In The Know: State stops sharing WH virus reports | Health Department asking for patience in vaccine rollout | A look back at 2020

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

Vape taxes aren’t the answer for Medicaid expansion: In the 2020 primary election, Oklahomans told the Legislature that we want a robust, stably-funded health care system. To make this goal of safeguarding Oklahomans’ health a reality, the Legislature has a number of options for funding Medicaid. Anti-vaping advocates have been exploring a tax on vaping products as a possible funding source. While there are arguments to pass a vape tax as a public health measure, it would likely be an insufficient and unstable way to fund a public program as crucial to our health as Medicaid. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]

Legislature set for ‘organizational day’ on Jan. 5 (Capitol Update): Tomorrow (Jan. 5) will be the “organizational day” for the Legislature. Article V, Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution provides that the Legislature shall meet in regular session on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January of each odd numbered year for the purposes only of performing the duties as required by Section 5 of Article VI of the Constitution and organizing itself. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

OK Policy looks back on 2020’s biggest stories: As 2020 wound to a close, our OK Policy staff reviewed the previous 12 months. As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large over nearly every aspect of our work and our lives. When the virus’ threat began to emerge in the spring, the OK Policy team shifted our work to analyze state and federal policies in every sector of our work. We developed this list based on website traffic, which indicated that Oklahomans were hungry for non-partisan information about the pandemic and its impact on their daily lives. Additionally, Oklahomans sought out OK Policy for non-partisan information and analysis in order to help them make informed decisions during this year’s election cycle. [Dave Hamby / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma continues to rank poorly in White House COVID-19 reports, but state stops seeking details to share with public: In some respects, Oklahomans are finding it more difficult to track how poorly their state is doing in the midst of the roaring pandemic as compared to other states and the country as a whole. Oklahoma ranks among the five worst in three statistical areas that the White House highlights in gauging COVID-19’s severity — but the state won’t ask the federal government for the private reports so they can be posted for the public to view. [Tulsa World]

  • University: Oklahoma sets record for weekly COVID-19 deaths [AP News]
  • Oklahoma sees record highs in COVID-19 hospitalizations as hospital beds fill across state [The Frontier] | [AP News]
  • Substantial COVID-19 surge projected in Oklahoma due to holidays, insufficient testing [Tulsa World]
  • COVID-19: 20 more deaths in state; 3,015 additional cases reported Sunday [Tulsa World]

State Health Department asks for public patience as COVID-19 vaccine rolls out in phases: The Oklahoma State Department of Health is asking for the public’s patience as it rolls out the COVID-19 vaccine. “I understand people are frustrated and want to know when they can get the vaccine,” Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said Friday. “Quite frankly, they want to know the day and time. I get that. We are asking for their patience as we work through the system.” The state has received 174,900 doses of the vaccines and administered an estimated 60,000 doses so far, Reed said. Additional doses are expected. [Tulsa World]

  • In Oklahoma, the COVID-19 vaccine is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel [The Frontier]
  • Coronavirus vaccination sites planned across Oklahoma [AP News]
  • Choctaw Nation Moving Forward With Next Phase Of Vaccinations [KOSU]
  • Vaccine should be highly effective against more-contagious COVID-19 mutation, so pandemic’s end reliant on how many get immunized [Tulsa World]
  • State Wrongly Claims Top Ten Status In Vaccination Administration [Public Radio Tulsa]

Health News

Oklahoma again sets Affordable Care Act enrollment record: Preliminary numbers released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show more than 171,100 Oklahoma residents enrolled in health plans purchased through the marketplace during the open enrollment period that ended Dec. 15. The total is an 8% increase over the current year and will be the third straight year that the state has set a record for enrollees on the exchange. [Oklahoma Watch]

State Government News

Gov. Kevin Stitt loses another Cabinet secretary: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of public safety resigned Thursday to focus on his business and family. Chip Keating became the latest secretary to resign from the governor’s Cabinet. He oversaw the Corrections Department, the Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and other agencies involved in public safety. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma governor replaces his top attorney, a key staffer [AP News]

