In The Know: Medical examiner releases report of Nex Benedict’s death | Ties, electrical cord used to lock OK State Dept. of Ed entrance | Immigrants are vital to Oklahoma’s well-being

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: Immigrants are vital to Oklahoma’s well-being: America’s history centers on welcoming immigrants to make new lives and become part of the great American mosaic. Even just a generation ago, this belief was bedrock. Today, however, this principle has come under attack from national pundits making immigration a wedge issue. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

LGBTQ+ Oklahomans share personal stories, honor recent losses at capitol: Members of Oklahoma’s LGBTQ+ community came together for an annual gathering at the Oklahoma State Capitol Tuesday. “The People’s Hearing,” is a storytelling event aimed at fostering solidarity among trans and gender-nonconforming Oklahomans. This year, like the last, a main theme was remembering nonbinary and trans youth lost to suicide. [KOSU]

Medical examiner’s report of Nex Benedict’s death released: Authorities have released the full autopsy report for Nex Benedict. Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old Owasso High School student, died by suicide the day after a fight in a school bathroom with three girls who reportedly picked on them for how they dressed. The medical examiner’s report shows a combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications in Benedict’s system at the time of their death. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Full autopsy of Nex Benedict released by Oklahoma medical examiner [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma officials release full autopsy report for Nex Benedict [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Bill targeting fentanyl passes in Oklahoma House committee: New penalties for “cutting” or mixing fentanyl with other substances, or disguising it as other drugs, moved within a legislative step of the governor’s desk on Wednesday with House committee passage of Senate Bill 1280, by Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore. [Tulsa World]

Bill that would change NIL rules for Oklahoma athletes is winding through the Legislature: A bill that would give Oklahoma’s universities flexibility in dealing with the rapidly changing landscape in collegiate athletics regarding the use of name, image and likeness (NIL) is one vote away from heading to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for signature. Senate Bill 1786 would allow Oklahoma universities to directly pay student-athletes for NIL use, should conference or NCAA (or NAIA) rules or changes in federal law allow it. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma hunting, fishing license fees to rise for first time in decades: People who hunt and fish in Oklahoma will have to pay more for licenses in the future. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 941 into law on Tuesday, raising license fees for the first time in more than 20 years but also simplifying things by consolidating about 50 different license types down to 14. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Five decades of scandal-free judiciary shows the Judicial Nominating Commission works: Oklahomans should be proud that we have a system of choosing our highest-ranking judges that is regarded as one of the best in the nation to help us make sure we get it right: the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. SJR 34 proposes to dismantle the Oklahoma JNC and move to a federal model for judicial selection, where the governor appoints and the Senate confirms judges and justices. [Miles Pringle / Tulsa World]

Voting and Election News

Facing recall, Enid Commissioner Judd Blevins discusses Charlottesville attendance: Local issues that normally define municipal campaigns have taken a back seat in the recall election to unseat Ward 1 City Commissioner Judd Blevins, who attended a community forum Tuesday night and ultimately defended his decision to march with white nationalists in Virginia in 2017. [NonDoc]

  • Enid commissioner addresses concerns ahead of recall election [KFOR]

Opinion: Problems plague top-two primaries: There is no disputing the fact that voters who have registered as “no party,” commonly identified as independent voters, are being shortchanged. Their tax dollars are paying for a primary election process in which their voice is limited. Currently, they may vote in Democratic primaries but not Republican primaries. This inequity could be easily solved by allowing all voters to choose to vote in one primary election of any party. This is how primary elections are conducted in Texas. [Cindy Alexander / Oklahoma Voice]

Health News

New Oklahoma mental health commissioner says difficult family history drives her to lead with ’empathy, compassion’: In one of her first chances to speak to a Tulsa audience, the state’s top mental health official opened up about her new job, her thoughts on leadership, and her own family experiences with mental health. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: HB 3098 would criminalize STIs, deterring testing efforts: House Bill 3098, currently under consideration, fosters fear rather than education. This dangerous bill would criminalize eight STIs and impose a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for anyone convicted of “recklessly” spreading them. [Valerie Howard / Tulsa World]

