In The Know: Oklahoma rebuilds after 25 tornadoes | Tornadoes likely to impact state budget talks | Restrictive zoning laws add to affordable housing crisis | 90-day countdown begins for SQ 832 | Rural hospital closures shortens lifespan for Native American women

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Capitol Update: Bill seeking to change State Dept. of Ed. board likely no longer a threat to status quo: It looked for a while as though the state school board and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction were going to get their wings clipped a bit. With all the noise about what some view as shenanigans at the State Department of Education, it appears the board and department will stay on course for at least another year. [Steve Lewis/ OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

As SQ 832 advances, Oklahoma begins to debate minimum wage hikes: The clock is ticking for a signature collection effort to put State Question 832 on the ballot and ask Oklahomans to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 2008. Organizers have 90 days to collect the necessary signatures after the state Supreme Court gave the petition a green light. [NonDoc]

Gov. Kevin Stitt withdraws Shelley Zumwalt’s nomination for cabinet secretary post: The nomination of Shelley Zumwalt, the embattled director of the state’s tourism department, to be Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage, has been withdrawn from consideration, The Oklahoman has learned. [The Oklahoman]

  • Stitt withdraws Zumwalt nomination to be tourism secretary [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma residents dig out from weekend tornado outbreak that killed 4, injured over 100: Oklahomans on Monday were digging through the rubble of homes and businesses after at least 34 tornadoes ripped through the state. The weekend storms left four dead and more than 100 injured. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Oklahomans rebuild after tornado outbreak: ‘It’ll never be the same, but it will be OK.’ [The Oklahoman
  • National Weather Service in Norman issued record number of tornado warnings on Saturday [KOSU]
  • 25 tornadoes now confirmed by weather service; storm cleanup continues [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma state budget deal close, House leader says: House Speaker Charles McCall on Monday said he hopes to get a state budget agreement this week. But the House and Senate do not have an agreement on a possible income tax cut. [Oklahoma Voice]

Tornadoes likely to change state budget priorities, Senate leader says: The weekend storm that hammered 12 counties, spawned several tornadoes and left at least four dead will likely have a big impact on the state’s 2025 budget, the majority leader of the Oklahoma Senate said Monday. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma lawmakers plan to help pay for tornado damage in Sulphur and beyond [KOSU]

New Oklahoma law targets kids’ access to porn: A new law in Oklahoma intended to prevent kids from accessing internet porn may cause some porn sites to abandon the state, lawmakers say. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma House lawmakers briefed on $250M impact on aerospace infrastructure: Lawmakers heard from two agency leaders Monday to learn how Progressing Rural Economic Prosperity Fund and American Rescue Plan Act dollars are helping the Oklahoma Department of Aerospace and Aeronautics and the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority to grow and create jobs. [Journal Record]

Opinion: Kids shouldn’t have to worry about losing parents to ‘ill-advised’ immigration bill: “Miss Mary, who will take care of us when they take our parents away?” This was a real question I received from a seventh-grade student at Roosevelt Middle School last week. Why should children have to spend any time worrying about losing their parents to an immigration bill that is short-sighted, ill-advised and will likely be held up as unconstitutional? [Mary Melon -Tully / The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Wild onion dinners mark the turn of the season: As winter fades to spring and the bright purple blossoms of the redbud trees begin to bloom, Cherokee chef Bradley James Dry knows it’s time to forage for morels as well as a staple of Native American cuisine in Oklahoma: wild green onions. [AP/Journal Record]

Health News

Mortality gap grows between urban, rural communities especially Native women in Oklahoma: Rural adults from ages 25-54 died of natural causes at a 6% higher rate than urban residents in 1999. Twenty years later, that number grew to 43%, according to the recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Indigenous men and women experienced the largest rate increase, with Indigenous women seeing the largest rate spike over the 20-year period, at 55%. [KOSU]

Oklahoma’s foster care mental health services seeing improvement under federal watch: The latest monitoring report for Oklahoma’s foster care program says mental health services have improved over the last six months. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is still under federal monitoring under the Pinnacle Plan, which requires outside monitoring by outside child welfare experts, called the “co-neutrals,” who report on the agency’s effort to make improvements every six months. [The Oklahoman]

Southern Oklahoma hospital refers patients elsewhere after severe tornado damage: Health care services at a hospital in Marietta are temporarily unavailable after a deadly tornado Saturday night left severe damage. The storm resulted in blown-out windows, crumbling ceilings and a mangled exterior. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