Months into the pandemic, many Oklahomans still waiting on unemployment decisions: Oklahoma made national headlines this summer when thousands of Oklahomans camped out in the early morning hours at mega-processing events in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in hopes of getting their unemployment questions or problems fixed. Although the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said it has added quick fixes to upgrade its computer systems, add staff and push through claims faster than before, problems still linger. [Oklahoma Watch]

Capitol Insider: New year begins with redistricting atop Legislative agenda: In Part Two of their discussion on redistricting, KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley talked to the two legislative leaders tasked with completing the complicated process by the end of the 2021 legislative session. [KGOU] Part One: Capitol Insider: Oklahoma House And Senate Work Together On Redistricting [KGOU]

McGirt decision results in record number of criminal federal filings in 2020: Tulsa federal prosecutors obtained a record number of grand jury indictments last year, largely due to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Sen. Lankford joins effort to create ‘commission’ to examine presidential election: U.S. Sen. James Lankford on Saturday joined a group of Republican senators who say they’ll oppose final approval of Electoral College results on Wednesday until a special commission “audits” election results in several states before the Jan. 20 inauguration date. [Tulsa World]

Bice takes seat in U.S. House as new Congress begins: Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice became the newest member of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation on Sunday, as the 117th Congress began with a fight looming over the presidential election and control of the Senate up in the air. [The Oklahoman] Though all five of Oklahoma’s members of the House will be in the minority in the Democratic-led House, Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, will have influence built on many years of experience and bipartisan relationships. [The Oklahoman]

Tucked into the defense bill, a long-owed debt to the OKC Memorial: It’s just $1 million in a $740 billion bill. But it’s big, in principal and in principle, to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, which has been owed the $1 million from the federal government since George W. Bush was president. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma County jail inmate killed on Saturday: The OSBI is investigating the killing of an inmate at the Oklahoma County jail. The victim, identified as Brad Leon Lane, 40, of Oklahoma City, was discovered during a routine check Saturday night. [The Oklahoman]

Advocate group to walk 131 miles in support of Julius Jones: A group of advocates started a 131-mile walk on New Year’s to bring awareness to an Oklahoma death row inmate. [AP News] A large group of supporters gathered outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester after a four-day, 131-mile walk that started at the state capitol building in Oklahoma City. [KJRH] Death row inmate Julius Jones told supporters who gathered Sunday outside the entrance to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester that he could hear their chants through the walls. [McAlester News-Capital]

Economic Opportunity

Eviction Ban: One more month may not be enough for struggling renters: Millions of struggling renters will likely be protected from evictions, at least for another month. The stimulus bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump late Sunday night extends the national ban on evictions until Jan. 31. [KFOR] “The moratorium has continued to stave off that big crisis, but until the debts are dealt with, probably through some kind of more generous federal relief package, that’s going to remain a threat,” said Eric Dunn, director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project. [Big If True] OK Policy and its Open Justice Oklahoma program have been tracking evictions in Oklahoma and noted that policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Researchers explore complicating factors in Oklahoma’s public assistance system: Oklahoma’s system of public assistance programs can be “complicated and unpredictable” for low-income residents who depend on it, according to a new report. “These programs, many of them have the avowed purpose of helping people move from needing assistance to self-sufficiency,” said Paul Shinn, budget and tax senior policy analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute and co-author of the report. “They can and do do that, and they succeed for many Oklahomans, but the path is pretty rough sometimes.” [Public Radio Tulsa] OK Policy: Our recently published report, “Plateaus and Cliff Effects in Oklahoma”, is among the first of its kind to examine how public supports and income interact to impact low-income Oklahomans.

