In The Know: Virus numbers declining, ‘but it’s not over’ | Fixing Oklahoma’s fines & fees problem | Racist comments draw national attention

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

Fixing Oklahoma’s court fines and fees problem (Capitol Update): There are a couple things on which nearly everyone seems to agree. The first is that Oklahoma, like several other states, made a mistake through the years by piling the cost of the court system and some executive agencies of government on the backs of offenders who in many cases are unable to pay. The second is that using arrest and incarceration as a means of collection from someone unable to pay is not only wrong but ineffective and counterproductive to the larger purposes of criminal justice. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

COVID-19 hit rural Oklahoma communities harder, highlighting long standing disparities: When residents of Greer County started dying of COVID-19, they weren’t strangers to Staci VanZant. She and her husband own Greer Funeral Home in Mangum, a city of under 3,000 people. They handled arrangements for 15 people who died of the coronavirus over the course of the pandemic. “We’re a small town,” VanZant said. “These are our friends. These are our family. They’re not just a number.” [The Oklahoman]

Gov. Stitt to Enid leaders: Oklahoma is nearing ‘the end of COVID’: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt made a quick trip to Enid on Friday to share what he said was “really some positive news right now.” “We feel like we’re getting to the end of COVID,” he said to about 25 city and business leaders at Autry Technology Center. Stitt made the trip to give an update about several other issues and his goals for the legislative session. [Enid News & Eagle]

  • Stitt rolls back many COVID restrictions, but municipal mandates remain [NonDoc] | [KGOU]
  • Declaration aside, hurdles remain to reopening [The Journal Record]
  • Documents show Oklahomans urged Stitt to impose lockdowns [AP News]
  • Oklahoma health department recommends COVID-19 testing, gathering outdoors for safer spring break plans [The Oklahoman]
  • Vaccinations, drops in COVID-19 cases create optimism in Oklahoma [Oklahoma Watch]
  • ‘It’s slowing down, but it’s not over:’ 6 front line workers in OKC hospitals describe cautious optimism after a year fighting COVID-19 [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa County’s COVID-19 ZIP code map reflects improving conditions as spring break arrives [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma’s average number of new COVID-19 cases decreasing [AP News]

Oklahoma House passes McCall’s tax measures: The Oklahoma House on Thursday passed two tax reform measures introduced by House Speaker Charles McCall. A proposal to reduce personal income tax garnered bipartisan support, largely because the bill included language to reinstate the refundable aspect of the earned income tax credit. House Republicans also overwhelmingly approved a bill to phase out over five years Oklahoma’s corporate income tax, which McCall described as “a bold idea” to attract more businesses to the state. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy Statement: Half-billion dollars in corporate and individual tax cuts is irresponsible, shortsighted and dangerous

Announcer who made racist comments during basketball game says he had ‘spiking’ blood sugar when he used racial slur: A broadcaster’s use of racist language before an Oklahoma high school girl’s basketball game Thursday drew condemnation from politicians, superintendents and the state’s top education official. The incident sent shockwaves through a prep sports landscape that weeks earlier witnessed another incident of black athletes targeted with slurs. [The Frontier] It ocurred before a 6A State Girls Basketball Tournament game Thursday between Norman High School and Midwest City High School. [NonDoc]

Health News

Oklahoma’s vaccine scheduler portal now available in Spanish, breaks language barrier: On Tuesday, the state’s Vaccine Scheduler Portal became available in Spanish. Some in the Hispanic community say this is crucial in breaking the language barrier. Others say they didn’t even know what the portal was. [News9]

  • Homeless Alliance offers vaccine at day shelter [The Oklahoman]

Native American vaccination rates skyrocket as tribes help others despite Internet challenges: Native American tribes are pulling off many of the most successful coronavirus vaccination campaigns in the U.S., bucking stereotypes about tribal governments. Despite severe technological barriers, some tribes are vaccinating their members so efficiently, and at such high rates, that they’ve been able to branch out and offer coronavirus vaccines to people outside of their tribes. [Axios]

  • Chickasaw Nation offers virus vaccine to all in Oklahoma [AP News]

Outlook: ‘Fortuitous’ timing has state better prepared for COVID-19’s likely addiction fallout: With last year’s big story in health care still such a major factor, the outlook for Tulsa in 2021 is a little unclear. But one thing seems certain, at least. Because of the ongoing investment in addiction medicine at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, the city and state are much better positioned to deal with the expected COVID-19-related increase in addiction. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma House turns down controversial eviction bill: A bill to prohibit government agencies or courts from intervening on behalf of renters, ordering landlords to allow people to stay in properties even if evictions are legally merited, failed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a vote of 26-51. [The Journal Record]

Session 2021: These bills have made it halfway home: The Oklahoma Legislature has reached the functional halfway point on policy bills for the 2021 session, which means now is as good a time as any to get caught up on key proposals. NonDoc published a brief list that features more than 35 bills worth watching and includes measures related to state finances, health care policy and education. [NonDoc]

  • From the state Capitol – At halfway point, lawmakers focus on abortion restrictions, tax cuts and curbing protests [The Frontier]
  • Political notebook: Lawmakers’ long week keeps legislation alive [Tulsa World]
  • (Audio) This Week in Oklahoma Politics: Vaccinations phase three, Julius Jones commutation, anti-protest bills & more [KOSU]

No Comment: In Oklahoma’s legislature, public rarely given chance to weigh in: Unlike several other states, Oklahoma does not require — and rarely offers — the public a chance to comment before bills reach a final vote. Committee chairs may invite people to testify. In most cases, that doesn’t happen. As a result, many bills fly through the committee process with scant public discussion and little to no direct input from regular citizens. [Oklahoma Watch]

