In The Know: Community meetings following Memphis police killing | Walters begins shaping education agency | Lawmakers seeking exceptions to abortion rules

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.

Oklahoma News

OKC forum on police turns tense when mother confronts chief over son’s death: A community forum with law enforcement and civic leaders — held Sunday in the Uptown 23rd District following the release of video showing the beating of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police — turned tense when the mother of a teenage boy shot dead by Oklahoma City police confronted Chief Wade Gourley. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma City community comes together after death of Tyre Nichols [KOCO]
  • Tyre Nichols case revives calls for change in police culture [Tulsa World via Associated Press]
  • This Must Stop: Interfaith community vigil in Tulsa honors Tyre Nichols [Black Wall Street Times]
  • Tulsa Community Gathers for Local Interfaith Vigil Honoring Tyre Nichols [KOTV]
  • Tyre Nichols case reignites conversations among lawmakers on federal police legislation [USA Today via The Oklahoman]

Ryan Walters begins to shape education agency around his political ideology: Less than a month into office, State Superintendent Ryan Walters has launched investigations into educators, instructed staff to compile a list of “inappropriate” materials being used in schools, and demanded an accounting of all funds spent by public universities to teach diversity and equity, using his new administrative powers to enforce the political ideology he promoted during his campaign. Walters’ supporters see a man looking to shake up a school system in need of an overhaul. But critics say Walters is alienating educators while showing little interest in the complex policies that traditionally consume the state’s education agency. [The Oklahoman]

  • Stitt, Walters visit private, charter schools, advocate for ‘choice’ [Journal Record]

State Government News

Oklahoma Republicans banned most abortions. Now they want to carve out exceptions: After enacting some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the nation, Oklahoma Republicans are now seeking exceptions to legalize the procedure in rare situations. The Youngs are working with House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, on a bill that would allow for a woman whose fetus has a fatal condition to go into labor early. Early induction of a live birth prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy — when a woman reaches full term — is currently considered an illegal abortion, Keri Young said. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Republican’s Bill Would Fine Drag Performers $20K Over Shows for Kids: Republican lawmaker in the Oklahoma state legislature has proposed a bill that would criminalize certain drag performances that take place in public spaces. The bill, authored by state Rep. Kevin West (R), wrongly claims that such performances are equivalent to 18-and-over entertainment, including adult dancing or situations where nudity is present. The bill’s text specifically singles out kid-friendly events that have no sexual connotations whatsoever — including the popular library reading program “Drag Queen Story Hour.” [Truthout]

  • How A Bartlesville Small Business Owner Who Votes Conservative and Served Her Country Became a Culture War Target [Oklahoma Watch

76 Oklahoma communities to receive funds for water and wastewater projects: Hundreds of Oklahoma cities, towns and rural water districts applied for competitive grants to fund water and wastewater projects. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has announced 76 communities across the state that are likely to receive that money and released a list that ranks all the applications by funding priority. [KOSU]

Veterans board to review performance of leader who challenged Stitt for governor: The Oklahoma Veterans Commission, which is made up entirely of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointees, will hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the job performance of a state agency director who challenged the governor in last year’s primary election. [Tulsa World]

Political notebook: Three-day seminar to examine justice system: Unequal justice: A three-day seminar on racial disparities in the justice system will begin Tuesday evening in Langston and continue Wednesday and Thursday at Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center. Participants will include former Oklahoma Speaker of the House of Representatives Kris Steele, Tulsa policing reform activist Tiffany Crutcher and state Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City. [Tulsa World]

Commentary: Budget hearing previews the last ride of Mark McBride: As the cold and barren off-seasson for lawmakers thaws and the first session of Oklahoma’s 59th Legislature approaches, the focus in January has been state agency budget requests, with legislative committees hearing presentations and proposals over the past few weeks. [NonDoc]

Editorial: Could sports betting have the power to mend the relationship between Oklahoma and tribal governments?: Gov. Kevin Stitt says he wants sports betting legalized this legislative session. Tribal leaders indicate they are skeptical but open to discussing the idea. It’s not exactly a handshake, but maybe it’s a start. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Service providers explain how federal funding has helped them address homelessness: Tulsa, like many cities across the country, relies almost exclusively on nonprofit service providers to do the hard and thankless work caring for the unsheltered. And, like most municipal governments across the country, Tulsa’s financial contribution to that effort has been almost exclusively in the form of federal pass-through dollars. [Tulsa World]

  • Annual headcount likely to find increase in Tulsa’s homeless population [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma launches latest legal challenge tied to McGirt case, this time over coal mining: Oklahoma has launched a new legal challenge to assert control over coal mining on tribal reservations — and to limit the reach of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision. The state is appealing a federal district court decision from November, when a judge ruled against Oklahoma’s requests to keep regulating surface mining on the Cherokee, Choctaw and Muscogee reservations. [The Oklahoman]

Chief delivers Muscogee State of the Nation speech: As part of his annual State of the Nation address Saturday morning, Principal Chief David Hill said his administration will prioritize building partnerships while striving to reestablish the tribe’s footprint throughout its reservation in 2023. [Tulsa World]

Chickasaws have high hopes for new OKANA resort, stately Skirvin: The skeleton of the $400 million resort under construction along the Oklahoma River will start to rise from the ground over the next few weeks, Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce Dan Boren said. When the OKANA Resort & Indoor Waterpark opens in spring 2025 – adjacent to the First Americans Museum – it will be “a crown jewel of the crossroads of America,” Boren said. [Journal Record]

