]

Local government prepares for pandemic: Muskogee County commissioners plan to announce on Wednesday new guidelines for employees and the provision of services as they escalate efforts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. Municipal leaders announced the implementation of similar measures designed to curb the anticipated increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma. [Muskogee Phoenix]

OSU professor urges businesses to ‘stay agile and flexible’: For small businesses, conditions are changing day by day, hour by hour and the difference between survival and failure may be determined by those who can adapt and innovate quickly and those who can’t, said Per Bylund, who teaches in OSU’s School of Entrepreneurship. [The Journal Record 🔒] Oklahoma City area businesses report little impact from COVID-19 — for now. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma companies taking steps to protect employees: Companies across Oklahoma are taking measures to protect their employees, encouraging social distancing, holding virtual meetings and shifting to telework. As of Monday afternoon, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. [The Journal Record 🔒]

Chickasaw, Cherokee nations closing casinos: The Chickasaw Nation and Cherokee Nation announced Monday afternoon that they would temporarily close their casinos in Oklahoma. Other tribal casinos remain open for business, officials said. Rapidly spreading cases of COVID-19, the illness associated with coronavirus, has led to decisions made in at least 13 other states to close gambling facilities. [The Journal Record]

Nonprofits navigate unknown territory: Needed now more than ever, many Oklahoma City nonprofits are in a bind. Coronavirus has interrupted the spring calendar, a “hugely important” time between icy January weather and May graduations when major social events raise millions for charity. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma cruise passengers return home, enter isolation a third time: Twenty-six Oklahomans from a coronavirus-infected cruise ship have returned to their homes after spending days in quarantine on a cruise ship and at military bases. Those Oklahomans are in isolation for a third time, but now they are in their homes. [Tulsa World]

Protecting the vulnerable: Senior nutrition programs make changes amid COVID-19 fears: Senior nutrition programs are a big part of many senior citizens’ lives, providing them with a tasty meal and an important social outlet. But to protect senior citizens, one of the segments of the population most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, dramatic changes are being made to how those meals are served. [CNHI / Stillwater News-Press]

Answering your COVID-19 questions: The Frontier knows you have questions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Oklahoma, and we’re doing our best to get you answers. Today The Frontier launched their Oklahoma Coronavirus News group on Facebook. The group is meant to foster discussion during the pandemic and to serve as a place for Oklahomans to get reliable information as the situation unfolds. [The Frontier]

Point of View: Help domestic violence victims with real solutions: Domestic violence often becomes a flashpoint in conversations around criminal legal system reform. The debate over State Question 805, a ballot initiative designed to reduce Oklahoma’s use of extreme sentences for nonviolent offenders, is no different. [Leigh Goodmark / The Oklahoman]

 

Quote of the Day

“This is an extraordinary moment. But that does not mean that the government is not without restraint or should be given a license to operate in secrecy. In fact, more than ever, we need to have confidence in our government, to have a clear sense of how they are responding to this crisis.”

-Ryan Kiesel, a former state representative who serves as the American Civil Liberties Union’s executive director in Oklahoma [NonDoc]

Number of the Day

14%

Share of Oklahoma residents who are uninsured, the 2nd highest uninsured rate in the nation.

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Coronavirus may disproportionately hurt the poor—and that’s bad for everyone: As states and community health departments scramble to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., they are shutting down schools, creating containment zones, and enforcing quarantines—moves that, again, often have outsized, if unintended, downstream effects on poorer people. [Time]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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