Opinion, Arguments on abortion should be based on facts: Views on abortion aren’t always a yes or no. Abortion isn’t a decision I wish anyone had to face, but life is messy and complicated. There may never be agreement on this issue, making equitable laws challenging. But having choices makes for more rational thought, clearer decision making and safer outcomes. Attacks on medical abortion aren’t going away. When it comes to targeting FDA and other regulatory agencies, arguments ought to be based on actual science instead of theology and emotion. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Lawmaker airs concerns about safety, abuse in state prisons: The chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday presented what he described as evidence of understaffing and abuse in Oklahoma prisons. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma lawmaker calls for independent investigation into DOC concerns at state prisons [KFOR]
  • Okla. lawmaker calls for Department of Corrections investigation, DOC responds [News9]
  • State lawmaker says Oklahoma prisons in ‘State of Emergency’ after rape, drug, illness incidents [Fox23]
  • Rep. Humphrey alleges violations, cover-ups in Oklahoma prisons [Fox 25]

Legislation to shield Oklahoma death penalty drug manufacturers from public scrutiny advances: Oklahoma lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would shield those involved in executions from public scrutiny. Senate Bill 1702 specifically shields the entities who produce or supply the drugs used in Oklahoma’s execution process from discovery in civil and criminal proceedings. [Oklahoma Voice]

Angry Del City residents take jail selection site personally: Class conflict. That is what some of the 120-plus residents and a few elected leaders talked about during a gathering Tuesday evening where they were updated on Oklahoma County’s plans to build a new jail on 71 acres at 1901 E Grand Blvd. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Oklahoma needs to focus on prison reforms, not exploiting inmates with rodeo: The Oklahoma State Penitentiary Rodeo was active for nearly 70 years and in that time claimed to have raised thousands of dollars, eventually closing due to low attendance and a host of other issues. Astonishingly, the Legislature has passed two appropriations bills, House Bill 3749 and Senate Bill 1427, carving out $8.3 million to bring it back. It seems that a lot of people have forgotten why the state prison rodeo no longer exists. [Sue Ann Arnall / The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity News

How hiring bias affects older job seekers: Age discrimination in hiring is more common than ever, a March survey reveals. surveyed more than 1,000 hiring managers to understand the prevalence of ageism in the workplace in 2024 and found both the youngest and oldest members of the workforce are targets. When reviewing an applicant’s resume, 42% of hiring managers surveyed admitted they consider the applicant’s age. [Journal Record]

Opinion: Put more women in leadership, eliminate the wage gap: Despite women being half of the U.S. population, the progress of women still lags. Access to capital impacts women-owned businesses, and implicit bias impacts the promotion of women in business and pay equity. [Kathy Taylor / Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Asian Chamber emphasizes relationships at second annual Advocacy Day: The Greater Oklahoma City Asian Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday held its annual advocacy day at the Capitol, where members learned about the legislative process and heard from lawmakers about measures that affect the local Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Opinion, State Chancellor Andrea Garrett: Higher education is key to economic growth: By 2030, over half of Oklahoma’s top 100 critical occupations for economic growth will require an associate degree or higher. Yet, despite a nearly 6% increase in annual degree production over the last decade, our state ranks near the bottom for the number of adults earning degrees. [Allison D. Garrett / Journal Record]

Education News

New security rule posted at the Capitol alarmed a group lined up for an OSDE meeting: Security guards reportedly used an extension cord to tie a door shut. The few protesters gathering say no one attempted entry. The new rules posted said no one would be allowed to wait outside the building between 11 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thursday. It was a dramatic change of enforcement protocol and spokespeople for both the OSDE and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which handles security for the building, wouldn’t say Wednesday night who asked for the change. [The Oklahoman]

  • Advocates to address concerns at Oklahoma Board of Education meeting [KOCO]
  • ‘This is the people’s ground’: Ties, electrical cord used to lock OSDE entrance [Fox25]
  • Protestors wait overnight for a chance to speak during Oklahoma education meeting (photos) [The Oklahoman]

U.S. Dept. of Ed. questions whether OSDE is misusing federal money for substitute teaching program (updated): More than a dozen Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) employees are being tasked with substitute teaching in Tulsa Public Schools, but how they’re being paid has been brought into light and now has the U.S. Department of Education asking questions. [KFOR]

Epic Charter Schools co-founders never reported millions on tax returns, auditor testifies: An auditor from the state testified Wednesday that Epic Charter Schools’ co-founders never claimed as personal or business income on tax returns $144 million in Epic student Learning Funds they now contend were their private funds. [Tulsa World]

