In The Know: Clean needle exchange program | State prison to close | Joint committee to allocate COVID relief funds | Juneteenth holiday long overdue

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.

NOTE: In The Know will not publish on Friday, June 18, as OK Policy’s offices will be closed in recognition of Juneteenth.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: Move to make Juneteenth holiday long overdue: Juneteenth has been largely recognized as a Black holiday celebrating the end of slavery, but congressional action this week should help elevate Juneteenth to a national holiday for all Americans. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

“It’s all about meeting people where they are:” Oklahoma legalizes clean needle exchange programming: When a constituent first came came in to advocate for needle exchange programming, Oklahoma State Rep. Carol Bush wasn’t sure what to think. That didn’t sound like the kind of policy likely to succeed in Oklahoma’s deeply conservative statehouse. There was a shift one summer day in 2019. Bush is an avid cyclist, and she was riding in a Tulsa park when she saw it. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

State prison in northwest Oklahoma will close by year’s end: The William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply will close by the end of 2021, the Department of Corrections confirmed in a news release issued Wednesday afternoon. [Oklahoma Watch] “The decision to close a facility is always a difficult one,” said DOC Director Scott Crow. “However, in order to assure the safety of our staff and inmates and act as proper stewards of the taxpayer funds we are entrusted with, this decision had to be made.” [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle] The prison will be closed by the end of the year due to the anticipated costs of needed repairs and maintenance, according to prison Director Scott Crow. [AP News] A northwest Oklahoma lawmaker says a decision to close a state-owned minimum-security prison will be “devastating” to the rural area. [The Oklahoman]

Joint legislative committee to allocate federal COVID aid: A 24-member joint committee of Oklahoma House and Senate members has been selected to consider proposals for the state’s share of funds from the latest federal coronavirus relief legislation. House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, both Republicans, announced the committee Wednesday. [AP News]

Editorial: Tulsa celebrates Juneteenth, and soon the nation will, too: As an opportunity to recognize the wrongs of the past and honor the power of Black culture, the official recognition of Juneteenth is overdue but worthy of celebrating nonetheless. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Health News

COVID-19: Oklahoma case count rises to more than 1,000 new infections last week: Oklahoma broke its four-week streak of recording less than 1,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in a week on Wednesday, according to data released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The agency reported 1,051 new cases for the one-week period that ended Saturday, bringing the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases back up to 150 after a low of 116 the week before that had not been seen since March 2020. [Tulsa World]

  • Some counties see spikes in COVID-19 cases, variants now count for half of infections [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Government News

Is there a labor shortage? Depends on whom you ask: Not long ago, it was unclear how the country would cope with widespread unemployment caused by the spread of COVID-19. Now, as Americans emerge from the pandemic’s worst days, a heavily politicized debate has broken out over how to fill open jobs and whether the apparent labor shortage even exists. [NonDoc]

Study requested on public benefit jobs initiative: An Oklahoma lawmaker wants to find out how the state could do more to create job opportunities and otherwise help people who struggle financially. If approved, a legislative interim study proposed by state Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, would examine different ways the state might facilitate and promote public benefit work opportunities, flexible work scheduling and other initiatives to help people transition perhaps from homelessness back to permanent employment. [The Journal Record]

Security upgrades planned for Capitol, Governor’s Mansion: Lawmakers have agreed to spend $8 million to upgrade state Capitol security after a man drove onto the grassy grounds this spring, stopping just 20 yards from the building. The April 21 incident marked the second time in seven years that someone had intentionally driven onto the Capitol grounds. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]

Criminal Justice News

34 Oklahoma lawmakers call for review of death row case: Thirty-four Oklahoma lawmakers, including 28 Republicans, called Wednesday for reopening the investigation that led to the conviction of death row inmate Richard Glossip. Republican Rep. Kevin McDugle, a death penalty supporter, said new evidence found by Glossip’s attorney, Don Knight, should prompt another investigation into the 1997 beating death of motel owner Barry Van Treese in Oklahoma City in what prosecutors called a murder-for-hire. [AP News] Former hotel manager Richard Glossip, 58, was found guilty or orchestrating the 1997 murder of his boss, Barry Alan Van Treese, at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

“Second Chance” jobs concept explored in Greater OKC Chamber Forum: Should completing a prison sentence and paying one’s debt to society mean a life-long sentence of never having an opportunity to land a good job? In that past, that’s largely what it meant. Wednesday, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce took up that question and dedicated their monthly forum to the topic of “Second Chance” employment. [OKC Free Press]

Construction set to start on hundreds of affordable apartments despite supply shortages: Downtown Oklahoma City development is picking up where it left off at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with construction set to start on three mixed-use apartment and retail projects. Once completed, the projects will add 371 apartments priced for workforce housing as market rate rents spiral downtown. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Auto industry, including locals, bearing brunt of worldwide semiconductor shortfall: Driving past a car dealership these days can produce a double take. The emptiness, in certain places, is startling. “We normally have 250 to 350 new vehicles in stock and we’re down to like 12,” Ray King, inventory manager at Mark Allen Chevrolet in Glenpool, said last week. “Customers don’t even come on the lot, anymore. They call to see if there’s any reason to come on the lot.” [Tulsa World]

Education News

Epic Charter Schools benefits from increase in public money, as enrollment is expected To Decline: Epic Charter Schools’ reconstituted governing board met Tuesday night to approve a more than $335 million budget. An increase in public funding from the state legislature will benefit Epic, as the virtual charter behemoth estimates it will receive a 20% increase in per pupil funding. That percentage increase comes as enrollment is likely to decline. [KGOU]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma City rush hour traffic costs you time and money [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa City Council approves $799.4 million budget for FY 2022 [Tulsa World]
  • State and federal officials help Barnsdall seek dam-repair funding [Pawhuska Journal-Capital]

Quote of the Day

“There are people who are just now getting past their second shot and for the first time in a while have felt comfortable being among other people… But the reality is, labor force participation is basically back to what it was in 2019.”

-University of Central Oklahoma economics professor Travis Roach, speaking about arguments that unemployment benefits are causing labor shortages. He said the number of people receiving unemployment benefits continues to decline weekly, which undercuts the argument people are lying around waiting for a check. [NonDoc]

Number of the Day


Number of states, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday or observance. South Dakota is the only state that does not officially recognize officially Juneteenth. [Congressional Research Service] Note: Today’s number reflects Hawaii officially recognizing Juneteenth in legislation signed June 17 after this report was published; Congress this week passed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

Policy Note

Why Juneteenth is a celebration of hope: For African Americans, June 19th has long been a day of remembrance and affirmation. Now, more than 150 years later, there’s a nation-wide movement for observance. [National Geographic]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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