In The Know: State restricts release of virus data; National Guard called to OKC, Tulsa; Oklahoma County jail records first virus case; 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. 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

…and two steps back. First look at the state’s FY 2021 budget and what must happen next: In what was likely the most unusual — and contentious — budget process in state history, the Legislature passed the state budget for FY 2021. leaders in both chambers allowed more time for questions and debate than when considering prior budgets. This was new and needed relative transparency in the budget process. Hopefully, our Legislative leaders are lifting the veil on the state’s opaque budget process, and we encourage them to bring the process fully into the open next year. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma pulls back on releasing coronavirus data: Oklahoma officials are expected to sharply curtail release of information related to the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, taking down the numbers of infections, deaths and recoveries in nursing homes, ZIP codes, cities and small counties, said a health department source familiar with the decision. [Oklahoma Watch] Public and experts say changes in OSDH COVID-19 reports could skew data. [Tahlequah Daily Press] Agency spokeswoman Donelle Harder said attorneys at the department and in the governor’s office agreed state law prohibits the release of such detailed information but that they did so under the powers granted to the governor under the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act. [AP News] OSDH’s new Director of Communications Kristen Davis said in the news release the “core purpose of the emergency declaration is no longer needed.” [Luther Register News] The head of the Oklahoma Press Association, a trade group that represents newspapers across the state, immediately denounced the agency’s decision. [The Journal Record

Inmate at Oklahoma County jail tests positive: The first Oklahoma County jail inmate to test positive for coronavirus was being kept in isolation Monday. The 22-year-old drug defendant was admitted to the jail Wednesday after being picked up from the Tulsa County jail. The Oklahoma Health Department reported last week that 307 inmates in Oklahoma prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers have tested positive since the pandemic began. Two have died. [The Oklahoman]

State question 805 campaign turns in over 260,000 signatures: A state question campaign seeking criminal justice reforms in Oklahoma turned in more than 260,000 signatures Monday to try and put the measure before voters this year. [The Oklahoman] They need about 178,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify the question for a statewide ballot. The governor will set the date of the election once the signatures have been counted. [AP News] The signature drive was suspended in March because of COVID-19, then had to sue Secretary of State Michael Rogers to force him to accept the petition pamphlets, as the signature-gathering documents are called. [Tulsa World] State Question 805 would propose to voters that sentence enhancements should be eliminated in cases involving nonviolent offenses, and also that people who have already received lengthy sentences as a result of enhancements should be allowed to petition the court for relief. [The Journal Record]

Stitt calls National Guard to OKC and Tulsa following protests: Gov. Kevin Stitt has called the Oklahoma National Guard to state active duty in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in response to multiple days of protests that have included clashes with local police. [The Frontier] A quick-reaction team of more than 100 members in Oklahoma City was activated Sunday. [The Oklahoman] A similar team in Tulsa was activated Monday. [Tulsa World] Stitt said in a statement he authorized the activation at the request of local communities and said the soldiers would be authorized to provide support “as needed.” [AP News]

  • After protests, Tulsa mayor, advocates for police reform agree to work together for substantial changes [Tulsa World]
  • City will look for alternative to ‘Live PD,’ restart work on Office of Independent Monitor [Tulsa World]
  • After 2 days of historic protests, Tulsa officials discuss their feelings about rallies [The Frontier]
  • OHP investigating but releasing few details after truck drove through protesters on Tulsa interstate [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa protest leaders praise participants, disavow ‘rogue’ vandalism from Sunday night [Tulsa World]
  • With protests across the US, thousands of Tulsans participate in demonstrations for Black lives [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Black Lives Matter speakers spurn violence, but tensions flare for second night [NonDoc]
  • Black Lives Matter seeks OKC police chief’s resignation [The Oklahoman]
  • City manager says Oklahoma City police chief will stay, expresses confidence in Gourley’s leadership [The Oklahoman]
  • Black Lives Matter demand for new grocery store could take more time than desired [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman protesters convene at Andrews Park [Norman Transcript]
  • Peaceful protests planned in Stillwater [Stillwater News Press]
  • Peace rally in Lawton calls for systemic change and community action for a better nation [Lawton Constitution]
  • Duncan police stand beside protesters at rally [Lawton Constitution]
  • Police make 11 arrests in second night of George Floyd protests in Oklahoma City [The Oklahoman]
  • Curfew limits access to neighborhood around downtown OKC police headquarters [The Oklahoman]
  • Dress for Success nonprofit attempts to move forward after arson fire [The Oklahoman]
  • Amid unrest, OKC businesses enter Phase 3 [The Journal Record]
  • Churches will host discussions on the Christian response to racism [The Oklahoman]