  • Epic Charter School head of finance reports irregularities under co-founders [Oklahoma Voice]
  • Day three of preliminary hearing for Epic co-founders [KFOR]

Disputes between McDaniel and OKCPS shouldn’t throw off search for new superintendent, board leader says: The disconnect between the Oklahoma City Public Schools board of education and its current superintendent, Sean McDaniel shouldn’t affect the district’s search for his replacement, the board chair said Tuesday. Despite reports of discord in the days after McDaniel’s resignation announcement – the board was split 5-3 as to whether to accept McDaniel’s resignation – the board remains united. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma students to get state-guaranteed excused absences for 4-H activities: Schools will soon be required to allow students to take excused absences for 4-H activities. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill setting the new rule earlier this week. Under the new law, 4-H members still must follow the attendance policy of their local school board. [KOSU]

OSDE seeks sponsors for Summer Food Service Program: The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) is seeking sponsor organizations for the 2024 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). OSDE’s Child Nutrition program is seeking eligible sponsors, which include, public or governmental agencies, private, nonprofit residential summer camps, and private, non-profit organizations. The program aims to provide nutritious meals at no charge to children during the summer while school is not in session. [Fox25]

Tulsa Public Schools, city to use Vision funds for teacher signing bonuses: Tulsa Public Schools will be partnering with the city of Tulsa to offer signing bonuses for the coming school year. The board approved offering one-time signing bonuses of $3,000 for teachers who are new to the district, already have a standard teaching certificate and sign a 2024-25 provisional contract with the district by May 30. [Tulsa World]

What education measures are still alive at the 2024 legislative session’s halfway point?: Lawmakers are at the halfway point in this year’s legislative session, and just a fraction of the education bills filed at the top of the session have survived big legislative deadlines. State Impact has this round-up of some of the measures still on tap for Oklahoma classrooms, Career Tech centers and universities. [KGOU]

Why Oklahoma Democrats are making a third call for a House investigation into Ryan Walters: For a third time since last August, Oklahoma House Democrats are calling on Speaker Charles McCall to create a special bipartisan committee to investigate state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters, amid reports of possible misuse and abuse of federal tax dollars by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, which Walters leads. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma Democrats urge bipartisan probe into alleged misuse of federal tax dollars [Fox25]

Community News

Opinion: Is DEI the New N-Word?: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are programs and initiatives that work to address unequal representation in education and the workplace. These programs aren’t particularly new, but misinformation about false threats are being circulated by many Republican leaders. [Anna Littlejohn / Black Wall Street Times]

Local Headlines

  • Where are people relocating for career shifts? Two Oklahoma cities ranked in top 100 [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa Community College to close Owasso location [Tulsa World]
  • Guthrie voters will decide whether to keep a sales tax to fund city projects [KOSU]
  • Tulsa City Council sets city elections for Aug. 27, settles on proposed pay increases for elected officials [Tulsa World]
  • Which is better, Oklahoma City or Tulsa? U.S. News & World report weighs in [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Allyship is bound in uncomfortable action. I think what several folks have mentioned today that I can only echo is that our lives are difficult, and made so every day by the policy thought of, spoken of and passed in this building.”

-Oklahoma Rep. Mauree Turner, a non-binary lawmaker representing Oklahoma City,  speaking at an annual gathering called The People’s Hearing at the Oklahoma State Capitol. “The People’s Hearing,” is a storytelling event aimed at fostering solidarity among trans and gender-nonconforming Oklahomans. [KOSU]

Number of the Day

$16 billion

Undocumented immigrants in 2016 contributed $16 billion to major federal programs —$13 billion into the Social Security funds and $3 billion to Medicare — despite not being able to receive benefits from these programs. [Marketplace]

Policy Note

New data shows why the U.S. needs more immigrants: An analysis by nonpartisan congressional economists shows how much the U.S. economy — and Social Security — depend on a growing immigrant workforce. [Center for Public Integrity]

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Kandis West is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, she served as the Communications Director for the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus. She spent nine years in the Olympia/Tacoma area of Washington organizing compensation campaigns for teachers for the Washington Education Association. Kandis has a proven track record of increasing community engagement, public awareness and media exposure around the most pressing issues that impact citizens. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.