In The Know, Weekend: Gov. finally sets SQ 802 election date; officials discuss re-opening dates for businesses; and more

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. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Note: During the pandemic, OK Policy will be publishing In The Know on Saturdays and Sundays in order to keep our subscribers up to date on the latest information going on in the state and the nation.  

Oklahoma News

SQ 802: Stitt sets election date on Medicaid expansion: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has placed State Question 802 on the June 30 primary election ballot. The proposal, which was authorized for a statewide vote in 2020 after receiving a record number of initiative petition signatures, would expand Medicaid for working Oklahomans  [NonDoc] Yes On 802 campaign manager Amber England said Oklahomans need access to health care now, more than ever. “In recent weeks, we’ve all come to appreciate just how important it is to be able to see a doctor and have health care that can’t be taken away.” [The Oklahoman] Gov. Stitt is opposed to SQ 802, which would add Medicaid expansion to the state Constitution. The governor has pushed his own plan to revamp the state’s Medicaid program, called SoonerCare 2.0. [Tulsa World] Full statement from Yes on 802 about election date [Yes on 802]

State advances Medicaid plan during pandemic: Opponents of a controversial Medicaid expansion proposal are frustrated, saying state leaders are quietly and aggressively pressing forward with their untested agenda as a deadly pandemic ravages the state. Critics say the Oklahoma Health Care Authority continues to ramrod SoonerCare 2.0 through the required review process even as many Oklahomans are understandably distracted by COVID-19. Many are shut in at home and shut out of virtual public meetings due to a lack of home internet access. [CNHI] How SQ802 compares with Gov. Stitt’s health care proposal? [Oklahoma Watch

Stitt: Some Oklahoma businesses may reopen in May: Life in Oklahoma may begin to return to normal in May if news related to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to trend positively, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Friday. Stitt said state officials are getting input from retailers, the Oklahoma Restaurant Association and from churches on plans to reopen gradually, quite possibly in three phases. [Journal Record] Gov. Stitt: “So I can’t give you an exact timeline but we will start stepping back into a more normal way of life sometime in the month of May and early May, hopefully.” [The Oklahoman] The governor said he spoke via telephone with President Trump on Thursday, during which the leaders discussed how the White House’s guideline to get the country “safely reopened” center on Oklahoma’s capacity for testing and contact tracing, or mapping the spread of the virus from person to person through the state. [Public Radio Tulsa] Testing, contact tracing for COVID-19 patients are ‘main keys’ to determine when state should re-open, officials say [Tulsa World] Stitt and Bynum: No plan for city of Tulsa or state of Oklahoma to reopen yet; new COVID-19 surge precautions being implemented [Tulsa World]

Heartland hotspots: A sudden rise in coronavirus cases is hitting rural states without stay-at-home orders: The bump in coronavirus cases is most pronounced in states without stay at home orders. Oklahoma saw a 53% increase in cases over the past week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. [USA Today] (Video) CNN’s Dana Bash talks with Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum about the backlash he faced in his city after pushing for COVID-19 restrictions. [CNN]

Could state’s daily death toll peak on Monday? The state of Oklahoma may have already hit its peak need for hospital resources and its peak for daily deaths due to COVID-19 may be coming earlier than previously thought. [The Oklahoman] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

After resisting, state decides to release number of COVID-19 cases, deaths for all cities: Weeks after mayors and other local officials asked the Oklahoma State Department of Health to release COVID-19 infections and deaths by city, the state began publishing some of that information this week. On Friday, the health department said it would release all city and ZIP-code level data, likely over the weekend or the beginning of next week. [Oklahoma Watch] State media organizations have asked for racial demographic data for COVID-19 infections after statistics nationwide showed black people dying at higher rates than white people. Oklahoma released partial race information at the end of last week. [Big If True]

Coronavirus cases spread in nursing homes as facilities face ‘absolute devastation’: As state officials say Oklahoma is starting to “flatten the curve” on COVID-19 infection rates, nursing homes and other senior care centers are scrambling to contain the spread of the disease and worry they won’t be able to financially stay afloat. [The Frontier]

