A former employee of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration has registered as a lobbyist for a private health care company which is bidding on a state contract to manage Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, the Associated Press reported.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Samantha Davidson Guinn left the Stitt administration in September, and court records show she registered as a lobbyist for Healthcare Highways and CareSource Oklahoma later that month. Stitt had announced last summer he would outsource care for many who rely on the state’s Medicaid program. The private companies would be contracted to manage the program’s spending, according to AP.
Davidson Guinn now is the senior vice president of government affairs, strategy and policy for Healthcare Highways, but the company said there is not conflict of interest between Davidson Guinn’s former role in the administration and her new position, AP reported.
“As an additional safeguard, Healthcare Highways took the extra step of seeking a second and independent legal opinion by McAfee & Taft law firm in Oklahoma City,” President Alan Scoggins said in a statement. “McAfee & Taft issued a report finding no ethical violations or conflicts in (Davidson Guinn) accepting the position with Healthcare Highways.”
A spike in Oklahoma COVID-19 cases Sunday might have been caused partially by people attending holiday gatherings despite repeated warnings to limit their contact others, the Associated Press reported.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health Sunday reported 6,487 new COVID-19 cases — more than 2,000 than were reported Saturday — and 23 more COVID-19 deaths. That pushed Oklahoma’s total to more than 331,00 confirmed cases and 2,761 virus deaths since the start of the pandemic. State Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said part of the reason for the surge was a decrease in people getting tested and less consistent reporting during the holidays, but gatherings also likely contributed, according to AP.
Of the cases reported Sunday, 58 percent had a collection date on or after January 1, and 80 percent had a collection day since December 27. The rolling average number of daily new cases in Oklahoma has increased by about 1,169 cases in the past 2 weeks, which marked a nearly 40-percent increase in the prior 2 weeks, AP reported.
There were nearly 1,227 new cases per 100,000 people in Oklahoma in the past 2 weeks, which was the seventh-highest figure of any state, the statistics show. One in every 137 people in Oklahoma tested positive in the past week, according to AP.
An Oklahoma judge has extended a temporary restraining order allowing bars and restaurants across Oklahoma to stay open past an 11 p.m. curfew issued in November by Gov. Kevin Stitt in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.
District Judge Susan Stallings heard arguments in the case Friday and extended the December 29 order while she considers ruling in the lawsuit bar owners who argue the governor does not have legal authority to impose the curfew. Attorneys for the governor said state law gives Stitt “broad and flexible authority needed” to combat the spread of the virus, according to AP.
Saturday, Oklahoma had the sixth most new cases per capita in the nation with 1,218.16 cases per 100,000 residents. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 231,875 total cases and 2,738 deaths since the pandemic began, increases 4,289 cases and 35 deaths from Friday, AP reported.
Last week, Ramon Dominquez and Stephanie Soliz, both 46, pleaded guilty to a drug distribution conspiracy involving methamphetamine and heroin, according to a release form the U.S. Department of Justice.
Dominquez was a member of the Southside Locos prison gang serving a life sentence in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for a previous conviction of first degree murder and other offenses. Dominquez and leaders of the Southside Locos orchestrated a largescale drug-trafficking operation primarily focused on distribution of methamphetamine and heroin, using contraband cell phones from prison, according to the release.
Soliz, Dominquez’s wife and co-defendant, served as Dominquez’s de facto presence on the street. In addition to delivering drugs, Soliz collected proceeds from drug debts and sales, storing money for future drug-trafficking and protecting the Southside Loco’s drugrelated assets, according to the release.
January 4, Dominquez pleaded guilty to his involvement in the drug trafficking conspiracy. January 6, Soliz also pleaded guilty to her involvement in the drug trafficking conspiracy. Dominquez faces a maximum penalty of life in a federal prison, a fine up to $10,000,000 or both. Soliz faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, a fune of $1,000,000 or both. They both also face several years of supervised release, according to the release.
Attorney General Mike Hunter has sent a letter to federal regulators asking for an update in its fight against opioid abuse after Congress granted the agency expanded authorities in 2018, according to a release from the attorney general’s office.
The letter asks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide a progress reported by next month on what actions the agency has taken to combat the opioid epidemic and what actions are proposed for the future. The letter was signed by a bipartisan coalition of 48 attorneys general, according to the release. Attorney General Hunter said the FDA is a vital partner in the fight against the opioid epidemic, according to the release.
“The additional powers granted to the FDA by Congress put the agency in a better position to help state fight the ongoing opioid epidemic,” Attorney General Hunter said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbating addiction and substance abuse across the nation, my attorneys general colleagues and I are requesting information on how officials are using their new authority now and how they plan to use it in the future.”
“While COVID-19 deserves the attention it is receiving, the raging opioid epidemic also must be addressed,” the letter said. “The loss and sense of despair brought by COVID-19 may even be refueling the opioid epidemic as people look to escape their fear and anxiety about the uncertain future the virus has created.”