State corrections staff logged nearly 1 million hours of overtime in 2023: State Department of Corrections employees racked up nearly 1 million hours of overtime during 2023, an 11.7% increase from the previous year, according to a Tulsa World analysis of state payroll data. [Tulsa World]

‘Transformative’: More college programs are slowly coming into prisons: When the U.S. Department of Education announced last summer that federal Pell Grants would become available to incarcerated college students, lawmakers and state corrections agencies scrambled to adjust statutes and step up potential partnerships with universities. [Oklahoma Voice]

Tulsa city councilor charged with misdemeanor domestic assault and battery: Tulsa City Councilor Grant Miller was charged on Monday with misdemeanor domestic assault and battery. The charge comes less than a week after Miller was arrested at his midtown home after a relative of the victim’s called the police. The victim reportedly resides with Miller. [Tulsa World]

Housing & Economic Opportunity News

Zoned Out: How Oklahoma Zoning Laws Contribute to the Housing Crisis: Oklahoma needs more than 77,000 affordable units to meet the demand of low and extremely low-income residents, those Oklahomans who earn as little as 30% of the area median income. In Oklahoma, restrictive zoning ordinances in three of the largest cities are obstacles to housing the state’s lowest-income families. [Oklahoma Watch]

Opinion: Business viewpoint: How banks can help with the affordable housing crisis: When banks, developers, communities and nonprofits work together to find creative financing solutions, more affordable housing projects can take place. Combining a mix of tax credit programs, capital commitment, gap financing and grants are all ways we can work together to reduce development costs and create affordable housing for those in need. [Shawn Karnes / Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma City ranked 2nd-best place for small businesses nationwide: The Oklahoma City metro was ranked the second-best place for small businesses nationwide by Forbes Advisor in its 2024 report on the most and least risky places for small businesses in America. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

OSDE Meetings: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain: Thursday’s April meeting took a shocking turn when one commentator was arrested. Audra Beasley used her allotted three minutes to question why disability accommodations are not provided in the Oliver Hodge building where the OSDE operates. Beasley is a mother of three, one of whom has a disability. Beasley continued to press the board about ADA accommodations while her son was at the podium. That’s when Oklahoma Highway Patrol placed her under arrest. Beasley was then booked in the Oklahoma County Jail and charged with willful disruption. [Black Wall Street Times]

Satanist group will participate in Oklahoma public schools chaplaincy program if approved: A Satanist group wants to send its “Ministers of Satan” into Oklahoma public schools should a chaplaincy bill become law in the state. [The Oklahoman]

Sulphur Public Schools’ bus fleet destroyed by tornado, district working to get students back to class: Sulphur Public Schools is working to get students back into the classroom later this week after Saturday night’s deadly tornado outbreak. The storm destroyed its bus fleet, but it’s working with nearby schools to find transportation for the remainder of the school year. [KOSU]

Former OU-Tulsa president, philanthropist appointed to state higher ed regents’ board: Ken Levit, a former president of the University of Oklahoma’s Tulsa campus and the current executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, has been appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. [The Oklahoman]

Community News

‘Focus: Black Oklahoma’: SoonerSelect, Traci Manuel, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy: This episode of Focus: Black Oklahoma features stories on the transition from SoonerCare to SoonerSelect, the first African American educator to claim the title of Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, and more. [KOSU]

How one architect reshaped Oklahoma City’s skyline: On architect I.M. Pei’s first visit to Oklahoma City, he walked the downtown sidewalks, entering stores, talking to owners, surveying the surroundings. His firm was to redesign downtown Oklahoma City as it moved toward urban renewal. On this particular April day in 1964, his response after his initial tour was, “The city is too big.” [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“We’re so far from having enough units for people. And we have so many different levels of government and of change that needs to happen to get where we need to be. So, yeah, we do need every change we can get.”

-Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, commenting on the need to change restrictive zoning laws to make room for more affordable housing. [Oklahoma Watch]

Number of the Day


In the Oklahoma City metro, the typical cost to buy a home is 51.2% higher than the typical cost to rent. This is the 18th highest buy-to-rent ratio among nation’s 50 largest metros. [Bankrate]

Policy Note

How Housing Costs Drive Levels of Homelessness: An analysis of rent prices and homelessness in American cities demonstrates the strong connection between the two: homelessness is high in urban areas where rents are high, and homelessness rises when rents rise. A large body of academic research has consistently found that homelessness in an area is driven by housing costs, whether expressed in terms of rents, rent-to-income ratios, price-to-income ratios, or home prices. Further, changes in rents precipitate changes in rates of homelessness: homelessness increases when rents rise by amounts that low-income households cannot afford. [Pew Research]

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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.