Amid shortage doctors ask states to donate lethal injection drugs to COVID-19 patients: There’s a possibility state supplies of sedatives, paralytics and other drugs could be useful in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of doctors and pharmacists from around the country wrote a letter asking death penalty states to share drugs like midazolam, vecuronium bromide and fentanyl with hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. [StateImpact]

California study co-lead by Oklahoma business man shows COVID-19 infections much more common: Results from a study co-lead by an Oklahoma businessman show that COVID-19 infections are at least 50 times more common than the number of confirmed cases. [The Oklahoman

First tests show few with antibodies, but officials say progress being made: The first round of antibody testing overseen by the Oklahoma State Health Department found few people in the state’s general population with antibodies related to the novel coronavirus, but public health officials say progress was made and more testing is underway. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

(Audio) Capitol Insider: Action close to fill state budget gap: After a two week impasse, the Board of Equalization is prepared to meet to address the State of Oklahoma’s current year revenue failure. This comes as legislators seek to craft the next state budget and Governor Kevin Stitt looks at ways to restart the state’s economy. KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley discuss the latest news. [KGOU]

‘Our job is to serve those who serve Oklahomans’: The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, which administers the state’s system to help workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own return to employment, found itself with an outdated, ill-equipped website and far too few staff members as demands for its services exponentially climbed. Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services helped the commission both to upgrade its technology and to meet its increased human resources needs. [The Oklahoman]

National Guard enlisted to assist in COVID-19 response in nursing homes, care facilities: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday said he has authorized the Oklahoma National Guard to assist nursing homes and long-term care facilities in controlling the spread of COVID-19. [Tulsa World

Federal Government News

Tribes sue over distribution of coronavirus relief funding: Several Native American tribes sued the federal government Friday, seeking to keep any of the $8 billion in federal coronavirus relief for tribes kept out of the hands of for-profit Alaska Native corporations. [Voice of America] The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Tribes issued a statement Friday critical of the federal government’s decision to distribute CARES Act funding to for-profit corporations. [CNHI]

Criminal Justice News

Tracey Lyall: For people facing domestic violence and sexual abuse, help is still available during the pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent necessary safer-at-home orders to quell the spread of the virus have put thousands of domestic violence victims at an increased risk for further abuse. [Tracey Lyall Op-Ed / Tulsa World] As quarantine and shutdowns add pressure to an already stressed local economy hit by falling cattle markets and oil-patch bust, concerns for mental health and domestic abuse rise. [Woodward News via CNHI] OK Policy Guest Post: ‘Safe at Home’ slows virus outbreak, but endangers domestic violence survivors.

Police shooting of three Hugo children during pursuit ruled justified: Two Hugo Police Department officers who shot four people, including three young children, during a pursuit last April were quietly cleared of any wrongdoing by the district attorney earlier this year. [The Frontier]

Education News

Governor considering stimulus funds for private schools: Gov. Kevin Stitt, who will receive nearly $40 million in emergency federal funds for education, said he may use some of the money for private school scholarships. [The Frontier] Public education advocates rip Gov. Stitt over comments about how to spend emergency money [The Oklahoman] The Oklahoma State School Board Association issued a call to action urging its members to voice their concerns to the Legislature. Executive Director Shawn Hime told the Tulsa World he doesn’t understand how private school scholarships could be seen as a pandemic-related emergency. [Tulsa World] OK Policy: Despite their name, these tax-subsidized scholarships to private schools do not promote equal educational opportunity.

