In The Know: Storm impacts continue; higher utility bills expected | Getting caught up on vaccine distribution | Safe communities

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

Together Oklahoma Talks Policy: Safe Communities and Justice Reform: Together Oklahoma, OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy program, on Feb. 18 held a talk on policy and legislative issues regarding Oklahoma justice reform and the current legislative session. A recording of the Safe Communities talk is available online, and a Feb. 11 conversation about Healthy Oklahomans and Health Care also is available. TOK will host a policy talk on Monday, Feb. 22, focused on Thriving Families, including budget and tax issues. [Registration]

Oklahoma News

Natural gas customers warned to brace for higher utility bills in the coming months: The enormous spikes in natural gas prices this week are likely to have a substantial impact on Oklahoma gas utility customers’ bills, though the full impact of those wild price swings won’t likely become apparent for weeks, according to gas utility companies. Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office was looking into the natural gas market price increases this week. [The Frontier] Oklahoma utility companies are allowed by law to pass their costs along to customers, and the extended extremely cold temperatures over the past week have sent energy costs soaring. [Journal Record]

State optimistic about catching up on vaccinations postponed due to wintry weather: Prolonged subfreezing temperatures, ice and snow forced a backlog of scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations across the state this week, but officials are optimistic making up ground will be quick. Despite the delivery of 110,000 doses to the state being delayed due to weather conditions, Oklahoma’s overall vaccine supply has not been affected by the storms, said deputy commissioner of the state Health Department Keith Reed. [Tulsa World]

  • Delayed COVID vaccine shipment won’t hold up Oklahoma moving to teachers, adults with health issues [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Vaccine distribution will receive boost from federal government next week [Lawton Constitution]
  • Oklahoma COVID deaths top 4,100; virus cases above 416,000 [AP News] | [Tulsa World]
  • COVID-19 testing down in Oklahoma, but hospitalizations continue to fall [The Frontier]
  • When Oklahoma’s vaccine eligibility expands to people with comorbidities, what health issues count? [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma among states in region to report decline in weekly jobless claims: Oklahoma was one of 35 states that reported a decline in unemployment claims last week compared to the prior week. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that Oklahoma saw 4,859 initial claims filed during the week ending Saturday. [Tulsa World] Data released Thursday by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission shows the state is continuing to recover from the pandemic that caused last year’s historic spike in job losses. [Journal Record]

Legislation to examine professional development training passes committee: Legislation to examine excessive teacher professional development training for Oklahoma’s public school teachers passed the House Common Education Committee Tuesday on a 13-0 vote. [Lawton Constitution]

Legislation would limit insulin costs: Several attempts to limit insulin costs died in the Legislature last year, but two new measures were filed for consideration this year. [Southwest Ledger]

Oklahoma House sends Sgt. Craig Johnson Act to Senate to tighten scrap metal laws, honor slain Tulsa police officer: The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate on Thursday legislation honoring Sgt. Craig Johnson, the Tulsa Police Department sergeant who was killed in the line of duty last summer. House Bill 1001, by Rep. Carol Bush, tightens laws related to the sale of scrap metal. Johnson had worked on the legislation with Bush before he was fatally shot during a traffic stop in June. [Tulsa World]

Takeout cocktails could be legalized in Oklahoma during COVID-19 pandemic: An Oklahoma House panel on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that would allow businesses with mixed-beverage licenses to offer some alcoholic beverages as takeout items during the pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

  • An Oklahoma Senate committee passed a bill on Thursday that would allow third-party vendors to deliver alcohol [Tulsa World]

Senate bill would allow leases on park land: A bill to allow tribes and other entities to lease and run state parks received approval in a legislative committee on Thursday. Senate Bill 790 came before the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee for the second time with some changes in wording suggested by lawmakers when it was first heard by the same committee on Feb. 11. [Journal Record]

House bill would make phone fakery a crime: A measure endorsed by a state legislative committee would make it a crime to cause misleading information to be transmitted to a recipient’s caller identification service or device “or to otherwise misrepresent the origin of a telemarketing call.” [Southwest Ledger]

State bill would allow cities to paint blue lines on streets to support law enforcement: A bill making its way through the state Legislature would enable cities and towns to establish ordinances permitting the painting of blue lines on streets and the display of signage as a way to recognize and support law enforcement. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Lawmakers ask Biden to prioritize rural broadband: U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas recently joined other members of the House Rural Broadband Caucus in writing a bipartisan letter asking President Joe Biden to prioritize broadband investment in underserved areas of rural America. Biden has made passing a major infrastructure package a top priority of his new administration. [Southwest Ledger]

Health News

Staff shortages at Oklahoma’s relocated public health lab cause testing delays: Staff shortages and equipment transition for the relocated Public Health Lab in Stillwater have caused state health officials to outsource certain tests to private labs, and in some cases to a public health lab in Minnesota. [Oklahoma Watch]

Affordable Care Act special enrollment period opens: A special enrollment period for individual health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act began Monday. Oklahomans who do not have health insurance may be eligible to purchase coverage through the health insurance marketplace. [Southwest Ledger]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma’s incarcerated women “find our voices” through Poetic Justice: Inside the number one state for incarcerating women, Ellen Stackable co-created a restorative healing arts program for imprisoned women whose voices are typically silenced. Poetic Justice gives Oklahoma’s incarcerated women the opportunity to engage with a writing partner from outside the prison, communicating through poetry, spoken word, traditional drawing, and drama classes. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Education News

Tulsa Public Schools offers Board insight into students’ mental health: Tulsa Public Schools is keeping tabs on students’ mental health amid a global pandemic that’s kept them out of school for months. Around 1,100 students are currently receiving mental health services from the district’s more than 30 partner agencies, according to an update given to the TPS Board this week. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Editorial: Dangerous bill to divert tax money for private school scholarships is laid over, but will likely come back: Some bad ideas just refuse to go away. Once again, the reverse Robin Hood brigade in the Legislature — the ones who take from the poor and give to the rich — have cooked up a scheme to fund private school scholarships for wealthy families using money that should be going to public schools. House Bill 1982 was laid over Thursday without a vote before the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, but it’s a dangerous idea that could be raised again next week or, frankly, anytime this session. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

General News

Russell Westbrook’s Tulsa Race Massacre documentary to air this Spring: The documentary, “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre”, is set to be released in the Spring to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the destruction of Black Wall Street. [The Black Wall Street Times] “The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books” the former Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player said in a news release. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa social work students learn ugly side of Black history: Joya Cleveland did not mince words when addressing Black History during a presentation for the Social Work Student Association at The University of Oklahoma. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“There will be some sticker shock. It will probably be a couple of billing cycles (before utility customers see the increase).”

-Russell Evans, an economist speaking about utility bills following the recent winter storm [Journal Record

Number of the Day


COVID-19 hospitalization ratio for American Indians or Alaska Natives compared to whites. The ratio is 3.2x for Latinx and 2.9x for Blacks.

[Source: CDC]

Policy Note

The ACA Marketplace Is Open Again for Insurance Sign-Ups. Here’s What You Need to Know: For people who’ve been without health insurance during the pandemic, relief is in sight. In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to open up the federal health insurance marketplace for three months as of Monday so uninsured people can buy a plan and those who want to change their marketplace coverage can do so. [Kaiser Health 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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