In The Know: Fact check on Oklahoma’s larceny rate | Legislative session at the halfway point | Lawmakers should respect the will of the people

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

Has Oklahoma’s larceny rate skyrocketed since SQ 780 was passed in 2016? No.: The data shared during recent legislative debates was wrong. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data shows all forms of property crimes in Oklahoma have steadily decreased for decades—including larceny-theft and shoplifting. Some lawmakers and others have shared OSBI data purporting to show a dramatic increase in larceny, shoplifting, or other property crimes. OSBI has said those spikes were created by changes in data reporting, not increases in crime. [Cole Allen / OK Policy]

State Government News

Legislature Focuses on Budget, Policy at Halfway Point: Hundreds of bills have survived the Oklahoma Legislature’s first big policy deadline, new Republican leaders have been chosen, and the House and Senate are starting budget negotiations in the weeks leading up to candidate filing for this year’s election. That’s in stark contrast to a monthslong stalemate over how to provide public funds for private schools that bogged down last year’s session to the point where a special session was ultimately needed to finish work. [Oklahoma Watch]

Lawmakers Seek Tougher Shoplifting, Domestic Abuse Penalties: Proposals cracking down on retail theft and domestic violence have momentum at the state Capitol. Several reform measures have also advanced at the Legislature’s unofficial halfway point, though ambitious efforts to mandate pretrial data collection statewide and impose a death penalty moratorium were not heard on the full House or Senate floor and are effectively dead. [Oklahoma Watch]

Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen owes state more than $4.7M, lawsuit says: The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has told a judge in a 2022 civil case that Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen owes the state over $4.7 million for dishonest acts. [The Oklahoman]

Capitol Insider: Movement on budget negotiations expected to pick up: As legislators return to work following spring break, the stage is set for budget talks to gain momentum. [KGOU]

Opinion: We can’t be a pro-business state if we’re not telling Oklahoma’s story: Oklahoma’s tourism operations have been extremely successful, despite outdated funding structures that have limited investment in recent years. [Secretary of Tourism Shelley Zumwalt / The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole wants lead role in federal budget-making: Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole is vying for greater control of the federal budget. The U.S. representative pitched to his colleagues in Congress Friday to choose him as the next chair of the U.S. House Appropriations and Budget Committee. [KOSU]

Tribal Nations News

Opinion: Everyone benefits when women wield influence. Tribes understand that: For generations, women in the U.S. fought hard to earn the same privileges as men. Their efforts secured the rights to vote, own land, open a bank account and more. While these women awaited basic rights for years, numerous Indigenous tribes already had made significant progress in this domain. [Margaret Zientek / The Oklahoman]

Voting and Election News

Opinion: Oklahoma voters have been decisive with initiative petitions. Lawmakers should show some respect: Oklahoma politicians have developed a nasty habit of questioning the will of the voters. Whenever there’s an election outcome for a citizen-led petition that they don’t like, lawmakers like to spout off that voters didn’t know what they were doing as they come up with creative — and often offensive – ways to circumvent the will of the people. [Janelle Stecklein / Oklahoma Voice

Criminal Justice News

Evidence, testimony by CFO expected at weeklong preliminary hearing for Epic founders: Some evidence and witness testimony in the massive racketeering and embezzlement case against Epic Charter Schools’ co-founders and longtime CFO will be presented in a preliminary hearing that could run a full week. [Tulsa World]

  • AG to Lay Out Evidence in Epic’s Multi-Million Dollar Embezzlement Case [Oklahoma Watch]

Housing & Economic Opportunity News

OKC planners want to open the door to ‘granny flats,’ accessory dwelling units, but where?:  If Oklahoma City opens the door to so-called granny flats — accessory dwelling units, as secondary housing on single-family lots — they’ll start where they’re most wanted, and that’s in the urban core of OKC. [The Oklahoman]

What are Oklahoma squatters rights? What can Oklahoma property owners do about squatters?: So what exactly are squatter’s rights, and how do they apply in Oklahoma? Here’s what we know about Oklahoma squatters’ rights, and what rights property owners have when someone is living on their land or in their home. [The Oklahoman]

Are wind turbines dragging down your property value? New study has surprising findings: A new nationwide study that analyzed data from 300 million home sales and 60,000 wind turbines found that a wind farm’s impact on home values is much lower than previously thought, CNN reports. Instead, there’s about a 1% drop on average for a home with at least one wind turbine within six miles. [The Oklahoman]

Memorial honors, remembers lives of people experiencing homelessness lost in 2023: The organization’s executive director, Dan Straughan, says an event like this is never easy, but it’s even harder whenever it’s the highest total of lives lost in a year. [KOCO]

Economy & Business News

Ranchers will continue to feel long-lasting impacts of Western Oklahoma, Texas wildfires: As landowners wait for their fields to green up after recent wildfires, ranchers will be monitoring immediate and long-term wildfire effects on cattle. [KOSU]

