In The Know: A look inside proposed education budget | Fight for jurisdiction in ‘Indian Country’ continues | Reports reflect Oklahoma’s entrenched disparities | More

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: Reports reflect entrenched economic, racial disparities: Two reports released this week highlight significant disparities faced by Oklahomans, especially along racial and economic lines. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2024 Race for Results report released Wednesday shows that most Oklahoma children have worse well-being outcomes than their national peers, especially among racial and ethnic categories. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

With appeal possible, Deo decision says Oklahoma retains ‘subject matter jurisdiction’ in Indian Country: Oklahoma retains subject matter jurisdiction over crimes committed by Indigenous people in Indian Country, according to a recent decision from the state’s highest criminal court that could draw legal challenges from tribal citizens or nations in federal court. The new decision effectively flips the burden of proof on defendants trying to have state charges dismissed based on Indian status in eastern Oklahoma, which was affirmed as a series of Indian Country reservations in 2020. [NonDoc]

State Government News

Oklahoma’s Five Tribes won’t join Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new McGirt task force: Oklahoma’s largest tribes won’t join Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new task force on law enforcement and jurisdiction issues stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling. The Five Tribes — the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations — disagreed with how Stitt’s recent executive order characterized the McGirt decision. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Oklahoma’s Five Tribes unify to reject Stitt’s task force on McGirt impact [Tulsa World]

Ryan Walters, top education budget lawmaker ‘reset’ relationship after year of tension: Mere weeks after tensions between them reached a fever pitch, the state’s top education official and the House’s leading lawmaker on school funding say they’re willing to work together on budget needs and academic outcomes in public schools. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma tribal tags tickets: Some tickets dropped, but bigger questions remain: At least two traffic citations issued by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to drivers whose cars carried tribal license plates have been quietly dropped, court records obtained by The Oklahoman show. [The Oklahoman]

  • Two Oklahoma tribal tag tickets cleared by the court [KFOR]

Federal Government News

U.S. House impeachment proceedings against Mayorkas over immigration featured Oklahoma AG: U.S. House Republicans began their impeachment proceedings against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas with a hearing on Wednesday. The witnesses included GOP attorneys general from Montana, Missouri and Oklahoma. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Oklahoma’s AG talks organized crime at congressional immigration panel [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes receive funds for Oklahoma bison herd expansion: There are about 650 bison in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ herd near Concho and recently, they received federal money to continue its growth. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs is dividing $1.5 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law among three Tribal-led bison herd expansion and ecosystem restoration projects. The funds are part of larger federal initiatives to advance climate resilience and restore lands and waters. [KOSU]

Health News

OU Health becomes first health system in Oklahoma to offer fertility preservation procedure: OU Health is the first to offer a new fertility preservation option to patients whose ability to conceive might be impacted by other conditions like cancer. The procedure is called ovarian tissue cryopreservation, and it requires an ovary to be removed through a procedure called a laparoscopy. Then, the ovary is cut into strips, put in a solution and frozen, preserving the ovarian tissue until patients are ready to have it re-implanted. [StateImpact Oklahoma / KOGU]

Criminal Justice News

A firebombing in Tulsa highlights gaps in Oklahoma hate crime law: Hate crime investigations based on gender and sexual orientation are complicated by a patchwork of state and federal laws. A recent Tulsa case didn’t fit the criteria to be prosecuted under a federal hate crimes statute. And while 22 other states recognize incidents based on gender and sexual orientation as hate crimes, which can carry harsher penalties, Oklahoma law still doesn’t. [The Frontier]

ODOC to pilot use of body cameras: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has announced plans to begin a body camera pilot program. Later this month correctional officers at select locations will begin wearing cameras during their shifts to test and perfect their use before a complete agency rollout slated for the end of 2024. Currently, 20 state corrections agencies nationwide use body cameras. They’re also in use at hundreds of city and county jails. [Journal Record]