Schools search for ‘lost students’ during distance learning: While schools have made contact with most students during a shift to distance learning, thousands have been unreachable and are at risk of not having contact with a school for at least the next five months until buildings reopen. [The Frontier

Distance learning ‘eye-opening’ for parents: Parents in all parts of Oklahoma are doing the same juggling act — balancing their children’s learning while maintaining their own work schedules. [The Oklahoman]

With possible student slump, state weighs next steps: If the mid-March switch to distance learning started an academic slide, what will it take to regain students’ lost ground? That’s a question Oklahoma education officials, like those around the country, are grappling with. The state’s top education official said students generally will suffer a loss in academic progress: “The next phase focuses on recovery of the ground lost amid the crisis.” [Oklahoma Watch]

General News

25 years later: Oklahoma City bombing remembered while navigating COVID-19: The 25th anniversary of the bombing was to have been commemorated with a huge event, with appearances by a list of nationally known Oklahomans and former President Bill Clinton, who held office at the time of the bombing. Because of COVID-19, Oklahoma City will commemorate the anniversary with a video presentation that may be streamed on the internet nationwide. [Journal Record] Survivor: Bombing led to ‘impossible transformation’ [Journal Record] But the April 19, 1995, assault on a sleepy city in the nation’s heartland shocked many Americans out of their sense of security and awakened them to their own vulnerability. [AP / Journal Record] Never forget April 19, 1995: Photos show the mission of Oklahoma City National Memorial [Tulsa World Photo Gallery]

Lockdowns lift popularity of virtual funeral services as coronavirus changes death as well as life: With restrictions on gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, many area families who lose loved ones are opting for what some providers are calling “virtual services.” [Tulsa World]

Civil libertarians fret over loss of freedoms: During uncertain times and emergencies, such as the COVID-19 health crisis, governments have the ability to expand their powers – and that, many fear, could lead to the erosion of civil liberties. The wave of precautions set forth by state governments has spurred concerns that civil liberties have taken a back seat to public safety. [Tahlequah Daily Press via CNHI]

“Let’s Talk” town hall continues Tuesday with non-profit executives discussing life after COVID-19: The fifth Tulsa World “Let’s Talk” virtual town hall will look at the challenges facing local nonprofit groups because of the COVID-19 shutdown. [Tulsa World]

Wayne Greene: In a world gone madly out of our control, a moment of beauty: “A friend passed along a video of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra playing the Nimrod portion of Edward Elgar’s ‘Variations on an Original Theme.’ The orchestra, like most performing arts organizations in the world, is essentially shuttered. It has canceled its season, postponed fundraisers and sent its musicians to the relative safety of their homes. So they played together but apart … connected by a video network and earpieces. [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC mayor discuss plan for moving forward [The Oklahoman]
  • COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma City area may have plateaued COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma City area may have plateaued [Journal Record]
  • City of Tulsa will furlough employees to deal with anticipated budget drop [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma County assessor ‘must wait and see’ virus effects on property values [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma County applies for CARES Act funding [The Oklahoman]
  • Stillwater has 21 known positive cases of COVID-19 [Stillwater News Press]
  • 115 Edmondites test positive for COVID-19 [Edmond Sun]
  • McAlester Mayor: City needs more info before decision on reopening [McAlester News-Capital]
  • Food assistance available through Regional Food Bank’s network of partners [CNHI]

Quote of the Day

“No one should have to choose between their safety and their right to vote, therefore, Governor Stitt, the Oklahoma Legislature and The State Election Board should take immediate action to ensure that Oklahomans can freely and safely exercise their right to vote in June.”

-Amber England, Yes on 802 campaign manager, about Gov. Stitt setting a June 30 election date for SQ 802 [Yes on 802]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma saw a 53% increase in COVID-19 cases over the past week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

[USA Today]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Relief package a good start, say advocates for the poor. But more help is needed: There’s plenty in the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress to help low-income Americans, including billions of dollars in housing assistance, foreclosure and eviction relief, expanded unemployment benefits, and one-time cash payments. But advocates for the poor say it’s only a first step and that those at the lower end of the economic scale will need much more help in the months ahead. But advocates for the poor say it’s only a first step and that those at the lower end of the economic scale will need much more help in the months ahead. [NPR]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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