In The Know: Colleges still navigating governor’s DEI ban | Owasso police investigating death of non-binary student | Supreme Court to hear case on how cities manage homelessness | Capitol Update

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

Proposed bill would provide overdue reform of the criminal legal process (Capitol Update): House Bill 3777 by Rep. Collin Duel, R-Guthrie, is an important and long overdue reform in the criminal legal process. The bill, which deals with discovery in criminal trials, passed unanimously out of the House’s Judiciary-Civil Committee at the end of the first week of session. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma colleges still determining impact of Stitt’s diversity, inclusion order: Amid a wide-ranging discussion about the importance of campus diversity initiatives, students expressed fears that an executive order from Gov. Kevin Stitt could end such programs. The directive from Stitt prohibits state-funded diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within state agencies and on college campuses “to the extent they grant preferential treatment based on one person’s particular race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin.” The impact on college campuses remains unclear, and the order has left some students with more questions than answers. [Oklahoma Voice]

Police investigating death of Owasso student who died 1 day after fight at school: Police are investigating the Feb. 8 death of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student, an officer confirmed Monday. The student died one day after being involved in a fight on school grounds, but what killed the teen is unclear, said Lt. Nick Boatman, a spokesman for Owasso Police. The town of about 40,000 people is a northern suburb of Tulsa. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma Education Leader’s Ties to Libs of TikTok Spotlighted After Tragic Death of Non-Binary Student [MSN]
  • Oklahoma’s top education official called out over Libs of TikTok ties after non-binary student beaten at school, dies later [Daily Dot]
  • Rest in Power, Nex Benedict [Freedom Oklahoma]

State Government News

Bill would bar Oklahomans from buying alcohol at self-checkout stations: A Senate panel on Monday passed a bill that would prohibit alcohol sales at self-checkout stations. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee passed Senate Bill 1866, by Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City. Coleman said the measure is needed to prevent minors from purchasing alcohol. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration. [Oklahoma Voice]

Bill to expand Energy Discrimination Elimination Act passes through committee: A bill that would broaden the scope of the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act passed through a House committee on Monday. House Bill 3541 by Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, advanced from the Banking, Financial Services and Pensions Committee by a 4-3 vote. The bill would expand the industries mentioned to include mining, timber and agriculture. Any financial institution that does not invest in these industries due to environmental or ideological concerns would be blacklisted. [The Oklahoman]

Bill advances that would give college scholarships to children of Oklahoma teachers: House Bill 3454, authored by Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton, would expand Oklahoma’s Promise eligibility to children of certified, full-time teachers who have been employed by a public-school district in Oklahoma for at least 10 years.  [KOSU]

  • Children of veteran Oklahoma teachers would get free tuition under proposed law [The Oklahoman]

House passes revised chicken waste bill: House Bill 4118, by Rep. David Hardin, R-Stilwell, would shield poultry producers who were in compliance with their state-approved nutrient management plans from civil and criminal actions related to pollution. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma legislature considering over 50 bills targeting LGBTQ+ issues. What do they say?: The 2024 legislative session in Oklahoma is seeing over 50 bills targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender Oklahomans. From bans on gender-affirming health care to penalizing public school employees for asking a student their pronouns, here’s a breakdown of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills in this legislative session. [The Oklahoman]

Proposal to ban ranked choice voting in Oklahoma advances: A bill to ban ranked choice voting statewide cleared a House committee last week, prompting pushback from one lawmaker who argues the system would benefit voters and candidates alike. House Bill 3156 by Eric Roberts, R-Oklahoma City, would prohibit ranked-choice voting in statewide and municipal elections. A handful of other states and dozens of municipalities utilize the method, where voters rank candidates by preference, and results are narrowed until one candidate receives a majority of votes. [Oklahoma Watch]

Tribal Nations News

Indian courts can’t prosecute non-Indian drug suspects. Tribes say it’s a problem: As fentanyl addiction and overdose deaths ravage Native American communities, some tribal leaders want Indian law enforcement to take drug enforcement more into their own hands. Tribal leaders testified about an insufficient response by state and federal law enforcement to the drug traffickers who bring fentanyl onto reservations. Jamie Azure, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, said his tribe was moving ahead with its own “tribal drug task force.” [NPR / KOSU]

Post-McGirt inequality for Black freedmen prompts Cherokee Nation to lobby Congress: The Cherokee Nation is lobbying Congress to address justice system inequality for freedmen descendants, a result of the 2020 McGirt decision in the Supreme Court, by changing the Major Crimes Act. [Tulsa World]

These two Oklahoma tribes named to Forbes 2024 list of Best Large Employers in America: Forbes released its list of America’s Best Large Employers for 2024, after a survey of workers at U.S. companies with more than 5,000 workers. Two Oklahoma companies made it to the top 50. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which employs 12,000, made it to No. 32 on Forbes list of 600 companies. Following close behind, the Chickasaw Nation Department of Commerce was No. 46. The department employs 13,5000 people. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

