In The Know: State, school responses to COVID-19 outbreak; 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

Policy Matters: Recognizing Oklahoma’s trailblazing women: As a Cherokee woman, I come from a matrilineal heritage where women hold respected positions within our communities and tribal leadership. I grew up during the era when Wilma Mankiller served as the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Closer to home, my mother demonstrated community leadership, serving as Owasso’s vice mayor. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]

In The News

‘This is uncharted territory:’ School districts urge employees, students not to come back to school if they travel to high-risk countries during spring break as coronavirus continues to spread: Although Gov. Kevin Stitt has encouraged schools to remain open, Sapulpa Public Schools spokesman Aaron McColoch said the rapid spread and unpredictable nature of COVID-19 made it necessary to take every precaution. The lack of school next week will present an additional challenge as many students and educators embark on trips around the world during spring break. [Tulsa World] OU-Norman, OSU to go to online classes due to COVID-19 disease. [Tulsa World] State leaders urge calm in face of Coronavirus pandemic. [News9]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma: No plans to close state Capitol: There are no plans to close the Oklahoma state Capitol amid global health concerns caused by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall said Thursday state leaders are closely monitoring the situation, but do not have any plans to close the building or limit who can enter. [The Oklahoman] As state health officials monitor the spread of COVID-19, members of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet and legislative leaders are having “contingency” discussions about how they could “wrap up the budget” and conclude the 2020 session early if a community outbreak of the coronavirus were to occur. [NonDoc]

State health department not following CDC guidelines aimed to get more people tested for COVID-19: The Oklahoma State Department of Health has not been following updated guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directing physicians to order testing for the new coronavirus for anyone who they believe needs it. Instead, the health department has directed doctors who have patients suspected of having COVID-19 to call a state epidemiologist for testing approval. Samples sent by physicians without prior authorization from the state are rejected. [The Frontier]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Oklahoma hospitals respond to coronavirus spread: Across the Sooner State, hospitals and clinics are carrying out response plans as COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, has spread across the country. [The Oklahoman] COVID-19 In Oklahoma: Everything We Know. [KOSU]

Resolution calls for statewide vote to divert TSET funds to Medicaid expansion: The state of Oklahoma could divert money away from its Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust fund to spend on Medicaid expansion under a resolution passed Thursday by the Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 27 proposes a statewide vote to amend the Oklahoma Constitution. If Oklahomans do get to vote and favor the change, the percentage of new money flowing into the TSET fund from tobacco companies would be reduced. Most of the diverted dollars would then be used to increase the number of Oklahomans enrolled in Medicaid. [The Journal Record]

Advancing measure would restore felony punishments: Declaring responsibility to fix issues arising from voter-approved state questions, Oklahoma senators Wednesday advanced a measure to restore felony punishments for drug possession near schools. Nearly four years after voters axed the felony convictions, state senators voted 34-12 to restore them for those caught possessing methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or fentanyl within 1,000 feet of schools. The measure exempts possession of marijuana. [CNHI / The Norman Transcript]

(Audio) Tribal Gaming Funds Ruling, Oil Prices Impacts, Medicaid Expansion and More: The latest episode of This Week in Oklahoma discusses a ruling from State Attorney General Mike Hunter telling the governor he can’t keep funds from tribal gaming compacts in an escrow while he waits on a federal lawsuit, a drop in oil proces and Oklahoma energy company stocks could have a major impact on the state’s budget and Governor Stitt calls on the health department to move forward with paperwork to file with the federal government for Medicaid expansion. [KOSU]

Stitt names Oklahoma Human Services director to cabinet: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday appointed state Department of Human Services Director Justin Brown to his cabinet as secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Development. As cabinet secretary, Brown will oversee agencies and boards that include Oklahoma Human Services, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, the Office of Disability Concerns and Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. [AP News]

Senate bill would let Oklahoma voters decide to cap pain and suffering damages: The Senate on Thursday approved a bill asking voters to cap pain and suffering damages in civil cases at $350,000. The action comes after a state law regarding the practice was found unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, said the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 40, is needed to provide certainty to businesses and medical professionals. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Legislature: House passes youth seat belt law; bill in Senate: After a House vote Tuesday, Oklahoma is one step closer to having a child passenger safety law in place that would cover all minors — a regulation that is already law in all other states. As HB 2791 was introduced to the House in February, every child 17 years of age or under would be required to be properly secured while being transported in a motor vehicle. [The Shawnee News-Star]

Oklahoma Senate votes to ban abortions after six weeks: The Oklahoma Senate approved legislation Thursday to essentially prohibit abortions in Oklahoma after six weeks of pregnancy. The Senate voted 36-8 for the bill, which now heads to the House for consideration. The bill by Republican Sen. Paul Scott of Duncan would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion, beginning at six weeks of pregnancy, if a fetal heartbeat or brain waves are detected. [AP News]

Ginnie Graham: What are lawmakers doing now for women to celebrate in 100 years?: No Equal Rights Amendment ratification for Oklahoma, and the state has been named the fifth worst place for women. Women’s History Month has started with quite a bang in our state. It appeared to get worse early last week as the state House seemed OK letting children get married with only parental permission. Then, the miracle of democracy happened. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

City of OKC water cutoffs create alarm during coronavirus pandemic: Congresswoman Kendra Horn raised the issue of water cutoffs during the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and brought attention to the City of Oklahoma City’s alarming cutoff rates. But, even though 2019 residential water cutoff numbers for Oklahoma City are alarming, there has been a reduction in their number over the last several years. [Free Press OKC]

Quote of the Day

“Panic is the toughest thing to deal with. We want people to be educated and informed… but we don’t want people to panic.”

-House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, about responses to COVID-19 pandemic [NonDoc]

Number of the Day

$1,800 per person 

Amount in federal funding Oklahoma could lose per year for each person not counted in the Census. By these measures, an undercount of just 2 percent could cost the state up to $1.8 billion over a decade.

[Source: Oklahoma Senate]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Native Americans fight to be counted as census looms: Native Americans feel like they don’t count. And they might not be wrong — they are the most undercounted group on the U.S. census, which means they get significantly less of much needed funding from crucial federal programs, scant improvements on reservation infrastructure and health care, and even the loss of political representation. [NBS News]

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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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