OK Policy announces its 2021 policy priority areas

OK Policy has announced its 2021 legislative priorities, focusing on policy initiatives to help Oklahomans live healthier, create thriving families, and develop safe communities. 

“Even before COVID-19 struck, far too many Oklahoma families and communities were struggling to provide and care for themselves and their families. The pandemic and its economic fallout exposed the enormous disparities and lack of adequate support, especially for Oklahomans of color,” said OK Policy Board Chair Dr. Joe Siano. “We have identified these policy priorities as the key places in which elected officials, policymakers, and advocates can apply resources to help create a more equitable environment for all Oklahomans.”

OK Policy will monitor issues related to these policy areas during the upcoming Oklahoma Legislative session, which starts Feb. 1. 

Healthy Oklahomans

One of the key issues in the upcoming legislative session will be securing funding for Medicaid expansion, which was approved by voters via SQ 802 in June 2020. Expansion will extend health coverage to 200,000 low-income working-age parents and other adults. It will particularly benefit Oklahomans of color, which is a good first step towards improving equitable health outcomes in our state. Expansion should also provide a financial return to the state both through the injection of new federal tax dollars and the economic impact from job creation, new tax revenue, and increased economic impact. 

However, these significant investments in health, equity, children, and the economy will be jeopardized without a fully funded and efficient implementation of Medicaid expansion. The Legislature is constitutionally mandated to fund expansion. Many expansion funding options exist that would not diminish funding for the state’s core services or require new taxes. Legislators should move to ensure that Medicaid expansion administration continues in the historically efficient and effective manner that has served Oklahomans for decades. State leaders can best serve Oklahomans by ensuring a comprehensive and well-funded Medicaid expansion.


  • Fully fund Medicaid expansion without taking from other public services or harming low-income Oklahomans.
  • Halt the implementation of privatized managed care and allow the state to continue its historically efficient and effective Medicaid administration.


Safe Communities

Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates. This incarceration crisis breaks up families, worsens racial disparities, and extracts millions of dollars annually in court fines and fees from the state’s poorest communities. None of these policies make Oklahomans more safe; numerous states have lower crime rates and significantly lower incarceration rates. 

Oklahoma’s expensive incarceration crisis creates devastating consequences for communities statewide. Courts and court services remain habitually underfunded. Jails and prisons are far easier to access in many parts of Oklahoma than mental health or substance use disorder treatment. This intergenerational cycle is particularly destructive to low-income rural families and families in more urban communities of color. One in 6 Oklahoma children have at least one incarcerated parent. Oklahoma leads the nation in childhood trauma, with disturbingly high rates of domestic violence and among the nation’s highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women. 

Evidence-based justice reform has the potential to break this terrible cycle of economic and social harm caused by incarceration. Such measures would address the root causes of crime by providing health care access and resources for those experiencing homelessness and trauma. Implementing these reforms would allow law enforcement to focus their efforts on reducing crime and ensuring public safety for every community in Oklahoma. 


  • Fund criminal courts and court services through appropriated revenue so that Oklahoma’s courts are not reliant on fines and fees from low-income families.
  • End the destructive practice of driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay court fines and fees for non-driving infractions.
  • Increase investment in treatment and resources so more Oklahomans can get the help they need rather than be funneled into Oklahoma’s prisons and jails.
  • Reform the cash bail system, including consideration of a defendant’s parenting and caregiver status before assigning bail or detaining them pre-trial.  


Thriving Families

Families are the backbone of our society and economy, but too many Oklahoma families can not keep up. Many Oklahoma jobs pay less than a quarter of what it takes to support a family. Many workers have to leave jobs and many must drop out of the workforce entirely to care for children or parents. Limited access to paid leave means the whole family becomes worse off when life circumstances change. The state’s tax structure also expects more from low-income parents than from any other Oklahomans. 

Similarly, Oklahoma’s public policies have failed our families and children. Too many children live in poverty, which risks lifelong limits on their education, health, and happiness. Oklahoma has not invested enough in education from birth through career, and our child care industry leaves its workers and parents with too few good options. Compounding the situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated most of our low-income families through unemployment, food insecurity, and the specter of homelessness.

Public policy can change the trajectory for Oklahoma families and children, both through wise public investments and through raising expectations of the private sector.


  • Create a state minimum wage that grows to at least $15 per hour and keeps up with inflation; allow cities and counties to set their own minimum wages.
  • Adopt a statewide insurance program to make paid family and medical leave available to all workers and the self-employed.
  • Gradually increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit and make it fully refundable starting with tax year 2020.
  • Shape the state’s budget and tax systems so that Oklahoma can make meaningful, sustained investments in public services that provide equal opportunities for all residents to thrive.


# # # 

For more insights throughout session, be sure to follow @OKPolicy on Twitter and sign up for our daily or weekly enewsletters.



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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.