In The Know: Legislation advances to halt executions in Oklahoma | Hundreds of groups call for removal of Ryan Walters | AG opinion prompts resignations from Gov’s cabinet | Flipping the script on state’s upside-down tax system

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

Policy Matters: Flipping the script on state’s upside-down tax system: Oklahoma’s tax system is upside down, meaning families who earn the least pay a far larger share of their income toward public programs than do their well-off neighbors. This is why lawmakers should prioritize tax relief focused on low- and middle-income families and seniors. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Over 300 Groups Call for Removal of Ryan Walters: A letter addressed to legislative leadership in Oklahoma names 350 local and national groups calling for an investigation of the state Department of Education. They are also calling for the immediate removal of State Superintendent Ryan Walters. This push is a direct response to the near-constant rhetoric that comes from Walters. [The Black Wall Street Times]

  • Hundreds of LGBTQ, civil rights groups call for removal of top Oklahoma education official following Nex Benedict’s death [The Hill]
  • Why more than 350 groups are asking the Legislature to remove Ryan Walters from office [The Oklahoman]

After Nex’s death, former LGBTQ+ students say Owasso has troubling history of bullying: Questions surrounding the final hours of a 16-year-old’s life in this suburban Tulsa city have sparked national scrutiny over the safety of transgender and gay children in Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

  • Nex Benedict remembered with demonstration in front of Owasso High [The Oklahoman]
  • After Nex Benedict’s death, LGBTQ+ Oklahomans vow to ‘not let the hate take over’ [PBS NewsHour]

State Government News

Impact of Oklahoma AG’s opinion on other Stitt cabinet posts unclear: A recent Oklahoma Attorney General opinion prohibiting dual office holding might have implications for other members of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet. Two cabinet secretaries have resigned since Wednesday. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • AG opinion prompts ODOT director Tim Gatz to resign as Cabinet secretary, OTA director [NonDoc]
  • Lt. Gov second to resign from cabinet over AG opinion; Stitt warns of shockwaves through government [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell gives up workforce secretary role [KOSU]
  • Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell resigns from Governor’s cabinet [KFOR]
  • AG opinion prompts Tim Gatz resignation as transportation secretary, turnpike authority boss [The Oklahoman]

Adoption bill passes committee; moves to Senate floor: A proposed bill could potentially impact Oklahoma’s adoption system. The lawmaker behind it says the bill will make sure children are joining the right families, but some are worried it will end up hurting the children instead. [KFOR]

Disagreement continues into 2024 session over mandating pre-packaged cannabis: A bill that would allow residents of other states to acquire a full two-year medical cannabis patient license and another mandating pre-packaged flower are headed to the House floor. [Journal Record]

As violence toward letter carriers grows, OKC-area union rally at Capitol calls for action: According to the National Association of Letter Carriers, attacks against letter carriers in the United States appear to have increased at a rate never seen before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the NALC union is warning that carriers in the Oklahoma City area are increasingly targets of robberies and physical assaults as they deliver the mail. [The Oklahoman]

This Week in Oklahoma Politics: Transportation Secretary resignation, Senator’s LGBTQ comments, grocery tax cut and more (Audio): KOSU’s Michael Cross talks with Republican Political Consultant Neva Hill and Civil Rights Attorney Ryan Kiesel about the resignation of Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz after an AG’s opinion saying he couldn’t also be director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and Department of Transportation and a State Senator doubling down on calling members of the LGBTQ community “filth” after the death of Owasso High School binary student Nex Benedict. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

Lankford’s last ditch effort to combat misleading border bill claims: The Senate Wednesday, after months of negotiation by lead GOP negotiator U.S. Senator Lankford (R-OK) blocked a border deal filled with much of what his party had wanted. [AP via KFOR]

Tribal Nations News

Jail fracas fallout: GRDA drops Lighthorse cards, tribes toss task force, Drummond intervenes: In the two months since the Muscogee (Creek) Nation charged Okmulgee County Jail detention officer Matthew Douglas with battery for a physical altercation regarding the custody of a man arrested for drug possession, the Grand River Dam Authority suspended its cross-deputization credentials for tribal police forces, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered a new task force, and Principal Chief David Hill called the situation “dangerous” and a “political ploy.” [NonDoc]

