In The Know: State revenue estimate above expected | Winter storms trigger rolling power blackouts | Virus cases declining

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

(Capitol Update) Lawsuit challenges OHCA’s managed care proposal: For the past several months, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has been in a race against the calendar to get contracts signed with private insurance companies to manage the state’s $2 billion Medicaid program before the Legislature was to go into session on Feb. 1. Last Thursday, medical organizations representing nearly all the doctors in Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court asking the court to take original jurisdiction and prohibit OHCA from implementing its Medicaid managed care plan. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

‘A very good spot’: Budget parameters set by state board: The Oklahoma Legislature will have about $9.64 billion to appropriate this session for the next fiscal year, after the state Board of Equalization certified a series of estimates this morning. Overall allocation of state dollars will likely be lower because about $1.7 billion of the $9.64 billion is considered to have come from one-time sources. That figure includes a chunk of revenue not appropriated for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. [NonDoc] The figure is an increase of nearly $1.2 billion, or 13.9%, from what officials believed the number would be in December. [Tulsa World] State finance officials say a 30% increase in projected collections of taxes on oil, and a roughly 12% boost on projections for individual and corporate income tax led to the rosier projections. [AP News] The budget figures certified by the board, chaired by Stitt, serve as a starting point for Oklahoma legislators to build a state budget for the upcoming fiscal year. [The Oklahoman

Oklahoma prepares for possibility of more power outages as winter storms push demand for electricity: Tens of thousands of Oklahomans temporarily lost power this week as snow and sub-zero temperatures rolled in. Those power outages might continue in the days ahead. [The Frontier]

  • Amid extreme winter weather, some Oklahoma prisons lose heat [Oklahoma Watch]
  • With bitter cold and threat of power outages, Oklahoma’s hospice patients uniquely at risk [The Oklahoman]
  • More rolling blackouts possible across Oklahoma [The Oklahoman] | [Tulsa World] | [The Oklahoman] | [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahomans brace for rolling blackouts [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Oklahoma Natural Gas urges customers to conserve energy during frigid weather [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma regulators open flow on wells to help address natural gas shortage [The Oklahoman] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Water storage levels low as Tulsa crews work on 120 active water main breaks [Tulsa World]
  • Unprecedented storm staggers OKC [The Journal Record]
  • ‘I don’t remember it being this cold this long’: Oklahoma rancher on bitter cold weather challenges [KOSU]
  • President Joe Biden offered his administration’s assistance Tuesday in a call with at least seven governors — including Gov. Stitt — of states impacted by severe winter weather this week. [AP News]
  • Gov. Kevin Stitt, family back in Oklahoma after New Mexico vacation during weather emergency [The Oklahoman] | [Public Radio Tulsa]

Active coronavirus cases see steep drop in Oklahoma: Active coronavirus cases continued to drop steeply across Oklahoma as health officials announced another progression in the state’s vaccination phases for COVID-19. Since peaking at more than 43,000 a month ago, active cases fell to 22,461 on Friday, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That’s a drop of more than 47% in the past month. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Oklahoma has fewer than 1,000 people hospitalized for the first time since early November [The Frontier]
  • COVID-19: 20 more deaths reported in Oklahoma with 508 new cases [Tulsa World]
  • New COVID cases down dramatically, but impact of winter storm on testing not yet known [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Winter weather slows Oklahoma’s COVID vaccine distribution [AP News]
  • 40,000 vaccines administered through tribes, veterans health centers in Oklahoma [Tulsa World]
  • Tight supply creates reluctance over federal vaccine sites [AP News]
  • A conversation with Keith Reed, who is leading Oklahoma’s coronavirus vaccine rollout [The Oklahoman]
  • State medical group outlines three pending COVID-19 vaccines that can expand access, alleviate storage limitations [Tulsa World]

Health News

Gov. Stitt likely to prevail in Medicaid fight, says House Speaker Charles McCall: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Medicaid privatization plan is likely to prevail despite broad legislative opposition, Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, told the Tulsa Regional Chamber during a Friday Zoom call. [Tulsa World]

  • Medical groups ask Oklahoma Supreme Court to halt plan to outsource Medicaid [The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Don’t privatize Oklahoma Medicaid management: We oppose privatizing Medicaid management in Oklahoma. Gov. Kevin Stitt’s people have rammed a $2 billion privatization scheme through the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, despite objections from his own legislators. A group including the Oklahoma State Medical Association is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block the action because it didn’t have proper legislative authorization. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]

