In The Know: Bill seeks changes in bank blacklist ban | Six-figure severance for former wildlife director | MLK’s dream of economic freedom

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

Dr. King’s dream of economic freedom (Commentary): As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should not forget that the context of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech was primarily about economic freedom through quality jobs with good benefits that pay a living wage. Dr. King understood, then as it is now, that income inequality binds Americans into a cycle of poverty that often becomes generational. Poverty lowers life expectancy as well as educational attainment, which is a predictor of wealth for all races. [Kandis West / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma Ranks Low for Children of Color Well-Being: A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center highlights national rankings for child well-being. Wide historical disparities were found for children of color in this state-to-state comparison. [The Black Wall Street Times]

State Government News

Bills seek changes to Oklahoma’s ‘woke’ investment ban: Some Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to make changes to the state’s ban on doing business with companies accused of boycotting the fossil fuel industry. Among the dozens of bills pre-filed for the legislative session that begins Feb. 5, at least two seek to make changes to the Oklahoma Energy Discrimination Elimination Act. [The Frontier]

  • Republican lawmakers aim to modify Oklahoma’s bank blacklist law [Oklahoma Voice]

Oral arguments to be heard in tribal income tax protest case: The Oklahoma Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case to decide whether the state can tax the income of a Muscogee Nation tribal member and employee who lives and works within the tribe’s 11-county reservation. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma wildlife agency releases some details of ex-director’s six-figure severance agreement: A former state wildlife official received $169,341 in compensation as part of a severance agreement dictating the terms of his departure from a state agency. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation on Friday provided some details about the severance agreement the agency’s governing commission executed with former executive director J.D. Strong but maintained it will not release a copy of the agreement. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma lawmaker proposes constitutional amendment to say life begins at conception: An Oklahoma lawmaker wants voters to enshrine into the state Constitution that personhood begins at conception. Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, said House Joint Resolution 1046 would make it more difficult for the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices to “ignore the rights of the unborn” in their rulings. [Oklahoma Voice]

New Ethics Commission Director Makes Budget Request: With the 2024 presidential election cycle looming, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission is seeking a funding boost from the Legislature. The Ethics Commission seeks a $1.7 million one-time appropriation to maintain its online record filing system and $476,000 in recurring revenue to boost its education and enforcement efforts. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • ‘We have put ourselves in grave danger:’ Ethics Commission urges lawmakers to increase funding [The Oklahoman]

OTA cites PikeOff members’ comments in lawsuit challenging new state law: Opponents of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s ‘Access Oklahoma’ plan say they were surprised to see their names brought up in a lawsuit the Authority filed challenging a recently passed state law. [KFOR]

Legal roundup: Drummond inquires on insulin, DA Jason Hicks sued, Phil Albert judge recuses: From Attorney General Gentner Drummond announcing his office is seeking bids from law firms to sue insulin manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers to a controversial pending case about medical marijuana use during pregnancy, Oklahoma’s headlines are starting the new year litigiously. [NonDoc]

State audit reports allege embezzlement by officials in two small Oklahoma towns: In the span of two weeks, state auditors reported employees of two small Oklahoma towns — Jones and Coyle — embezzled about $60,000 each from their communities, raising questions about potential vulnerabilities in financial controls in small municipalities across the state. [The Oklahoman]

Vetoes, lawsuits and fake memes: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s year working with tribes: Disagreements over taxes, gaming and public safety became flashpoints of a tense year in state-tribal relations. Here are the central disputes that defined 2023. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma governor faces criticism for MLK quote: Gov. Stitt’s policy actions stand in stark contrast to the values championed by Dr. King, leading to criticism when he shared a quote from the civil rights icon on the federal holiday. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Capitol Insider: Five Tribes refuse to participate in governor’s McGirt task force: The Five Civilized Tribes have rejected an invitation to serve on a task force created to address Governor Stitt’s concerns about the impact of the McGirt decision. [KGOU]

Opinion: Oklahoma needs other forms of transportation not one more traffic lane: The state does not need one more lane on I-35; it needs other forms of transportation while modernizing what we currently have. The development of a more advanced regional public transit system while maintaining bike and road infrastructure is a great place to start with these lofty revisions. [Colin Caso / The Oklahoman]

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell: Bill presents opportunities for economic growth: This week, Sen. Kristen Thompson introduced groundbreaking legislation establishing the Oklahoma Office of Economic Development, Growth and Expansion (OkEDGE). It is a transformative bill that presents a golden opportunity for public officials to attract new businesses and cultivate the growth of our existing economy. [Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell / The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Federal rule forces oil states to cut planet-warming methane emissions: Within two years, a new federal rule will force oil- and gas-producing states to crack down on methane gas emissions — a major driver of climate change. In some states, some officials and oil industry leaders say the burden on regulators and fossil fuel producers may outweigh the benefits of reduced emissions. [Oklahoma Voice]

Children’s nutrition program, revved up in the pandemic, faces severe cuts: Many of the technology changes that made it easier to participate in the WIC program were authorized by temporary federal waivers during the pandemic, and Congress would need to change the law to extend them. And some Republican lawmakers argue that because the extra federal money during the pandemic was meant to cover the emergency, spending should return to earlier levels. [Oklahoma Voice]