  • Oklahoma AG challenges Muscogee Nation’s case against county jailer over dispute caught on video [The Oklahoman]

Anti-refinery Indigenous protesters disrupt Lawton council meeting: Armed police officers escorted members of Westwin Resistance out of a Lawton City Council meeting Tuesday after they halted the meeting with chants urging the city to stop construction of the nation’s first cobalt and nickel refinery. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Voting and Election News

Oklahoma’s presidential primary election voting begins. All three parties have candidates on ballot.: Early voting began Thursday for Oklahoma’s Presidential Preferential Primary election, which for the first time features candidates from each of the state’s three recognized political parties. [Oklahoma Voice]

Health News

Black Wall Street’s new medical clinic Juno closes unexpectedly: Less than a year after Juno Medical opened a Black-owned clinic on Black Wall Street in Historic Greenwood District, the business closes its doors. A sign posted on the door reading “operations at Juno Medical in Tulsa have ceased as of end of business on Feb 26, 2024,” was the only warning patients received. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Opinion: Inequities in Black birth: Every day African American women wake up anticipating the joy that comes with motherhood. All too often the focus is placed on the despair that birthing Black women fall victim to instead of the joy they often experience. [Omare Jimmerson / The Black Wall Street Times]

Criminal Justice News

House committee advances bill to halt all Oklahoma executions: A House panel on Wednesday passed a Republican-authored bill that would put a moratorium on executions amid a push from GOP legislators who want to keep innocent people from being put to death. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Oklahoma could halt executions as death penalty moratorium bill advances [The Oklahoman]

‘Change that narrative’: OK bill to automatically expunge non-violent misdemeanors advances: A Democratic led bill that would automatically expunge non-violent misdemeanors after 10 years is advancing through the House. The proposal states the individual has to pay all restitution, fines, fees as well as not have pending criminal charges – felony or misdemeanor – to be eligible for automatic expungement 10 years after conviction. [KFOR]

Subpar Care Led to Cleveland County Detainee’s Death, Federal Lawsuit Claims: Cleveland County Detention Center staff recklessly disregarded Shannon Hanchett’s constitutional rights and contributed to her in-custody death amid a mental health crisis, a federal lawsuit filed on Jan. 25 claimed. [Oklahoma Watch]

Audit shows Seminole County Sheriff’s Office lost almost $200,000: The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s office released the report earlier this week. From December 2016 to November 2022, the forensic audit shows the office manager collected about $187,340 and it went missing. The lost money came from a kiosk where loved ones could deposit cash for inmates to use in the commissary. [KOSU]

Oklahoma County commissioner denies donation swayed jail site choice: Oklahoma County Commissioner Myles Davidson on Thursday sent out an invitation to a campaign fundraiser hosted by the company chosen to build the new jail. The invitation quickly resulted in new criticism of the District 3 commissioner, who took office last year. [The Oklahoman]

4 Oklahomans convicted in $100 million construction bid rigging conspiracy: Four men worked together to squeeze extra money out of Oklahoma Department of Transportation construction projects. The final co-conspirator pleaded guilty in federal court in late February. [KOSU]

  • Four Oklahoma executives plead guilty to $100 million contract bidding scheme [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Death, life without parole sentences for Oklahoma sex crimes won’t save tomorrow’s victims: Protecting children from the horrors of sexual abuse is a noble goal and one that the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws — NARSOL — shares. However, legislation that purports to offer such protection is often proposed in response to a rare, horrific situation without addressing the actual issue of child sexual abuse. Such is the case with Oklahoma’s House Bill 3992. [Sandy Rozek / Oklahoma Voice]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma’s Foster Family Shortage Forces Children From Their Communities: Without enough foster families to support the more than 5,100 children in Oklahoma’s child welfare system, many children are moved hours from their homes, increasing the strain on youth, foster parents, case workers and families trying to regain custody. [Oklahoma Watch]

‘We Are Desperate’: Tulsa Lawmaker Files Bill To Make Daycare More Affordable, Accessible: Lawmakers are discussing a bill whose sponsor says will help Oklahoma workers by making daycares more accessible and affordable. There are places across the state where parents don’t have access to daycare, and this proposal looks to solve that issue. [News on 6]