Native leadership program open to all, accepting applications: To its graduates, Leadership Native Oklahoma is a program unlike any other. Facilitated by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce-Oklahoma, Leadership Native Oklahoma offers unique insight into tribal government, economics, culture and more. [Journal Record]

Column: How Oklahoma and tribal governments can get along: Tribal governments and the state have a long way to go to improve their current relationships. Yet a little respect goes a long way. With 38 federally recognized tribal “domestic dependent nations” that predate statehood, jurisdictional conflicts over sovereignty are inevitable. But they can be overcome. [Mike McBride Column / Tulsa World]

Voting and Election News

Column: It’s time to give independents a voice in Oklahoma elections: Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s closed primary system means selecting “No Party” leaves me and countless others unable to vote. I can’t name a single positive benefit to the residents of this state that comes from closed primaries, but there are plenty of benefits to the political parties who get to unilaterally choose who takes office. [Tony Stobbe Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Lawmakers Propose New Restrictions, Requirements for Initiative Petitions: A handful of Republican lawmakers are looking to add requirements for initiative petitions and referendums to reach the ballot and become law. [Oklahoma Watch]

Health News

‘Like we hit the Powerball’ Oklahoma families on disability waiting list finally get help years later: Kerstin Soell has spent 16 years riding horses, skiing with her family, cheerleading at school and otherwise being a typical kid. But as a kid with Down syndrome, she and her family faced hardship, including open-heart surgery at just 3 months old and two dozen medical procedures over the course of her young life. After that intensely worrying first year, her mom, Sarah, signed up for state-funded programs that could support Kerstin as she lived at home with her family and received home-guided care. Then they waited. It took 15 years. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Video shows an Oklahoma man’s fatal struggle with jailers: Newly released video shows detention officers at the Pottawatomie County jail tackling and pinning down a man in the throes of a mental health crisis who later died. [The Frontier]

  • Previously Withheld Video Shows Man’s Fatal Struggle With Pottawatomie County Jailers [Oklahoma Watch]

Could cellphone signal jamming be an answer for drugs, violence in prisons?: Oklahoma’s new attorney general and other top prosecutors across the nation are calling on Congress to make it legal to jam cellphone signals at state prisons. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

State board vote could close Sovereign Community School in six months: An Oklahoma City charter school is on a path toward closure after four years of financial and academic disarray. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-1 on Thursday in favor of issuing a notice of termination to Sovereign Community School. The Indigenous-focused charter school educates 109 students in fifth through 12th grade at 12600 N Kelley. [The Oklahoman]

Student loan debt: 172k Oklahomans approved for relief under stalled Biden plan: Some 172,000 student loan debt relief applications from Oklahomans have been approved and forwarded for discharge, federal officials say, but their status remains on hold pending the outcome of a legal battle. [Tulsa World]

Education notebook: Elections, applications, bonds and more: Election deadline: Monday is the deadline to request an absentee ballot for the Feb. 14 elections. Claremore and Owasso each have a school board primary, while Bartlesville, Catoosa, Claremore Sequoyah, Coweta, Jenks, Skiatook and Union each have a bond package going before voters. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoman finalist for National Teacher of the Year says cooperation is key to future: For the first time in four years, Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year made the short list for the country’s top teacher award. Tulsa Union High School’s Rebecka Peterson is one of five finalists for 2023 National Teacher of the Year. [The Oklahoman]

Column: Lottery was never meant to solve education’s budget woes: The lottery money is appreciated; that’s $1 billion public education otherwise wouldn’t have received. But it’s not a gamechanger and couldn’t make up for the decade-long cuts that plunged common education into a crisis. [Ginnie Graham Column / Tulsa World]

General News

Rural America grew in the pandemic’s early days. But mostly recreational counties saw gains: A recent peer-reviewed article in Rural Sociology suggests over a third of rural counties in the U.S. grew from April 2020 to July 2021 after a decade of population decline. Most of the rural counties that saw population growth were in recreational or retirement destinations where the economy depends on attracting people to its outdoor activities like boating and fishing, or natural amenities like lush green hillsides and scenic shorelines. [KOSU]

Editorial: Greenwood medical clinic continues downtown development momentum: The addition of a primary care medical clinic in the Greenwood District represents a significant milestone of growth for downtown and the once-decimated Black business district. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“It showed the causes. It showed breakdowns in relationships. It showed 18% of our people who were surveyed had come through the foster system. … It showed all of these things. We showed 67% were reporting disabilities. We have to remember that it is not just throwing somebody into a house, but it is creating a community around them. Because people need community. We were just built that way. They need a support system.”

– Sarah Grounds, founder and executive director of City Lights Foundation of Oklahoma, speaking about the ways to support people experiencing homelessness, which includes expanding mental health services, affordable housing, and more funding for non-profit providers. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s state-level Earned Income Tax Credit is pinned to five percent of the federal EITC credit. This makes the Oklahoma EITC among the lowest rates for such state-level tax credits designed to provide targeted tax relief for low-income workers. [National Conference of State Legislatures

Policy Note

Boosting Incomes and Improving Tax Equity with State Earned Income Tax Credits: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is designed to boost low-wage workers’ incomes and offset some of the taxes they pay, providing the opportunity for lower-income families to move toward meaningful economic security. The federal EITC has kept millions of Americans out of poverty since its enactment in the mid-1970s. Over the past several decades, the effectiveness of the EITC has been amplified as many states have enacted and expanded their own credits. [Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy]

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Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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