In The Know: State now averaging 40 virus deaths per day | Vaccine distribution continuing | Working together to move forward

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.

In The Know will be on hiatus Tuesday and Wednesday as OK Policy hosts the State Budget Summit and Advocate Training. [More info or to register]

New from OK Policy

Legislators must work together to move forward (Capitol Update): Those who serve in the legislative branch are the journeymen of democracy. They labor daily in the vineyards, often doing their best work behind closed doors and necessarily sharing credit with others while often defending a compromise they would have preferred not to make. Those who have served seriously at crafting legislation know what it takes to get something done. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

COVID-19: Oklahoma now averaging 40 deaths per day for the first time since pandemic began: Despite an encouraging decline in new daily cases, deaths related to COVID-19 continue to rise statewide. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported 2,941 new COVID-19 cases and 48 more deaths related to the virus. The number of cases in the state is now 373,090 with 3,279 deaths from the virus. [Tulsa World]

  • Active COVID-19 cases fall in Oklahoma, death reports remain high [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Another 48 COVID-19 deaths reported in Oklahoma [AP News]
  • New evidence suggests UK coronavirus variant is in Oklahoma [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Editorial: Broken Arrow continues ignoring science, endangering residents [Tulsa World Editorial]

Oklahoma to target minority communities for virus vaccines: Oklahoma health officials plan to work with retailers and faith leaders in minority communities across the state to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. The Oklahoma State Department of Health plans to unveil vaccine dispensing sites in minority communities across the state in the coming weeks, Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said Friday. [AP News]

  • Oklahoma doing relatively well with COVID vaccination, but herd immunity a long way off [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Oklahoma Department of Corrections gearing up for COVID vaccination as soon as February [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • State health officials working to increase COVID-19 vaccine access in Tulsa [Tulsa World]

Trent Smith appointed to State Board of Education: Gov. Kevin Stitt today named former Oklahoma Employment Security Commission commissioner and former University of Oklahoma football player Trent Smith as his appointment to fill the vacant seat on the State Board of Education. [NonDoc] Smith, 41, is the CEO of Accentra Home Health and Hospice. He served as a commissioner for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission until his resignation Friday morning, and is a founder of the education-focused organization Every Kid Counts Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman] State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister issued a written press statement, as well, saying: “Trent Smith will bring an important and unique perspective to the State Board of Education. [Tulsa World] Stitt initially appointed an Enid woman to replace Bollenbach, but later rescinded the appointment at her request. Melissa Crabtree had faced fierce criticism from Democrats in the Legislature and some public education groups for social media posts in which she shared misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines. [AP News]

Health News

Tulsa-based health information exchange awarded federal COVID grant amidst uncertainty about state’s own HIE effort: The federal government recently announced that a Tulsa nonprofit is receiving a $124,000 grant to track COVID-19 vaccination progress and related health outcomes in Oklahoma. The funds will allow MyHealth Access Network to help clinicians contact high-risk patients who are at a high priority to be vaccinated, as well as to aid public health agencies in following up with those who still need a second dose, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announcement Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

  • Contract dispute temporarily puts local nonprofit at odds with state after a decade of working for Oklahomans’ health [Tulsa World]

Hamilton: Lawmakers must address Medicaid issues: There is much handwringing these days about how state lawmakers will fund Oklahoma’s share of Medicaid expansion. It’s not big money: worst-case cost scenario suggests about $40 for every Oklahoman. And the return is breathtaking: Nine federal dollars for every $1 the state must invest. [Arnold Hamilton Column/ Journal Record]

State Government News

Oklahoma legislators poised to fast-track virtual meetings legislation: When the Oklahoma Legislature convenes Feb. 1, state legislators could fast-track legislation allowing public bodies to resume meeting virtually. Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, prefiled legislation to reinstate the virtual meetings allowance, so government boards, commissions, city councils and more can meet via teleconference. [The Oklahoman] President Pro Tem Greg Treat’s Senate Bill 1031 would reinstate provisions of the Open Meeting Act that expired in November, leaving them in place until the governor’s pandemic emergency declaration expires. [Public Radio Tulsa] House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, has filed House Bill 2038, which would continue the 2020 changes until Jan. 31, 2022. [Tulsa World]

Rep. Jon Echols previews the 2021 Oklahoma legislative session: If you want to know how the Oklahoma Legislature’s 2021 session is shaping up, then listen to today’s episode of Live from the News Dungeon because House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols reveals a lot of secrets within. Well, maybe they weren’t all secrets, but Echols (R-OKC) spent about an hour discussing with our team the key issues facing state lawmakers when they return Monday, Feb. 1. [NonDoc]

  • Capitol Insider: Record amount of legislation pre-filed for 2021 legislative session [KGOU]

Oklahoma governor seeks negotiations with tribal leader: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday invited leaders of the Five Tribes of Oklahoma to begin formal negotiations related to last year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on tribal sovereignty. [AP News] In a news release, Stitt said he wanted the tribes to negotiate with his office regarding jurisdiction in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that major crimes involving Indians in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation must be handled by the federal government because the tribe’s reservation was never disestablished. [The Oklahoman] The tribes contacted by the Tulsa World on Friday responded cautiously to Stitt’s overtures. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma’s absentee voting rules have changed. Here’s what to know: Absentee voters in Oklahoma can no longer include a photocopy of a valid identification card to certify their mail-in ballot. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, state election measures designed to allow Oklahomans some flexibility while voting during the health crisis expired at the end of 2020. [The Oklahoman]