COVID-19: 67 new cases, no new deaths reported in Oklahoma: State health officials reported Monday several dozen new cases of COVID-19. There were 67 new, confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, totaling 6,573 cases. Health officials reported no new additional deaths. [Tulsa World

State Government News

OESC Interim director claims progress on unemployment claims, but won’t clarify how much: The interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Monday the agency is making progress on clearing a backlog of tens of thousands pending claims. But Shelley Zumwalt, who recently took over the agency’s top administrative position on an interim basis, declined to specify how many Oklahomans had been helped during her first week on the job. [The Oklahoman] She noted the agency has removed administrative holds that prevented nearly one-third of the backlogged jobless claims from being processed, sometimes for weeks. [Tulsa World] Thousands remain, however, and Zumwalt said much work remains to deliver help to record numbers of Oklahomans who have lost jobs since the March outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Journal Record]

Former health commissioner kept on as special adviser: Forced out of the top job at the Oklahoma Health Department, former Commissioner Gary Cox remains on the state payroll as a special adviser. Cox, 73, will serve in the new capacity until July 3 and make another $22,600, The Oklahoman has learned. [The Oklahoman]

Another record month for medical marijuana sales in Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry continues to break sales records. Dispensaries remitted nearly $5.1 million via the state’s 7% tax on cannabis, meaning customers spent approximately $73.8 million on medical marijuana in April, according to data released by state tax officials. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

THC breathalyzer program could help police detect marijuana impairment: Oklahoma law enforcement officers patrolling the state’s roads and highways may soon have a new tool for testing drivers who they believe may be under the influence of marijuana. [NonDoc]

New law ensures closure of Muskogee juvenile detention center: A new law that restricts detention options for the state’s youngest teens provides additional protections for most preteens from incarceration and all but guarantees closure of Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Economy & Business News

Ready to open again, again: Tulsa, lakeside businesses hit twice in 10 months with flood, then COVID-19: Throughout the region one year ago, marinas, campgrounds, restaurants and other businesses were literally under water for much of their season, and spring of 2020 brought disaster of another kind. [Tulsa World]

Education News

5 school districts sue Oklahoma State Department of Education over alleged underpayments: Five school districts have alleged in a lawsuit the Oklahoma State Department of Education shortchanged their state funding by hundreds of thousands of dollars. [The Oklahoman]

OU employees accused of misspending grant money: A married couple working for the University of Oklahoma are accused in a federal charge of misspending $2.1 million in grant money they received from the U.S. Department of Energy. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Is journalism’s ‘sustainability problem’ eating its young?: The pandemic has compounded journalism’s financial problem: the need for a new revenue model as the existing one, based on print ad revenue, becomes increasingly unsustainable. The extra hit via the pandemic has sped up newsroom layoffs and furloughs nationwide, leaving young journalists reconsidering their career choices. [Oklahoma Watch]

New pro bono portal aims to connect legal services organizations with clients: A new website will help organizations offering free legal services connect with clients in need of civil representation. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Editorial: Politicizing pandemic masks undermines American values: The dubious debate about whether covering the face while out in public — or at work — when social distancing is impractical or impossible exemplifies a decay of basic human decency. Ignoring the recommendations of medical experts may be a personal choice and a freedom, but being free to make bad decisions provides no right to endanger others. [Editorial / Muskogee Phoenix

Oklahoma Local News

  • Muskogee NAACP leaders condemn city employee’s conduct [Muskogee Phoenix]
  • Oklahoma Transportation Commission approves two major OKC interstate projects [The Oklahoman]
  • City commission to talk moving to phase 3 of reopening [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Oklahoma City Municipal Court to begin phased re-opening [FOX25]
  • Comanche County officials say courthouse reopening goes smoothly [Lawton Constitution]
  • Guthrie Public Works Authority to discuss water shut-offs [Guthrie News Leader]
  • Guthrie City council holds first in-person meeting [Guthrie News Leader]

Quote of the Day

“It boggles the mind to understand why (the health department) would take a highly informative report and render it useless to local citizens throughout Oklahoma. Knowing COVID-19 by ZIP code and city allows citizens to be fully informed during this time of high anxiety. If we want to avoid a resurgence of this disease this summer and fall we should not retreat on transparency of COVID-19 case disclosures at the local level.”

-Oklahoma Press Association Executive Vice President Mark Thomas [Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Federal laws providing broad nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. Thirty states also do not provide such protections. [Source: Public Religion Research Institute]

Note: Lamba Legal provides an overview of Oklahoma laws that protect LGBTQ people and people living with HIV.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

‘Whiplash’ Of LGBTQ protections and rights: In the last several years, two White House administrations have used their power in diametrically opposite ways to address sex discrimination protections and rights. LGBTQ activists and their allies say it feels like civil rights “whiplash.” [NPR]

Note: June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month, which is celebrated each June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. 

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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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