State looks to start its own health information exchange to share records, not take Tulsa nonprofit’s users: The state wants to create its own health information exchange to modernize and connect disparate health record repositories within the government, not to compete with a local nonprofit health information exchange, according to the project’s leader. [Tulsa World]

13 state employees leave public health lab as facility relocates to Stillwater: After the Stitt administration decided to move the state’s public health lab from Oklahoma City to Stillwater, 13 employees have decided not to make the move. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Lawmakers target Oklahoma’s initiative petition process after uptick in successful state questions: After five years of sweeping policy changes led primarily by voters in the state’s metropolitan areas, the Republican-controlled Legislature is poised to make substantial revisions to the initiative petition process during the 2021 legislative session. [The Frontier]

  • Op-Ed: Retaliation by legislation? In bills to curb initiative petitions, legislators choose power over democracy [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

State unemployment fund sunk more than 90 percent during pandemic, OESC director says: The trust fund from which Oklahomans’ unemployment benefits are paid shrank more than 90 percent from last March to the start of February 2021, but officials think it will survive the current crisis — as long as there’s not another one right behind it. [Tulsa World]

The Hot Seat: Controversial Eviction Bill: Political analyst Scott Mitchell and Katie Dilks, the executive director for the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation, discuss a bill that would make it easier for landlords to evict tenants during the pandemic. [NewsOn6]

Education issues to watch during Oklahoma’s 2021 legislative session: The COVID-19 pandemic turned education on its head. Measures introduced in the 2021 session are designed to combat new issues faced by schools because of the coronavirus as well as address old ones that were exacerbated by the pandemic. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Bill looks to add more rural doctors: House Speaker Pro Tempore Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa, this week secured unanimous committee passage of a bill that would provide income tax credits for doctors practicing in rural areas of the state. [Pauls Valley Democrat]

House committee approves bill eliminating statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits: Victims of childhood sexual assault would have no time limit on pressing civil suits against their attackers under legislation advanced Tuesday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma lawmaker hopes to legalize mountain lion hunting. Wildlife Department is discussing possibility: An Oklahoma lawmaker is calling for the state to open its first hunting season on mountain lions. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahomans participate in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s virtual prayer event: “United in Prayer,” Governor Kevin Stitt’s virtual prayer event on Tuesday, was a video montage of Oklahomans in various cities and backgrounds discussing the importance of prayer and offering prayer for the state, elected leaders, health care “front line” workers, people facing COVID-19 challenges and other concerns. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Oklahoma use of federal COIVD-19 relief money included unwise, low priority projects: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office strongly disputes a legislative bureau’s report that questioned how $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding was spent. The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency reports says the state failed to provide documentation to justify some spending, a significant component of the relief funds was used for pre-existing needs and government modernization and some of the spending may not have met federal standards for necessary expenses in responding to the pandemic. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: Gender identity, sexual orientation protection laws needed: No legislation has been introduced within the last 12 years to add protections for the LGBTQ community — even though such policies are commonplace in other states. Oklahoma is only one of 13 states to not protect sexual orientation or gender identity in its existing hate crime laws. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Police forces have long tried to weed out extremists in the ranks. Then came the Capitol riot: For more than three decades, Sheriff Chris West of Canadian County, Okla., a large man whose uniform often includes a Stetson hat, a vest and a gold star badge, devoted his life to law enforcement. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he spent 28 years as a highway patrolman in Oklahoma, working his way up to captain before being elected sheriff of his native county in 2017. He earned the accolade “Oklahoma Sheriff of the Year” in 2019, and won a second term last fall, after running unopposed. Then came Jan. 6. [New York Times]

Cherokee Nation Hopeful Delegate To Congress Could Be Seated This Year: Cherokee Nation’s nominee to serve as the tribe’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives is hopeful she could be seated in Washington soon. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Criminal Justice News

City rejects request for police body-worn camera recordings of Rodriguez killing: Police officers’ body-worn camera recordings of the Nov. 23 killing of 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez won’t be released “at this time,” an attorney for the city of Oklahoma City says in a letter to an attorney for the boy’s mother. [The Oklahoman]