Chamber forum to focus on justice: During the upcoming January Chamber Forum on Jan. 17, attendees will hear from experts with the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI), which recently evaluated justice reform efforts in Oklahoma County. The CJI experts will participate in a panel discussion with Oklahoma County leaders. Scheduled participants include Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna; Leonard W. Engel, who directs policy and campaigns at the CJI; CJI Manager Molly Robustelli; and Timothy Tardibono, executive director of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council. [Journal Record]

Opinion: Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is increasing, again: In the past seven years, Oklahoma has made great strides on criminal justice reform. In 2016, we had the highest overall incarceration rate in the world. But thanks to important decisions made by the Legislature and the citizens of Oklahoma — including passage of State Question 780, that reduced low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors; legislation to apply SQ 780 retroactively for nonviolent drug offenders; and amendments to specific pattern sentencing on drug crimes — Oklahoma was able to reduce our incarcerated population by almost 5,000 people between 2016 and 2021. However, the most recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that Oklahoma’s prison population grew by 2.5% from 2021-22 give cause for concern. [Colleen McCarty / Tulsa World]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

City eyes empty downtown office spaces for housing units: To address the city’s housing shortage, Partner Tulsa is looking where larger cities have looked as well — at empty office space in downtown. The city’s partner agency estimates 1,300 units could be created out of empty office space in downtown. This would satisfy roughly 10% of Housing Solution Tulsa’s 2023 estimate that the city needs roughly 13,000 units by 2033 to satisfy housing demand. [Public Radio Tulsa]

City leaders lay out plans for addressing Tulsa’s housing shortage: On Wednesday, city councilors were presented with a draft version of the Tulsa Housing Strategy. The document was delivered less than a year after the Citywide Housing Assessment found that Tulsa needed 12,900 housing units of all kinds over the next decade. The plan focuses on three primary ways the city can encourage and support housing development: developing and preserving housing, removing development barriers and supporting equity, and providing support to the people doing the work. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma City’s legislative priorities for 2024: Housing, mental health issues among top challenges: Housing and mental health issues continue to be among the City of Oklahoma City’s priorities for the 2024 legislative session. Those included a law that simplifies and increases funding for 911 services and one that shifted transportation of people to mental health facilities from law enforcement agencies to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Service. [Journal Record]

Economy & Business News

Chesapeake Energy announces merger with Southwestern Energy; new company to HQ in Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy announced Thursday it will merge with Houston’s Southwestern Energy Company. The $7.4 million transaction will create the largest natural gas producer in the United States. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma, Texas energy companies eye merger to create natural gas giant [KOSU]
  • What would a Chesapeake Energy merger mean for massive OKC campus? [The Oklahoman]

First direct international flights coming to Tulsa; new customs facility planned: A new federal Customs facility planned for Tulsa International Airport will allow for direct, international commercial flights at the airport for the first time. [Tulsa World]

Inside the broken negotiations that led to Oklahoma’s 20-year case against several poultry companies: Oklahoma has blamed the chicken industry for polluting one of the state’s greatest attractions, the Illinois River. As a two-decade lawsuit is finally on the cusp of resolution, newly uncovered records show the private negotiations. [Investigate Midwest]

New Commerce programs aim to increase economic, business development: The Oklahoma Department of Commerce on Wednesday provided an overview of two programs designed to increase the success of rural companies and improve site infrastructure. Department officials noted that 404 businesses looking to expand, retain or come into Oklahoma reached out to the Department of Commerce in 2023. To respond to their needs, the department has launched the SITES Ready Program and the Global Opportunities Oklahoma Program. [Journal Record]

Pinnell lauds Owasso’s growth, state’s career tech industry during Green Country visit: Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell’s visit to Owasso this week was wrought with accolades for the growing community and the state. Pinnell pegged Owasso as one of the fastest growing cities in Oklahoma for over 10 years, referencing a 17.4% rise in population, according to the last census. [Tulsa World]

Education News

What to know about Ryan Walters’ ‘back-to-basics’ budget presented to Oklahoma lawmakers: State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters proposed a slightly smaller education budget to a legislative budget committee Wednesday. Walters and the Oklahoma State Department of Education submitted a budget request of about $3.92 billion to a House subcommittee on education appropriations and budget, down slightly from the $3.97 billion appropriated last year. [The Oklahoman]