COVID guidelines: As CDC considers new isolation rules, here’s what to know: While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has not updated its isolation guidelines for COVID-19 infections, changes might be on the horizon. The Washington Post reported the CDC is planning to do away with its current COVID-19 isolation guidelines, instead advising people to leave isolation once they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication and their symptoms are improving. [The Oklahoman]

5 ways America’s courts could change health care in 2024: Key court decisions in 2024 about prescription drug prices, abortion bans, gender-affirming care and the Affordable Care Act could change the way health care is delivered in America. [Side Effects Public Media / KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma County jail trustee quits, saying she has ‘little hope’ of adequate funding: The last founding member of the Oklahoma County jail trust, Sue Ann Arnall, an attorney and philanthropist, quit Monday out of frustration over funding. She specifically complained that she had unsuccessfully pleaded for two years for $1.5 million to remodel the jail’s unsafe booking area. Instead, she wrote, the county’s elected officials “deemed a $17.5 million remodel of the Sheriff’s offices more important.” [The Oklahoman]

Tensions rise between Del City and Oklahoma County on jail site selection: Site selection for the new Oklahoma County Jail continues to be a source of frustration, with Del City leaders threatening to sue the county if a property at 1901 E. Grand Blvd. is chosen as the location. Meanwhile, as members of the northeast Oklahoma City community plan a morning march to Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, a bill in the Oklahoma Legislature has added another layer of acrimony when it comes to finding a home for the long-awaited facility. [NonDoc]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

How far can cities go to clear homeless camps? The U.S. Supreme Court will decide: In April, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a major case that could reshape how cities manage homelessness. The legal issue is whether they can fine or arrest people for sleeping outside if there’s no shelter available. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has deemed this cruel and unusual punishment, and this case is a pivotal challenge to that ruling. [NPR / KOSU]

Inflation, interest rates, credit card debt creating lending bottleneck, local bank CEOs say: High interest rates, soaring costs of homes and record credit card debt are putting a bottleneck on many people seeking loans, local bank senior executives said. The average value of homes in the Tulsa area has spiked $80,000 to $100,000 more than before the COVID-19 pandemic, local real estate agents told the Tulsa World recently. That increase, along with a shortage of nearly 13,000 single-family homes in the area and increased mortgage payments, has made it more difficult for people to purchase and finance, bank CEOs said. [Tulsa World]

When will housing affordability improve? Spoiler alert: It will take some time: Rents shot up 23.9% between the beginning of 2020 and the start of of 2023 and home prices rose 37.5% according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2023 state of the nation’s housing report. The median sales price of a home sold in the U.S. is $417,700, according to the St. Louis Fed. Much of the current predicament renters and homebuyers face is linked to high housing demand, low housing inventory and the Fed’s cycle of hiking interest rates. [Oklahoma Voice]

Economy & Business News

New Chamber of Commerce helps business owner in Tulsa’s Hispanic community: The Tulsa Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said one of the most important things it’s doing is helping its members build relationships with other members of the Tulsa community, including the city government. [News on 6]

Education News

Another Oklahoma bill to ban cellphone use in public schools is moving forward: Another bill to encourage Oklahoma school districts to ban cellphone use moved ahead Monday in the state Legislature. House Bill 3913, authored by Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, passed the House’s education budget subcommittee 13-0. The bill would provide grants to public middle schools, junior high schools and high schools to “incentivize phone-free spaces for student learning.” [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma lawmakers push to load school lunch trays with produce from local farms: Sen. Jessica Garvin’s Senate Bill 1473 would provide grants to help farmers grow more fresh produce, and encourage local school districts to buy it from them. Garvin’s bill passed through the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee with a 10-1 vote and can now be heard on the Senate floor. [KOSU]

General News

Tulsa mayor responds to unfounded ‘sanctuary city’ claims: Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum defended the city’s recent designation as a ‘Welcoming City’ on social media. In a Feb. 19 post, Mayor G.T. Bynum railed against unsubstantiated claims he’s gotten asked about by residents and elected officials alike – all having to do with recent projects or events in Tulsa impacting immigration. [KJRH]

  • Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum says false rumors distract from progress happening in the City [Fox 23]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa city councilor lacks ‘fitness to practice law,’ Oklahoma Bar Examiners say [Tulsa World]
  • Revolving fund for OKPOP to revitalize fundraising gets Senate panel OK [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“Attacking DEI programs is attacking people of color in a way that will undermine our success.” 

-Amari Williams, director of OU’s Black Emergency Response Team, said in response to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s statewide executive order restricting diversity, equity and inclusion at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities, despite DEI spending equating to less than 1 percent of total spending. [Oklahoma Voice]

Number of the Day


Number of days Oklahoma allows for collecting signatures during the initiative petition/state question process, which is the shortest such period in the nation. [National Conference of State Legislatures via OK Policy]

Policy Note

Politicians Take Aim at Ballot Initiatives: Aiming to derail a citizen initiative to protect abortion rights, Republicans in the Ohio legislature in 2023 tried to make it harder for citizens to amend the state constitution. Their methods were cynical but familiar. For years, some state lawmakers and officials have been trying to undermine avenues of direct democracy. {Brennan Center for Justice]

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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.