Opinion: Oklahoma’s workforce benefits from childcare scholarships: There are terrific potential employees here in Oklahoma who are unable to find quality childcare. Quality childcare is the ultimate backstage crew for workforce development – it helps parents balance work and family responsibilities and provides supplemental learning experiences for our future engineers, scientists, healthcare providers, and teachers. [Allison D. Garrett / Journal Record]

Education News

‘We need some Jesus’: Lawmaker sidelines school accreditation bill after Republican pushback: The Oklahoma Senate Education Committee was scheduled to hear a bill that would have removed authority over school district accreditation decisions from the State Board of Education. But at the end of the committee meeting Tuesday, the bill’s author and chair of the committee sidelined it. [StateImpact Oklahoma / KGOU]

Oklahoma senators to recommend school support staff wage boost, but not Walters’ ‘Back to Basics’ plan: Senate education officials plan to propose $2,500 stipends for school support staff, but they won’t pursue state Superintendent Ryan Walters’ $60.55 million “Back to Basics” plan, a leading lawmaker said. [Oklahoma Voice]

Education Watch: AG Drummond to Public School Advocates: “I will always be your defender.”: Advocates for public education gathered at the state Capitol on Wednesday. The event kicked off with a pep rally on the rotunda. Attorney General Gentner Drummond was the only elected official to address the crowd. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Public schools are being ‘inappropriately attacked’ for doing their jobs, Oklahoma AG says [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahomans gather at Capitol to advocate for education policy, celebrate public schools [StateImpact Oklahoma / KGOU]

Oklahoma City school board accepts superintendent’s resignation: Amid an air tinged with disbelief, the Oklahoma City Board of Education agreed to part ways with its superintendent, who said he is leaving at the end of the school year over conflict with a board member. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • A divided OKC school board accepts Sean McDaniel’s resignation, then leaves without comment [The Oklahoman]

Community News

Report: State ranks ‘worst’ for women; how can that be improved?: The personal finance website WalletHub released its report on the Best & Worst States for Women in 2024 this week, and Oklahoma ranked last of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report highlighted the areas that provide an ideal living environment for women and the places that are in need of improvement across 25 key metrics that ranged from median earnings for female workers to women’s health care to the female homicide rate. [Journal Record]

Tulsa high school students stage walkout for Gaza: A large group of Edison Preparatory School students walked out of class Thursday morning to voice their opposition to Israel’s bombing of Gaza. Students gave speeches and chanted, “This is not a war, this is genocide,” on the edge of Edison’s football field. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Panel favors millions in funding for Arkansas River levee work: Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to appropriate $67 million to help pay for levee improvements along the Arkansas River in Tulsa, a project described as critical to the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Oklahomans. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • A year after rejecting OG&E franchise agreement, Norman residents to vote again [NonDoc]

Quote of the Day

“I was bullied pretty much every day, consistently. That’s why this hurts a little extra.”

– Ren Stolas, a transgender Oklahoman and former Owasso student, on how their own experience reflects that of other 2SLGBTQ+ students in the state, a consequence of anti-transgender rhetoric and laws being promulgated by several of the state’s elected officials. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


The average bail amount for all Oklahoma jails in 2022. The average bail costs have been steadily increasing since 2019 for urban, rural, and midsize jails. [MODERN Criminal Justice Task Force]

Policy Note

What a Tricky Economic Cycle Means for State Budgets: The economy continues to grow, which is obviously good news for state budgets, yet lawmakers know they’re in for a period of retrenchment under any scenario, due to the winding down of federal COVID-19 funding programs. For that reason, even a return to normal budgeting — in which they will inevitably face tough trade-offs to make the numbers work out — may feel like a sudden shift into austerity. [Governing]

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Annie Taylor joined OK Policy as a Digital Communications Associate/Storybanker in April 2022. She studied journalism and mass communication at the University of Oklahoma, and was a member of the Native American Journalists Association. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Strategic Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma. While pursuing her degree, she worked in restaurant and retail management, as well as freelance copywriting and digital content production. Annie is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, and holds a deep reverence for storytelling in the digital age. She was born and raised in southeast Oklahoma, and now lives in Oklahoma City with her dog, Melvin.