Bills propose boundaries for instruction, classroom environments: A state senator from Durant has proposed a “Students’ Bill of Rights” that he said would protect Oklahoma students from bias and prejudicial instruction in classrooms. [The Journal Record]

Bill would ensure EV owners contribute to road costs: Several House lawmakers have endorsed a bill that would ensure that everyone who drives on Oklahoma roads contributes to costs of maintaining the state’s travel infrastructure. [The Journal Record]

Federal Government News

During the U.S. Capitol riot, this Oklahoma man grabbed a beer from a fridge, FBI says. Now he has been charged: From inside the U.S. Capitol during the rioting Jan. 6, Andrew Craig Ericson used Snapchat to post photos of himself inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s conference room, the FBI reports. [The Oklahoman] Authorities allege that he livestreamed video of himself entering the building with other rioters and taking beer out of a Capitol refrigerator, and that he posted photos online of himself posing in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. [AP News]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma prison lockdowns due to COVID-19 eased: Oklahoma Department of Corrections is easing prison lockdowns across the state. Prisoners’ movements have been restricted since late November after more than 20 people were assaulted in gang fights at three male prisons. [KOSU]

Oklahoma County jail has third death of 2021: A child rape defendant at the Oklahoma County jail died Friday after complaining of chest pains. Eddie D. Hollins is the third inmate at the facility to die this year and the fifth since mid-December. [The Oklahoman]

  • Death at Oklahoma County Jail latest among detainees in short succession [OKC Free Press]
  • New jail report on COVID, reduced population, shows small advances [OKC Free Press]

Wendell Franklin reflects on first year as Tulsa’s police chief: It wasn’t yet time for him to be awake, but Police Chief Wendell Franklin happened to be up before sunrise when he received a call from dispatch one day in late June. [Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

City reorganizing economic development procedures with focus on shared prosperity and racial equity: City officials will announce Monday the creation of a single authority — yet to be named — to formulate and implement Tulsa’s economic development policies. What makes the new authority significantly different from other development organizations, Bynum said, is that its mission will be to advance policies and projects that ensure shared prosperity and reduce racial disparities. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma experts concerned as Biden suspends oil and gas leases on federal land: “Just as we repeatedly warned.” That was the message this week from an energy industry representative in Oklahoma who said he is not surprised that a suspension of new permitting activities for a wide range of energy recovery activities on federal lands during the next two months was enacted. [The Oklahoman]

Enthusiasm For Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana Boom Tempered By Concerns Of A Bust: Oklahoma has what many consider to be the only free-enterprise medical marijuana industry in the U.S., with cheap startup fees, no cap on medical marijuana business licenses and few limits on who can get a patient card. But this low barrier to entry could lead to an oversaturated market where cannabis businesses struggle to survive. [KGOU]

Panel: After COVID-19, change coming under Biden: Employers can expect to see substantive changes in economic policy and employment law during the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration – and gradual improvement in the economy as vaccinations begin to stem the tide of the pandemic [The Journal Record]

Education News

COVID-19 continues to create challenges for Oklahoma classrooms: Across Oklahoma, many schools are attempting in-person learning despite the continuing challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is mounting evidence that in-person school is safe when COVID-19 community transmission rates are low and basic precautions are taken. But the challenges created by the pandemic make for sudden stops and starts to in person instruction. [KGOU]

  • OKC schools confirm middle, high school reopening [The Oklahoman]
  • TPS hosting virtual enrollment expo ahead of upcoming academic year [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa Public Schools magnet deadlines unaffected by pandemic-related semester shift, officials say [Tulsa World]
  • Editorial: Stitt’s feud with Tulsa Public Schools selectively backs local control approach [Tulsa World Editorial]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC Ward 3 candidates weigh in on infrastructure, sprawl, other issues [OKC Free Press]
  • Group drops lawsuit challenging Tulsa mask mandate [Tulsa World]
  • Centennial commission recesses without decision regarding Sen. Lankford [Tulsa World]
  • Ardmore Homeless Coalition survey aims to get the full picture of homelessness in Ardmore [KXII]
  • Oklahoma Senate redistricting meeting provides information, community involvement [Enid News & Eagle]

Quote of the Day

“Basically, what it comes down to is perhaps staying at five and a half feet and wearing a mask and interacting with somebody for 14 and a half minutes — in the past, maybe that was OK. But with the new strain, that may end up putting you at risk.”

-State Epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor discussing the new, more transmissible U.K. coronavirus variant that has appeared in the U.S, including possibly Oklahoma [Public Radio Tulsa]

Number of the Day


Percentage of the 2.85 million voting-eligible Oklahomans who cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election, far below the national average of 66.4%. [Tulsa World]

Policy Note

Revitalizing Democracy: The ‘For the People Act’ would strengthen democratic systems and make it easier to vote: Racial justice cannot be fully achieved in this country without a system in which all Americans can advocate for themselves and exercise political power — and that requires voting rights, fair access to the ballot, fair redistricting, and an equitable campaign finance system. [Brennan Center]

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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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