Weekly Wonk: Getting Medicaid expansion done correctly | Paid family leave is good for business | SB 511 improves harm reduction

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom. 

This Week from OK Policy

  • Oklahomans demanded Medicaid expansion. We must do it quickly and get it right: When Oklahomans voted to expand Medicaid last year, they voted for increased access to health care, doctors, and medication for 200,000 newly eligible Oklahomans. They also voted for improved health outcomes, increased financial stability, and higher workforce participation for these newly eligible individuals, and they voted for a significant economic investment: 17,000 new jobs and $2.5 billion in new economic activity in the first year alone. However, in order to realize these enormous benefits, the state must ensure that Medicaid expansion is implemented well and that all eligible Oklahomans can enroll in the health program. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) has taken some steps to make this a reality. Now, the agency must commit to developing and implementing a comprehensive outreach and enrollment assistance plan. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]
  • Paid family and medical leave is good for families and businesses: Paid family and medical leave has been extensively proven to improve the health of children and their parents. Despite its benefits, some groups have raised concerns that providing paid family and medical leave — which nearly every country in the world does — would burden small businesses with excessive costs and possibly harm our economy. However, these well-intentioned fears seem misplaced when examining the effects of paid family and medical leave policies already in place. Instead, paid family and medical leave policies improve families’ financial outcomes while benefiting rather than harming small businesses. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]
  • SB 511 creates a legal path for harm reduction in Oklahoma (Guest Post): Between 1999 and 2016, more than 10,000 Oklahomans died from a drug overdose. In 2019, Oklahoma maintained the highest rate of Hepatitis C infections and deaths in the nation with an estimated 1,820 of every 100,000 Oklahomans infected. Far too many Oklahomans are dying of preventable diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, and far too many Oklahomans are dying of overdoses. SB 511, authored by Rep. Carol Bush and Sen. John Montgomery, is a significant step towards reducing the criminalization of addiction and improving the well-being of families and communities. The newly enacted SB 511 allows medical practitioners, law enforcement, Tribes, and registered social service entities to administer harm reduction syringe service programs with careful oversight by the State Department of Health. SB 511 creates an opportunity for these organizations to work with the Health Department to expand access to harm reduction services in Oklahoma. [Hailey Ferguson & Andrea Haddox / Guest Post for OK Policy]
  • State Supreme Court nominations: Unnecessary to ‘fix’ what’s not broken (Capitol Update): The Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) has been under attack by some in the legislature who are unhappy with Supreme Court rulings, especially on wedge political issues. The allegation has been that the court is “out of step” with the current political climate. (Interestingly, the same thing is now being said at the federal level by some Democrats). So far legislators unhappy with the JNC have been unable to muster enough support to return to electing appellate judges, eliminate the JNC, or in some way cause the selection of judges to influence the court toward their political views. So, they introduce bills to tinker with the JNC. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
  • Policy Matters: SB 2 traumatizes Oklahomans, threatens economic progress: For many Oklahomans, this ranks among the most difficult legislative sessions. Pick your poison for the most troubling events: whether it’s the breathtaking lack of transparency to legislative power plays sucking valuable time and energy from governing to divisive bills that traumatize vulnerable Oklahomans and jeopardize economic development efforts. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Veto referendum

Under the Oklahoma Constitution, citizens have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum. Article V, Section 3 states:

Referendum petitions shall be filed with the Secretary of State not more than ninety (90) days after the final adjournment of the session of the Legislature which passed the bill on which the referendum is demanded. The veto power of the Governor shall not extend to measures voted on by the people. All elections on measures referred to the people of the state shall be had at the next election held throughout the state, except when the Legislature or the Governor shall order a special election for the express purpose of making such reference. Any measure referred to the people by the initiative or referendum shall take effect and be in force when it shall have been approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon and not otherwise.

To put a veto referendum on the ballot requires signatures equal to 5 percent of voters in the last Gubernatorial election. Currently (2021), a veto referendum would require 59,320 signatures to get on the ballot. After a veto referendum is drafted, it goes through a lengthy process which can include various legal challenges.

There have been 20 veto referendums in Oklahoma history, with the  last one in 1970. An unsuccessful 1991 effort to repeal House Bill 1017 was conducted through a proposed constitutional amendment, not a veto referendum. In 2018, a veto referendum campaign (State Question 799)  to overturn HB 1010xx, a revenue-raising measure that passed with 3/4 support from both chambers, was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In August 2019, a veto referendum effort was launched to challenge HB 2597, which allowed for the permitless carry of firearms in Oklahoma; the veto referendum effort failed to gather enough signatures to make it on the ballot.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“This is the same bill (Gov. Stitt) endorsed only last year in Washington under the Trump Administration. Now he’s trying to say that leaving healthcare management up to our state is some kind of socialist plot. This measure protects our state from federal overreach. The governor is playing politics with Oklahoman’s healthcare and taxpayer dollars.”

– Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, speaking about SB 131, which would replace the governor’s plan to privatize management of the state health care system [Oklahoma House of Representatives]  

Editorial of the Week

Releasing inmates with ID, resume good first move

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections now must make sure each person leaving its prisons has photo identification and resume in hand.

House Bill 1679, known as the Sarah Stitt Act, was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt this week. It gets the state closer to providing people who served time the tools needed to re-enter society safely and productively.

It bears the first lady’s name in honor of her activism on the issue. She was a driving force behind the re-entry fairs before the mass commutations in 2019. Part of those fairs emphasized issuing IDs.

The law puts into statute many of the actions now performed voluntarily by DOC staff and its partners.

It directs the DOC to gather documents necessary for post-release. These include vocational training records, state-issued ID, birth certificate, Social Security card, work records and a resume.

Inmates preparing for release also will complete a practice job interview. The law’s costs are to be paid with available DOC funds or through private donations.

This is an important step toward successful integration into communities by people who have been in prisons.

But, that’s not nearly enough…

[Read the full Tulsa World editorial]

Numbers of the Day

  • 9,236 – Number of evictions filed by the 53 most frequent plaintiffs in Tulsa County, 2019-2020. These landlords accounted for over 2 out of every 5 eviction filings during the period.[Source: Open Justice Oklahoma]
  • 7,921 – Evictions granted filed in Oklahoma between January and March 21 despite the Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium [Source: Open Justice Oklahoma]
  • 1 in 13 – Number of Tulsa renter homes that are evicted each year, the 11th highest rate among American cities; Oklahoma City is ranked 20th at 1 in 16 renter homes evicted. [Source: Eviction Lab]
  • 1 in 3 – Portion of eviction filings filed against Black renters in an Eviction Lab study, despite Black renters making up only 1 in 5 renters in their sample [Source: Eviction Lab]
  • -26.9 grams – Estimated change in birth weight for infants born to mothers who have an eviction filed against them during pregnancy [Source: Eviction Lab]

What We’re Reading

  • Preliminary Research Shows Evictions Contribute to Spread of COVID-19 [National Low Income Housing Coalition]
  • The CDC extends an eviction ban, but landlords find ways around it [Marketplace]
  • We’re Facing a Looming Homelessness Crisis. We Must Act Now [Newsweek]
  • The conundrum affordable housing poses for the nation [Washington Post]
  • Federal Funding Charts The Path For Local Eviction Right-To-Counsel Efforts [The Appeal]


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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