Parents of Texas man who died after encounter with Wagoner County deputies file $50 million lawsuit: The parents of a Texas man who died during a 2019 encounter with Wagoner County deputies filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday in Muskogee federal court. [Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

Evictions are happening despite moratorium, how one deputy tries to help: The pandemic is still taking its financial toll on many Oklahomans. Despite an eviction moratorium put in place by the CDC, hundreds of tenants are still being taken to court each week for not paying rent. [KTUL]

With few options, cannabis lounge becomes Oklahoma town’s only shelter for the homeless during deep freeze: Faced with more than a week of subfreezing temperatures, ice and several inches of snow, a cannabis lounge in Wagoner has stepped up to serve as the town’s only warming station and shelter service for the town’s homeless population. [The Frontier]

Teams work to help OKC’s homeless find shelter from the cold: Street outreach teams have been urging homeless individuals to seek shelter in the wake of winter storms that have brought freezing temperatures to the metro area. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa Mayor announces homelessness aid proposal amid criticism of city’s handling of population under bridge: Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum will present a budget amendment to city councilors that upon approval would fund — among other needs — hotel stays for residents experiencing homelessness, his office announced Sunday. [Tulsa World]

  • Community kicks in $1.5 million to help shelter homeless during frigid conditions [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

State faring well in cannabis job creation: Oklahoma ranked ninth in the nation for jobs in the cannabis industry in a recent nationwide survey published by California-based cannabis website Leafly, out of 37 states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use. [The Journal Record]

Education News

The week in coveducation: ‘Ghost students’ examined: There could be a light at the end of the tunnel for Oklahoma teachers still waiting to be vaccinated after Gov. Kevin Stitt announced this week that COVID-19 vaccines would be available to all pre-K through 12th grade educators beginning Feb. 22. [NonDoc]

How much federal relief funds have Oklahoma private schools received?: Oklahoma private schools have qualified for federal relief funds in several ways. Those include a tuition grant program created by Gov. Kevin Stitt, the Paycheck Protection Program, and a newly created federal program for non public schools. [Oklahoma Watch]

Tulsa Public Schools to start in-person classes Tuesday: Tulsa Public Schools’ board of education voted 4-3 Tuesday evening to adopt a recommendation from Superintendent Deborah Gist and start bringing students back on campus starting next Tuesday. As approved, Gist’s recommendation calls for a staggered return for students through the course of the week. [Tulsa World]

Gov. Kevin Stitt Op-Ed: Open the schools safely — but now: From the beginning, reopening schools safely was a top priority since the data supported the fact that children were less at risk from contracting and developing severe cases of COVID. I know the importance of reopening schools as a parent, but also as a leader of the state of Oklahoma, whose future depends on the next generation. [Gov. Kevin Stitt Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

General News

Mickey Edwards on teaching, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the GOP’s future: When Oklahoma voters sent former U.S. Rep. Mickey Edwards to Congress for the first time in 1977, he was the first person elected to that seat as a Republican in several decades. He spent 16 years in office and became a prominent figure within the GOP. After leaving Congress, he went on to help start the conservative Heritage Foundation. [NonDoc]

Gaylord College, Cronkite School to cover Native American communities: Two of the nation’s prime journalism schools are partnering to expand coverage of Indigenous communities. The University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University announced Wednesday they will increase reporting of native issues in the news services each operates. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

  • 5 takeaways from Tuesday’s Oklahoma City Council primary elections [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman focusing on Black History Month with proclamation, web page [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Citizens really lack (lobbyists’ access and influence) in a lot of ways, and the initiative petition process is one way that we can have that power.” 

-Sundra Flansburg, an organizer with the civic engagement group VOICE [The Frontier]

Number of the Day

Number of citizen-led initiative petitions that have qualified for the Oklahoma statewide ballot during the past decade. Of those, voters only approved four. 

[Source: The Frontier]

Policy Note

The Redistricting Landscape, 2021–22: Under the best of circumstances, the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts every 10 years is a fraught and abuse-prone process. But the next round of redistricting in 2021 and 2022 will be the most challenging in recent history. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, intense fights over representation and fair maps were all but certain in many states due to rapid demographic change and a weakening of the legal framework governing redistricting. Invariably, communities of color would bear much of the brunt, facing outright discrimination in some places and being used as a convenient tool for achieving unfair partisan advantage in others. [Brennan Center for Justice]

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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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