Report shows Oklahoma City is home to a lot of empty office space: If you spread out all of OKC’s vacant offices next to each other, they would cover about 75 football fields. About a quarter of the city’s rentable office space sits empty — just over 4 million square feet, according to an end-of-2023 market report. [KOSU]

Education News

As Oklahoma adds virtual charter schools, some wonder if there’s a ‘saturation point’: Seven virtual charter schools are currently operating in the state, and an eighth has been approved to open later this year. But as the number of virtual schools continues to climb and as even more apply for authorization, state officials have started to question how many more of these niche schools Oklahoma needs. [Oklahoma Voice]

Sources: OSDE Chief of Staff joining growing list of high-level resignations: Numerous sources with knowledge about the situation told News 4 Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) Chief of Staff Jenna Thomas resigned from her role this week, joining a growing list of high-level department officials who have suddenly resigned in the past month. [KFOR]

  • News report: Ryan Walters loses chief of staff, latest agency defection [The Oklahoman]

Polling data: ‘How do you feel about Ryan Walters?’: After 15 tumultuous months in office, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters appears to have lower favorability with potential Oklahoma voters than he would like, according to multiple polls conducted recently. [NonDoc]

How many lawsuits name Ryan Walters as a defendant?: Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters acknowledges an extraordinary level of scrutiny on his administration and his policies while repeating that he “will never back down to a woke mob.” Several lawsuits filed against Walters and the Oklahoma State Department of Education ask state and federal courts to weigh in on whether that characterization of the plaintiffs applies. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Department of Education spends $50,000 on video work with Texas-based firm: The same day OSDE signed a contract with a DC-based company to help promote Superintendent Ryan Walters on the national level, the department hired Precision Outreach, a Texas-based company. Taxpayers are now footing the bill for $50,000 worth of video work for the state agency. [Fox 25]

LGBTQ+ advocates denounce DA’s decision to not file charges in Nex Benedict’s death: LGBTQ+ advocates denounced the Tulsa County district attorney’s decision to not file charges in the death of Nex Benedict or the fight that preceded it. [The Oklahoman]

CareerTech instructor pay increases nearly 5% after legislative mandate: Average pay for Oklahoma CareerTech instructors increased by nearly 5% when comparing 2023 base salaries to those in 2024, a Tulsa World analysis found. For instructors, the average annual pay increased from $66,827 in 2023 to $70,149 in 2024. The 4.9% raises were part of an education improvements package mandated by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2023. [Tulsa World]

Community News

When Israeli kibbutz lost sacred texts to attack, these nontraditional Oklahoma scribes stepped in: An Israeli community is observing the Jewish holiday of Purim with a sacred item made by a group of Oklahomans halfway across the globe. Rabbi Juan Mejia, of Oklahoma City, said he and other members of The Kedusha Project inscribed a parchment scroll with the Book of Esther as “an act of solidarity” with Kibbutz Be’eri, an Israeli community that was attacked on Oct. 7 by Hamas militants. [The Oklahoman]

Billionaire MacKenzie Scott gives OK nonprofit whopper grant: ‘Vital agents of change’: An Oklahoma City nonprofit has received a $2 million grant from billionaire MacKenzie Scott. RestoreOKC, described as a community development ministry in northeast Oklahoma City, was recently chosen as one of 361 grant recipients. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Scrap the whole immigration system and let the workforce be a guide to policy:  Americans generally agree on two things regarding immigration: We want immigrants going through legal channels, and the current system is completely broken. Another truth has emerged: Complaining about immigration is a winning ticket for some politicians. Most politicians blame the other side, and nearly all proposed congressional fixes have been hyper-partisan. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Local Headlines

  • Pay boost proposed for mayor, city councilors: How does Tulsa compare? [Tulsa World]
  • Proposed city budget cuts would shutter access to OKC’s Martin Park two days a week [The Oklahoman]
  • Bartlesville voters to decide on changes to city charter [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Some patient info accessed in data breach, EMSA says [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“Unfortunately, agencies were artificially constrained in telling us what they really needed. We did see that the executive branch limited what those agencies could request, so we saw a lot of flat budgets. I was challenged seeing some of the health and human services needs we have in this state, the increased costs, the increased needs of people in poverty and people with mental health conditions.” 

-Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, speaking about the need for state agencies to have budget requests that realistically address the needs of everyday Oklahomans. [Oklahoma Watch

  • From OK Policy: Submitting flat budgets will gradually erode agencies’ ability to meet our state’s needs over time [Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Percentage change of larceny reports nationwide in the 4th quarter of 2023 when compared with the same period in 2022. [FBI Crime Data Reporter

Policy Note

The U.S. crime rate is still dropping, FBI data shows: New FBI data confirms previous indications that crime in the U.S. declined significantly in 2023, continuing a post-pandemic trend and belying widespread perceptions that crime is rising. Why does the public think it’s going up? “There is definitely more disorder in cities than there was five years ago,” said one expert. “People confuse disorder and crime.” [NBC News]

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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.