In The Know: Unemployment impacts on workers, employers | Okla. bottom 10 for vaccine | Addressing over-incarceration

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

Addressing ‘upstream’ issues in Oklahoma’s over-incarceration problem (Capitol Update): Gov. Stitt’s new Secretary of Public Safety Tricia Everest attended last Monday’s Pardon and Parole Board meeting and publicly addressed its members. Her remarks were encouraging. Regarding criminal justice reform, she told the board that incarceration isn’t necessarily the best answer for offenders who are not a danger to themselves or others. She also suggested that it is important to recognize “if we can’t divert individuals upstream that at the point of sentencing, we have a plan of reentry.” [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma cut off federal unemployment benefits early but workers are struggling to find jobs: With the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits ending last month, a tight labor market means thousands of unemployed Oklahomans are still struggling to find work. But business owners, especially those in the service industry, say they still have former employees on unemployment and are having a hard time finding workers to fill the vacant positions. The problem is keeping them from opening completely, and in some cases preventing businesses from opening at all. [Oklahoma Watch] OK Policy: Stopping federal unemployment benefits early is short-sighted, unnecessary, and harms the very people who need assistance most.

Oklahoma is in the bottom 10 states for COVID-19 vaccines. Could politics be to blame?: Among the bottom 10 states for COVID-19 vaccine uptake, Oklahoma’s deep-red politics may be partly to blame. While medical professionals beg and plead for Oklahomans to get vaccinated as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread, many of the state’s residents have resisted. In Oklahoma, government skepticism goes hand-in-hand with vaccine hesitancy and both can be linked to the Sooner State’s conservative political leanings. [The Oklahoman]

  • Nearly 40% of Oklahomans are vaccinated, but coronavirus hospitalizations are rising [The Frontier]
  • OU pulmonologist seeing slow recovery rates from COVID-19 lung damage: ‘It is still really, really bad’ [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma remains at risk in ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ as delta variant surges in state [Tulsa World]
  • COVID hospitalizations surge in parts of NE Oklahoma; more admissions than at any point previously [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • The Delta variant may already be in Southwest Oklahoma [The Lawton Constitution]
  • COVID cases up in Cherokee Nation as nearby states wrestle with ‘hotspots’ [Cherokee Phoenix]
  • Choctaw Nation reinstates mask mandate at health facilities [AP News]
  • Vaccine lottery incentive wasn’t ‘right for Oklahoma,’ state Health Department decided [The Oklahoman]
  • Editorial: Delta variant should concern everyone, including fully vaccinated Oklahomans [Editorial / Tulsa World]

State board of education’s lone no vote on critical race theory rules reflects on decision: The lone member of the Oklahoma State Board of Education to oppose penalizing schools and teachers for classroom conversations on race and gender is also the only Tulsan on the board. After a week in which Carlisha Williams Bradley’s solo stance drew the national media spotlight and an inundation of praise from teachers and condemnation from some parents across the state, the Tulsa World asked for her reflections. Williams Bradley prefaced her July 12 vote by pointing out she is the only one of the governor’s slate of appointed state board members to have ever worked as a classroom teacher and she believes HB 1775 and the related new rules will only “continue to propel fear in the teaching of history.” [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Lawmakers oppose employer vaccine mandates: Twenty Oklahoma lawmakers have signed a letter asking Gov. Kevin Stitt to use an executive order to forbid private health care companies from mandating vaccination for their workers, or to call for a special session so lawmakers can pass legislation to do so. [The Journal Record]

  • Capitol Insider: Group of lawmakers requests changes in Oklahoma vaccination requirements [KGOU]

OSBI discusses efforts to reduce ‘staggering’ backlog of untested sexual assault kits: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is working to reduce a self-described “staggering” backlog of untested sexual assault kits at the agency. The agency held a press conference Friday to discuss plans to reduce the backlog, saying it will take years. [Tulsa World]

Black market cannabis investigations open door to labor trafficking: As the cannabis black market in Oklahoma continues to expand, investigators throughout the state are not only uncovering fields, grow houses and truckloads of illegally grown marijuana, but they are commonly finding workers who could be caught in human trafficking networks. [The Oklahoman]

Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust defends record from legislative critics: Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust is a tiny state agency with a lot of money and a lot of independence — and a lot of people in state government don’t like that. Established to reduce tobacco use and improve Oklahomans’ general health, TSET points to dramatically lower smoking rates and smaller improvements in other areas as proof of its success. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma to try needle exchange program: A new Oklahoma law aims to help combat drug addiction by legalizing needle exchange programs. Individuals will be able to trade used syringes for clean ones, no questions asked, and it can take place at any non-governmental organization. [KTEN]

Oklahoma corporation commissioner accused of violating state constitution: Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Todd Hiett is accused of violating Oklahoma’s constitution because he sits on a bank’s board of directors. A case filed before the Oklahoma Supreme Court by former Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, claims Hiett’s dual roles with the bank and the corporation commission violate constitutional language barring a corporation commissioner from engaging in “any occupation or business inconsistent” with the office holder’s duties. [The Oklahoman]

OKC driver’s license megacenter opening soon to help with REAL ID backlog: The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety this month will open the first of two driver’s license “megacenters” to help address the state’s backlog of residents seeking to renew their licenses and obtain a REAL ID. The facility will open July 26 in the old Oklahoma Health Department building at 1000 NE 10 in Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman]

  • State department of public safety opening Real ID ‘megacenter’ in Tulsa next month [FOX 23]

Congressional redistricting meetings scheduled across state: Oklahoma lawmakers are holding a series of town halls this summer to solicit feedback on congressional redistricting. [Woodward News]