  • Walters details $60 million in education initiatives as lawmakers review budget request [Tulsa World]
  • Democratic lawmakers have lingering questions after Ryan Walters’ education budget presentation [Fox 25]

Walters says state Department of Education won’t work any more with ‘woke’ school advocacy groups: State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters said Wednesday the Oklahoma State Department of Education would end its association with three Oklahoma public-school advocacy and service organizations, saying they push a “woke” agenda. The three organizations, which have wide membership throughout the state are the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA), the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC). [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma Superintendent threatens breakup with statewide education organizations [KOSU]
  • OSDE considering dropping training agreements [Tulsa World]

OSSAA adopts guidelines to clarify new transfer rule won’t take effect until July 1: OSSAA board members voted Wednesday to adopt a set of guidelines aimed at clarifying a new one-time transfer rule. The board voted last month to let eligible student-athletes change high schools once without having to wait a year before competing, citing a growing trend in high school and college athletics. [Tulsa World]

Lasers, satellites and race cars: OU’s Tomás Díaz de la Rubia loves science: Tomás Díaz de la Rubia is OU’s vice president for research and partnerships, a position he assumed in 2019. In this Q&A, Díaz de la Rubia talks about science, STEM and his love for Formula One racing. [NonDoc]

Opinion: Intersection of mental health, education focus of concerns for Tulsa families, a grassroots organization finds: To re-weave Tulsa’s social fabric in a post-pandemic world, leaders from faith and other institutions held two years of meetings across the city to discuss the greatest pressures facing families. The No. 1 concern families expressed was the intersection of mental health and education. We heard stories about depression and anxiety in students, excessive stress and pressure for educators, social isolation, bullying in schools and the helplessness felt by families trying to access resources to help their loved ones. [Emilee Bounds / Tulsa World]

General News

White Christian nationalism is a danger to democracy, critics say. Oklahoma is no stranger to the ideology: Blending patriotism and Christianity is nothing new, but concerns have surfaced in recent years tying the combination to an ideology some say is posing a danger to democracy and polarizing an already deeply divided nation. Oklahoma has become known for this particular mix of allegiance to both faith and country. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma wildlife board delays vote on bowfishing limitations amid public pushback: State wildlife commissioners have postponed a decision on a controversial proposed fishing regulation that would place a daily limit on the number of fish that bow anglers could shoot. Currently, there is no daily limit on the number of native nongame fish that are legal for bow anglers to shoot. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma Local News

  • It’s been nearly a year since Bricktown began a new curfew for minors. Is it working? [The Oklahoman]
  • Still seeking jail site, OK County commissioners pull 3 locations, ponder Stockyards option [NonDoc]
  • ‘There’s a target on our back’: Advocate dismayed after commissioners keep stockyards as potential new jail site [Fox 25]
  • Three Oklahoma sites have been added to the National Register of Historic Places [KOSU]
  • State auditor releases audit for Town of Coyle [KFOR]

Quote of the Day

“Most crimes authorize a sentence up to life in prison if the person being prosecuted has just one prior offense on their record. These old stalwart laws are emblematic of a different era in criminal justice policy, one that Oklahoma has long since left behind. We’re smart on crime now, and we follow the research. We need a sentencing code that does the same.” 

-Executive Director of Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Colleen McCarty wrote in an op-ed outlining the real reason incarceration rates are beginning to creep back up again is because Oklahoma’s sentencing code favors long, draconian sentences instead of standardized sentencing used in neighboring states like Kansas. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children who lived in poverty during 2022. [OK Policy]

Policy Note

To tackle poverty, more states will offer bigger child tax credits in 2024: Many Americans took a double whammy to the pocketbook this year: Prices for things like food and rent rose, and federal pandemic aid continued to peter out. But a string of states took a cue from one of those relief measures — the expanded federal child tax credit — and are stepping in to help bridge the gap. That tax credit was a pandemic success story. Enacted in 2021, it cut child poverty in half before it expired at the end of that year, and poverty rates shot right back up. Since then, the number of states that have created their own permanent child tax credit has doubled. [NPR]

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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.