In The Know: Virus causing ‘enormous’ burden on hospitals | Gov. replaced Board of Ed member | Recently filed Senate bills

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

An early look at two recently filed Senate Bills (Capitol Update): There are some early bill filings by Senators for the upcoming session. House members usually do not file their bills until the final day for filing. A couple of bills by Senate leaders caught my attention because of their potential impact. Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, apparently is looking for a way to gather data to control high health care costs in the state.  Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, in his continuing efforts to manage costs and fees in the criminal justice system, has pre-filed SB 38 that deals with drug courts. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update

Oklahoma News

Local expert fears ‘unspeakable’ COVID-19 care decisions loom. State epidemiologist agrees the hospital burden is ‘enormous.’: Dr. Jennifer Clark fears her colleagues might soon be forced into “unspeakable decisions” if COVID-19 trajectories stay pointed skyward — who receives life-saving treatment, and who won’t. Interim state epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor on Friday said he fully agrees with Clark — who presents data weekly for Project ECHO’s COVID-19 virtual updates — regarding her concerns about moving toward crisis staffing in health care. [Tulsa World]

  • Health commissioner says Oklahoma’s COVID-19 spread is “alarming” [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma’s post-holiday week ends in higher active cases, deaths, hospitalizations [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Oklahoma reports 3,241 more COVID-19 cases, 22 more deaths [AP News]
  • ‘Fear and confusion’: seeking answers on 11 p.m. cutoff order for bars and restaurants, lawyer delivers letter to Gov. Stitt’s office [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘Worst-case scenario’ of COVID-19 spread unfolding as ‘extreme severe’ risk level added to Tulsa ZIP code map [Tulsa World]
  • Frye reacts to new CDC quarantine guidelines [The Lawton Constitution]
  • As crisis worsens, health experts urge vigilance [The Journal Record]
  • Oklahoma teachers lower priority for COVID vaccine than anticipated as youth infections spike [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Stitt’s office silent following reports of Governor’s out-of-state travels [Public Radio Tulsa]

Gov. Stitt replaces Board of Education member with Enid woman who leads anti-mask group: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s replacement for outgoing Oklahoma State Board of Education member Kurt Bollenbach is an Enid woman who has aggressively fought against mask mandates in the central Oklahoma town. [The Frontier] Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new appointee to the state Board of Education spent months sharing debunked COVID-19 medical advice, conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine content before hiding the posts from public view shortly after news of her new position became public Friday. [Oklahoma Watch] Outgoing member Bollenbach was one of three board members to vote in favor of a mask mandate in Oklahoma schools. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Proposed legislation would make it harder to pass citizen-led petitions: A GOP state legislator has prefiled legislation to make it harder for initiative petitions to pass at the ballot box. Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, filed legislation for the 2021 session that would require initiative and referendum petitions to get 60% or more of a statewide vote to pass, instead of a simple majority. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Oklahoma Affordable Care Act premiums are lowest in years, but will COVID-19 impact sign-ups? Oklahomans will have more choices and the most affordable health insurance options in years through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace. Thanks in part to a record number of insurers offering plans in Oklahoma for coverage that starts Jan. 1, the average monthly benchmark premiums on the federal exchange are down more than 20% from a record high in 2019. [The Oklahoman]

Capitol Insider: Amid pandemic, Oklahoma Health Care Authority prepares for Medicaid expansion: In an unprecedented year for health care around the world, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has had to adjust to serve Oklahoma’s significant uninsured population. Adding to that challenge was Oklahoma voters’ decision in June, through Constitutional Amendment, to require the state to expand Medicaid next year. [KGOU]

While most COVID-19 patients can cope at home, doctors point to danger signs: Both retired nurses, Lee Cornelius and his wife agreed that if they ever test positive for COVID-19, they want to cope with the disease at home, unless it becomes truly life-threatening. Even if they need oxygen or IVs, they could handle it themselves, Cornelius said, explaining that they wouldn’t want to further burden a hospital staff. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma will use all $1.26B of state CARES Act funds, governor’s office says: Oklahoma will use all $1.26 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds allocated to the state, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office said Wednesday. With the Dec. 30 deadline looming, Stitt’s office said the remaining funds have already been committed to various projects. [The Oklahoman]

  • CARES money to pay for coronavirus-related expenses going fast as deadline nears [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma County officials unsure if CARES Act funds will be spent by deadline [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma County small biz grant program working fast to meet Dec 9 deadline [OKC Fee Press]

State extended unemployment benefits to end Dec. 12: State extended unemployment benefits will end Dec. 12, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission director said. OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt announced in a Twitter video Friday she had just received information from the U.S. Department of Labor that the program no longer meets the requirements to stay in effect. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Senate redistricting meeting is Tuesday in Ada: The Oklahoma Senate’s series of statewide redistricting town hall meetings gets underway with meetings in Ada and Chickasha. The Senate and Oklahoma House of Representatives are partnering together with each chamber hosting a series of meetings the next several weeks at sites across the state in an effort to solicit input and inform citizens about the redistricting process. [The Ada News]

After election wins, Munson and Walke take on new challenges in House: Democratic House Members Collin Walke (HD-87) and Cyndi Munson (HD-85) have been serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for nearly five years. [OKC Free Press]