Bill wants Oklahoma Promise scholarship recipients to payback funds if they don’t complete school: A bill moving through the legislature would require students in a popular state-funded scholarship to pay back the money if they don’t complete the program in six years. Senate Bill 639, by Senate Education Chairman Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, passed last week by a vote of 36-9, but not without passionate debate. [Tulsa World]

House passes bill to give governor power over Tulsa and Oklahoma City-County Health Departments: The Oklahoma House narrowly and on a largely urban-rural split passed a bill this week to give the governor power over the Tulsa and Oklahoma city-county health departments. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Wayne Greene: House Bill 2504 is bad legislation. Tell your legislator: House Bill 2504 would strip Tulsa and Oklahoma county health departments of much of their independence but still expect Tulsa and Oklahoma county taxpayers to foot the bill. It’s a bad bill, but it made it through the House. It’s time for the Senate to lose it. Passing the buck to the other chamber is a dangerous game. Bad ideas sometimes become bad laws. [Column / Tulsa World]

Should the Oklahoma Wildlife Department have to wait to buy land? Some lawmakers think so: State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, is public enemy No. 1 with many hunters in the state. Murdock, who has tried unsuccessfully in the past to stop the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation from adding more public lands for hunting, is trying again this year with SB 766. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahomans granted two-month income tax extension: The Oklahoma Tax Commission has followed the Internal Revenue Service in pushing 2020 income tax filing and payment deadlines back two months, to June 15. [Tulsa World]

Wayne Greene: The Oklahoma Legislature should stop writing laws and start studying Whitty’s Law: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s sensible in any way.” It was a simple commonsense comment but so incredibly important and well expressed, that I’ve started thinking about it as Whitty’s Law: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s sensible in any way. It is something that people in governmental power positions should particularly keep in mind. [Column / Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Federal murder complaints filed in three McGirt-related cases: Unrelated murder complaints against three people, all of which are linked to the expansion this week of the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling to the Cherokee Nation, were filed Thursday and Friday in Tulsa federal court. [Tulsa World]

Broken Arrow power plant claims county has no authority to levy property taxes, citing McGirt decision: A tax protest like no other is taking place in Wagoner County, which if successful could broadly impact some public schools and other government bodies that rely on property taxes for much of their funding. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Criminal justice reform, child welfare to benefit from $85 million Arnall Family Foundation donation: Children impacted when their families are caught up in the criminal justice system are to benefit from an $85 million initiative funded by the Arnall Family Foundation. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation will administer the program, which aims to distribute the majority of the funds through grants to nonprofits throughout Oklahoma in the next five years. [The Oklahoman]

The pandemic slowed courts, leaving behind case backlogs. Now public defenders are ‘emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’: After the pandemic led to extended courthouse closures and suspended jury trials in several states, some criminal courts are experiencing backlogs that prosecutors estimate will take years to get over. For public defenders, this means balancing their responsibility to get their clients a speedy and public trial with keeping them safe from covid while in jail. [Big If True]

OKC officers charged in Stavian Rodriguez death surrender at Midwest City jail: The five Oklahoma City police officers charged with first-degree manslaughter of a 15-year-old suspected robber surrendered on warrants at the Midwest City jail Thursday and bonded out. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Federal regulations, coal phase outs mostly responsible for decreasing carbon output in Oklahoma: Over the past nine years, major Oklahoma industries that rely on fossil fuels have steadily reduced their carbon output, according to EPA data. [The Frontier]

Education News

Joy Hofmeister: Schools must rebound from the bitterness and pain that grew out of the pandemic: Educators are as eager as parents and students for a full-scale return to normalcy. But as welcome as that prospect is, what awaits us post-pandemic is arguably the biggest crisis in recent memory for American K-12 education. Learning loss, trauma, depression: Our schools will not lack for serious challenges. Children will need the combined herculean efforts of educators, families and communities — and they will need it when educators, families and communities are at their most exhausted and ready to move on. [Joy Hofmeister Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Craig Knutson: Investing in early education pays off: Even today, working to increase investment in early childhood, we are directly trying to improve this state’s pipeline of productive human capital. So it saddens me when I read for the umpteenth time, how we, as a state, continue to disinvest in public education — at virtually every level. [Craig Knutson Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKCPS Board Chair candidates answer questions in southside forum [Free Press OKC]
  • Mayor Bynum receives first dose of COVID-19 vaccine [Tulsa World]
  • Enid mayor looks back on stages of pandemic over the last year in the city [Enid News & Eagle]

Quote of the Day

“(Rural communities) also have usually higher incidences of chronic disease and obesity. Those things are all risk factors for COVID, so it’s not surprising that it’s hit rural harder.”

-Allison Seigars, executive director of Rural Health Projects, a nonprofit that aims to improve health care access for rural Oklahomans. Rural populations are often older, poorer and less-insured than their urban counterparts. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Percent of eligible taxpayers who claim the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a tax break for low- to moderate-income workers and families.

[Source: Urban Institute]

Policy Note

States Can Adopt or Expand Earned Income Tax Credits to Build a Stronger Future Economy: Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted their own version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help working families paid low wages meet basic needs. State EITCs build on the success of the federal credit by keeping people on the job and reducing hardship for working families and children. This important state support also extends the federal EITC’s well-documented long-term positive effects on children, boosting the nation’s future economic prospects. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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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