Federal Government News

OKC Mayor Holt joins bipartisan push for federal infrastructure package: Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt visited the White House to meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to build support for a major bipartisanship infrastructure package. Holt joined a bipartisan group of governors and mayors in Washington D.C. to discuss the $1.2 trillion proposal that would make historic investments in clean transportation infrastructure, clean water, universal broadband infrastructure, clean power infrastructure, and other investments. [OKC Free Press]

Bill could end federal marijuana prohibitions: A bill aiming to end federal marijuana prohibitions is being drafted by Senate Democrats to ensure federal services and job protections. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would not only allow state-compliant cannabis businesses to access essential federal services, but it would also protect consumers from being arrested or barred from receiving essential services for using cannabis where it is legal. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma GOP nixes censure of state’s Republican US senators: Oklahoma Republican Party members have rejected a resolution to censure the state’s two GOP U.S. senators for not objecting to the Electoral College votes that certified Democrat Joe Biden as president on Jan. 6. [AP News] The nonbinding resolution, supported by 93 Republicans and opposed by 122 others, called for Lankford and Inhofe to resign. [The Oklahoman]

Sen. James Lankford easily outpaces challenger in campaign donations: U.S. Sen. James Lankford raised nearly $800,000 in the most recent quarter, while a challenger backed by the head of the Oklahoma Republican Party collected about $212,000. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Opinion: Cabinet secretary visit highlights milestone for tribe and state: Earlier this month, I was proud to host a member of the Presidential Cabinet and other top U.S. health care officials in the Cherokee Nation. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Indian Health Service Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler and White House Council on Native American Affairs Executive Director Morgan Rodman came for a visit on July 1. This marked Secretary Becerra’s first official visit to a tribal reservation, on the same day as the state of Oklahoma’s expansion of Medicaid took effect. [Chuck Hoskin Jr. / Tahlequah Daily Press]

Chasm over McGirt decision leaves Oklahoma, tribes without clear path, one year later: When the Supreme Court issued a pivotal ruling that changed criminal jurisdiction in much of eastern Oklahoma, justices expected the state and tribes to work together. One year later, the two sides remain far apart on how McGirt v. Oklahoma could shape the state’s future. Their distance came under stark light during Tuesday’s forum in Tulsa that grew so contentious Gov. Kevin Stitt shut it down an hour early. [The Oklahoman]

Adapted Indigenous ceremonies offer support, healing during pandemic: For the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Easter holidays normally are filled with traditional ceremonies. When COVID-19 put much of the country into quarantine last year, many feared the ceremonies would be canceled. [Cronkite News / NonDoc]

Economic Opportunity

Legal Aid Ardmore fears wave of evictions when moratorium expires: As the eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month for good, lawyers at Legal Aid Ardmore worry that there could be a wave of evictions across the state and stress the importance of taking advantage of rent and utility assistance. [The Daily Ardmoreite] OK Policy: Turning the tide on evictions: Using federal aid, support to reduce Oklahoma’s eviction crisis.

Moving assistance, other aid available for Vista Shadow Mountain residents, officials say: The city is working with nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic community to get residents at a south Tulsa apartment complex into safe housing before they are forced out. About 100 residents of Vista Shadow Mountain apartments, 6000 S. Memorial Drive, have to be out of their apartments by Wednesday, the deadline city officials have set for the apartment complex to fix a long list of fire prevention and building maintenance code violations. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

With e-commerce thriving, industrial lease vacancy is plummeting in Oklahoma City: While the COVID-19 pandemic emptied downtown offices, restaurants and retail stores, it helped boost the market for industrial space, leading to low vacancy rates and strong rents in places like Oklahoma City. That’s because about anything ordered online goes through a warehouse or two, or more, before it gets to people’s homes. [The Oklahoman]

Microbusinesses key to local economies: Microbusinesses – those with fewer than 10 employees – provided a lifeline during the economic fallout of COVID-19 and are important to rebuilding local economies going forward, experts agree. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Oklahoma schools hiring more mental health staff. Counselors say it’s ‘a long time coming.’: Oklahoma school counselors are hopeful extra investments in student mental health support could be a silver lining from a devastating pandemic. The Oklahoma State Department of Education dedicated $35 million of its COVID-19 stimulus funds to establish a grant program, the Oklahoma School Counselor Corps, to hire more counselors and other mental health professionals to work in schools. [The Oklahoman]

‘We need to get answers’: Western Heights investigative audit begins: Officials from the State Department of Education and State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd’s office began an on-site needs assessment and investigative audit this afternoon at Western Heights Public Schools. Byrd said she expects the audit report will take six months to complete. [NonDoc]

  • State intervention, audit of Western Heights school district begins [The Oklahoman]
  • Troubled Oklahoma school defies state education department [AP News]
  • Western Heights Board of Ed defies State order, votes to hire alternate superintendent [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Local Officials Using Federal Coronavirus Relief Money For Direct Flight Incentive Fund [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • New project blossoms in Garden Oaks: Fraternity groups purchase former school in NE OKC [The Oklahoman]
  • Pride month support by Metropolitan Library System praised and criticized [OKC Free Press]
  • An early look at candidates in the City of OKC mayoral primary Feb 2022 [OKC Free Press]
  • Woody Guthrie Festival features ‘pent-up’ pandemic emotion [NonDoc]

Quote of the Day

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

-Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, speaking about rising virus numbers within the unvaccinated population. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Percent of parents with children under age 3 in Oklahoma who earn less than $10 per hour.

[Source: Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center]

Policy Note

It’s been 12 years since the last federal minimum wage increase. Where efforts to raise the pay rate stand: The coronavirus crisis has cast new attention on wages and income. It’s been 12 years since the last federal minimum wage increase, and whether a hike in minimum pay will get passed by Congress or not is still a question. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. That pay raise was approved by Congress in 2007, which gradually kicked it up to the present number in 2009. [CNBC]

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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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