Federal Government News

Despite years of unwavering loyalty, Inhofe now a target of Trump’s wrath on defense bill: Sen. Jim Inhofe, who spent the last four years praising President Donald Trump and his commitment to boosting the Pentagon’s budget, found himself a target of the president’s wrath last week, with his loyalty questioned and his defense bill threatened. [The Oklahoman]

Rep. Kendra Horn sole Oklahoma vote to decriminalize marijuana at federal level: The U.S. House passed a bill on Friday that would decriminalize marijuana in federal law, a historic step that the Senate is expected to ignore. The bill, which would remove marijuana from the schedule of dangerous drugs, was approved 228-164, with only five Republicans voting for it. [The Oklahoman]

  • Final Kendra Horn town hall focuses on COVID relief [The Oklahoman]
  • Horn campaign spending nearly double that of Bice [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

How Tulsa’s police union tries to win elections and influence people: City Councilors Lori Decter Wright, Kara Joy McKee and Vanessa Hall-Harper were each reelected this year, much to the chagrin of the local police union. The councilors couldn’t be happier to be headed back to City Hall, but they remain frustrated and disappointed in the way FOP leadership has at times wielded its influence and portrayed their positions. [Tulsa World]

Protesters focus on police union over Stavian Rodriguez shooting death: Community members protested the shooting death of 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez by five Oklahoma City Police officers on November 23 after he attempted to rob a convenience store on the south side. [OKC Free Press]

Economic Opportunity

Evictions will continue despite Tulsa courts postponing other types of cases: Eviction cases will proceed next week despite Tulsa County District Court postponing most other face-to-face proceedings until January, prompting complaints from tenant advocates who say the arrangement seems unfair. [Tulsa World] Eviction hearings were previously moved to the Family Justice Center, which is not covered by a new administrative order issued this week. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Merchants, police discuss steps to address panhandling, homelessness in 71st Street retail corridor [Tulsa World]

The Gender Pay Gap: Local leaders discuss roots, hope for overcoming pay disparity: Two decades into the 21st century, full-time female workers in Garfield County still make less than two-thirds as much as their male counterparts, according to U.S. Census data featured in a recent report. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey compares male and female wages, from the community to national level. [Enid News & Eagle]

Economy & Business News

COVID-19 had noticeable impact on Tulsa’s economy, but officials hope for rebound in 2021: City officials have gained some insight into how much the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged down Tulsa’s economy. City of Tulsa Chief of Economic Development Kian Kamas told city councilors last week her team had started to see signs of slowing commercial development activity in late 2019. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Pandemic impacting Black, minority-owned small businesses in OKC metro: KOCO 5 is looking into how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting Black- and minority-owned small businesses in the Oklahoma City metro. Joanne Davis, with the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce, said they’ve been hearing from a number of businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. She told KOCO 5 that she’s afraid the community could lose more than half of the Oklahoma City metro’s Black- and minority-owned businesses before the end of the pandemic. Part one | Part two [KOCO 5]

Education News

The week in coveducation: Stitt removes State Board of Education member: Following the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s a lot to catch up on in the Oklahoma education world, including Epic Charter Schools settling a 2019 legal claim and Gov. Kevin Stitt replacing a State Board of Education member. [NonDoc]

  • Jenks Public Schools apologizes after photo at state championship game shows crowded, mostly maskless student section [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Norman Public Schools records 11% enrollment drop across schools [The Norman Transcript]
  • Norman Public Schools update quarantine guidance, will not adopt in-school quarantine policy [The Norman Transcript]
  • Stillwater Public Schools will not quarantine at school [Stillwater News Press]
  • State Department of Education looking at how testing will factor into school report cards this year [Public Radio Tulsa]

General News

Native Americans critique data, surveys following election: On election night, Jodi Owings and her family watched the results reported live on television in their Oklahoma home. That’s when she noticed the wording on a CNN graphic that displayed returns by race as white, Latino, Black, “something else” and Asian. [AP News]

New NonDoc podcast: Live from the News Dungeon: NonDoc released the pilot episode of a new podcast effort, Live from the News Dungeon, which provides a glimpse of how our team members stay sane and positive despite devoting most of our time to covering politics and public policy. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“We see wearing a mask and staying away from each other as part of a civic duty – it has nothing to do with politics,” Maytubby said. “This is about caring about the other people around you. At some point, people have to start caring about somebody other than themselves.”

-Phil Maytubby, chief operating officer at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department [The Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Number of COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health as of Dec. 6, 2020 [AP News

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing: The story of the coronavirus in Iowa is one of government inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility, similar to how Oklahoma’s leadership has handled the virus. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has followed President Donald Trump’s lead in downplaying the virus’s seriousness. She never imposed a full stay-at-home order for the state and allowed bars and restaurants to open much earlier than in other places. She imposed a mask mandate for the first time this month—one that health-care professionals consider comically ineffectual—and has questioned the science behind wearing masks at all. Through the month of November, Iowa vacillated between 1,700 and 5,500 cases every day. This week, the state’s test-positivity rate reached 50 percent. Iowa is what happens when a government does basically nothing to stop the spread of a deadly virus. [The Atlantic]

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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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