Study: Pandemic taking troubling toll on Oklahoma families: A new report finds Oklahoma families are experiencing several pain points during the COVID-19 pandemic. With lost wages, closed schools and lack of child care, the KIDS COUNT report based on Census Bureau data found 40% of Oklahoma adults with kids said they’re having trouble paying for usual household expenses. More than 30% worry about eviction or foreclosure in the coming months. Oklahoma Policy Institute recommends several steps lawmakers can take to help families recover from the pandemic, like increasing revenue and prioritizing it for essential services, providing tenants facing eviction with legal help and representation, and expanding Medicaid immediately rather than putting it off until July 1. [Public Radio TulsaOK Policy: Data from a recent KIDS COUNT® report show that too many Oklahoma families are struggling to weather the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Federal uncertainty affecting group charged with improving high-speed internet in rural Oklahoma: Increasing access to high-speed internet in rural Oklahoma may be an even tougher task than it sounds because of federal uncertainty. Oklahoma’s Rural Broadband Expansion Council, which started meeting in August, is still debating how “broadband” should be defined. [Public Radio Tulsa

Trucker mom from Stilwell weighs job demands, life away from home on PBS: Home for the holidays, Laura Hathaway is cherishing all the family time she can get before hopping back behind the wheel of a big rig. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma pot business creates fields of green for investors, immigrants: A Searchlight New Mexico investigation found that in the weeks since law enforcement shuttered the 36 Navajo farms, hundreds of the workers and managers have relocated to Oklahoma, where they plan to build an even more formidable network of grow sites. To provide the labor, the managers are tapping into a huge pool of immigrant restaurant workers who lost their jobs because of COVID-related closures and business restrictions. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Governor’s staff discussed a plan to reopen schools based on mask mandate: The state Department of Education presented Gov. Stitt with a proposal to order the reopening of school buildings in January, but he was not on board with the plan. [The Frontier]

  • Enrollment during a pandemic: TPS planning online info sessions, virtual school tours for parents considering school choices for 2020-21 [Tulsa World]
  • The week in coveducation: Oklahoma schools to see $650 million in COVID relief  [NonDoc]
  • The year in Oklahoma education [NonDoc]
  • Listen Frontier: How a first-year teacher navigated a semester unlike any other [The Frontier]

As Oklahoma students learned at home, school nutrition workers stepped up: Over the course of the pandemic, Oklahoma’s public schools have been a critical piece to fighting child hunger. StateImpact’s Robby Korth reports on the efforts of the state’s schools to get more than 40 million free meals to children while they’ve been learning from home or just out of school. [KOSUHunger Free Oklahoma: School meals are a lifeline to Oklahoma families.  

Shawnee takes extra measures to help children cope with stress, get ready to learn: The school for pre-K and kindergarten students is seeing the results of social-emotional learning centers it began adding two years ago to help children cope with emotional stress during the school day. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Stopgap solutions buffer northeast OKC food desert [NonDoc]
  • What you need to know about OKC’s most expensive capital project [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘Beacon of reconciliation’: Tulsa Race Massacre Commission begins 2021 campaign as centennial nears [Tulsa World] | [AP News]

Quote of the Day

“Most of us believe that in 10 days to 14 days we’re going to see a substantial surge in the number of cases in Oklahoma that get reported. 10%-12% of those people are going to end up in a hospital, so we’re going to be really challenged in the next few weeks.”

-Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID officer [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


The record number of COVID-related deaths recorded in Oklahoma during the past seven days [Source: Johns Hopkins University via AP News

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

20 striking findings from 2020: The global coronavirus pandemic upended life in the United States and around the world in 2020, disrupting how people work, go to school, attend religious services, socialize with friends and family, and much more. But the pandemic wasn’t the only event that shaped the year. The videotaped killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis sparked an international outcry and focused new attention on the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. And November’s presidential election appears to have shattered turnout records as around 160 million Americans cast ballots and elected Joe Biden the 46th president. Here are 20 striking findings from Pew Research Center’s studies during 2020, covering the pandemic, race-related tensions, the presidential election and other notable trends that emerged during the year. [Pew Research]

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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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