Tribal Nations News

Choctaw Nation launches educational site alongside release of Marvel’s “Echo”: The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is getting the superhero treatment. The Marvel miniseries Echo, featuring a protagonist from the tribe, was released for streaming to Disney+ and Hulu last week. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Immigration-related prosecutions spike as McGirt-linked onslaught ebbs, U.S. attorney says: Federal prosecutions of those who reentered the U.S. after being previously deported have increased 80% from 2022 to 2023 in the Tulsa area, according to a Tulsa World review of past criminal filings. The number of prosecutions in the Northern District of Oklahoma for unlawful reentry of a removed alien increased from 50 filings in 2022 to 91 filings in 2023, the review found. [Tulsa World]

How Oklahoma County’s search for a new jail site more resembles a game of Whac-A-Mole: Oklahoma County’s search for a location to build a new jail feels like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Oklahoma County faces increasing time pressures as it tries to secure land and approval from Oklahoma City to build a new jail. [The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

A convenience store owner wants to build apartments in northeast OKC. Why are residents concerned?: A neighborhood meeting started off civil as an architect unveiled updated plans for a project that would include a 14,200-square-foot development. But emotions heightened between property owner and local residents of the Culbertson East Highland Neighborhood who have voiced misgivings about safety in the area. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Tulsa Regional Chamber releases legislative agenda: Transportation and infrastructure, including the Arkansas River levee system and a hypersonic link with the Oklahoma Spaceport in western Oklahoma, take up a substantial share of priorities listed in the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s OneVoice state and federal legislative agenda released Friday. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Former Ringling coach accused of verbal, sexual abuse requests to withdraw ‘no contest’ plea: After former Ringling High School Principal and head football coach, Philip Koons, pleaded ‘no contest’ to a criminal misdemeanor of Outraging Public Decency earlier this month, he has now requested to withdraw it. [KFOR]

Caught thinking he was sexting 15-year-old boy, Western Heights employee resigns: Less than a week after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters sent a press release announcing his intention to suspend the educator certificate of a man caught sending sexual messages to someone he believed was a teenager, the Western Heights Public Schools board voted to accept Hao Jiang’s resignation. [NonDoc]

Two historic buildings on OU’s campus are getting major upgrades. Here’s what regents approved so far: University of Oklahoma regents took action Friday on major renovation projects affecting two beloved old buildings that have served as the library on OU’s main campus in Norman. [The Oklahoman]

General News

How her mother’s lifelong struggle with addiction, mental health gave Sarah Stitt a mission | Faces of Hope: Since becoming Oklahoma’s first lady in 2018 as the wife of Gov. Kevin Stitt, Sarah Stitt has drawn from her personal experiences in making mental health advocacy her platform. That’s included becoming one of the state’s biggest promoters of hope science, an emerging field of psychology that could present answers for some of the state’s most serious social problems, including its high rate of childhood trauma. [Tulsa World]

The day MLK came to Tulsa: ‘We must all live together as brothers or we will die together as fools’: Three years before the March on Washington and King’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech — and four years before the Civil Rights Act was signed in July 1964 — King delivered an address in Tulsa. [Tulsa World]

OCC says oil and gas industry not to blame for recent earthquakes: he Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s “induced seismicity department” said it has ruled out oil and gas activity as the cause for a recent swarm of earthquakes in the Edmond and Arcadia area. [KFOR]

Top 10: Oklahoma one of the unhealthiest states in America, according to study: A new study has identified the region with the unhealthiest population in America, with Oklahoma coming in as the nation’s 8th unhealthiest state. Forbes Advisor conducted the analysis and ranked each state based on several factors, including rates of drug abuse, unhealthy lifestyle habits, and chronic disease. [KFOR]

Opinion: The lessons of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life should give us hope today: If we, like Dr. King, truly believe that the words of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are meant for all Americans, then zealously embrace them and put them into practice by letting them govern and guide our actions in both our public and private lives.[Janice Ellis / Oklahoma Voice

Oklahoma Local News

  • Edmond moves ahead with $15M sports complex renovation [Journal Record]
  • New mixed-use development breaks ground in North Tulsa [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Oklahoma City is offering a reprieve for overdue ticket charges [KOSU]

Quote of the Day

“… for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his “I Have a Dream” speech, in recognizing that the well-being of all people are interconnected. Income inequality binds Americans into a cycle of poverty that often becomes generational. [Via OK Policy]

Number of the Day


Percentage of eligible Oklahomans who participated in the federal WIC food program for women and children. About 171,600 Oklahomans were eligible in 2021, but only 88,800 participated in the program. WIC has frequent in-person appointments for education and monitoring, conditions that have long suppressed participation. [USDA]

Policy Note

About 2 Million Parents and Young Children Could Be Turned Away From WIC by September Without Full Funding: More than two months into fiscal year 2024, Congress has thus far failed to provide the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) with the additional funding needed this fiscal year to avoid turning away eligible young children and pregnant and postpartum adults with low incomes for the first time in decades. WIC’s funding needs have grown due to higher-than-expected participation and food costs. Inadequate funding would force states to put eligible new and expecting parents and young children on waiting lists for nutrition assistance, jeopardizing access to this highly effective program during an important window for child development. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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.