In The Know: Feds investigating Owasso schools over possible civil rights violations | AG’s decision impacting Gov.’s cabinet | A look at #okleg following first legislative deadline

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

Nex Benedict’s school will be investigated over possible federal civil rights violations: The U.S. Department of Education will launch a civil rights investigation into Nex Benedict’s suburban Tulsa school district, the school confirmed Friday. The investigation will look into allegations that Owasso Public Schools failed to adequately address reports of sex-based harassment. [The Oklahoman]

  • U.S. Department of Education opens investigation into Owasso Public Schools [Tulsa World]
  • U.S. Education Department to investigate Owasso Public Schools [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Federal Regulators to Review Nonbinary Student’s Death in Oklahoma [New York Times]

Are LGBTQ+ hate crimes increasing? Advocates view Nex Benedict’s death as latest example: The FBI’s 2022 crime reported showed that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime reports increased from the previous year, with a 13.8% bump in reports based on sexual orientation and a 32.9% increase in reported hate crimes based on gender identity. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma governor blasts AG opinion that led two of his cabinet secretaries to abruptly resign: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday blasted an attorney general’s opinion that led two of his cabinet secretaries to resign. He called the opinion “political games.” Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond on Wednesday issued an opinion that said Tim Gatz could not be transportation cabinet secretary, Oklahoma Turnpike Authority executive director and Oklahoma Department of Transportation executive director at the same time. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Stitt disappointed ‘political games’ push public servant out of Cabinet [Tulsa World]
  • Republican vs. Republican: Gov. Stitt accuses attorney general of ‘weaponizing’ AG’s office [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma AG’s opinion creates potential chaos for Stitt’s cabinet [KOSU]
  • Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell resigns position in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Cabinet [Tulsa World]

Some controversial bills killed, others greenlighted in first month of Oklahoma legislative session: Several controversial bills didn’t make it through committees by Thursday’s deadline. But presumed dead bills have a way of coming back to life through various legislative maneuvers. Thursday was the deadline for Senate and House bills to advance from committees in the chamber of origin. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Political notebook: Deadline lightens legislative load [Tulsa World]

Why the Oklahoma Farm Bureau is fighting an effort to increase the state’s minimum wage: The Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s opposition has spotlighted state farmworker wages, some of the lowest in the nation. It is also an example of how the bureau’s legal defense fund has grown to become a well-financed organization able to back legal challenges against policy efforts often opposed by industrial agriculture. [Investigate Midwest]

Water, film and housing: Under-the-radar #okleg issues: One month into Oklahoma’s 2024 regular legislative session, much of the public conversation about Capitol topics has focused on tax cuts, education issues and simmering social policy proposals. But because following bills can be like drinking from two firehoses at once, a few major issues worth watching have largely flown under the state radar despite ongoing conversations behind the scenes. [NonDoc]

House committee advances death penalty moratorium bill: A proposal to stay executions while an independent task force evaluates Oklahoma’s death penalty procedures unanimously cleared its first legislative hurdle last week. House Bill 3138 by Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, would establish a five-person Death Penalty Reform Task Force with members appointed by legislative leaders and the governor. [Oklahoma Watch]

Could Oklahoma ban cellphones in schools? One bill is inching closer to approval: A growing number of superintendents, administrators and teachers see cellphones causing behavior and mental health problems in schools. During the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature, multiple bills advanced that would incentivize districts to develop cellphone-free policies for students during instructional hours. [The Oklahoman]

‘The lifeblood of the community’: States invest to save rural grocery stores: A new Nebraska law would provide grants and loans for small grocers. It’s among several legislative efforts in the region that aim to tackle the complex problem. It following the lead of states — including Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and Oklahoma — that have enacted laws setting up special funds to boost rural grocery stores. [Oklahoma Voice]

Proposed legislation could overhaul how Oklahomans get a license plate after buying a used car: The Oklahoma legislature is considering a bill to make license plates transferable between owners during private car sales. Lawmakers hope the proposed legislation could prevent unnecessary traffic stops. [KOSU]

Capitol Insider: Stitt signs bill reducing Oklahoma grocery sales tax rate: The big item of the last week was the signing of the grocery sales tax reduction law, which both Republicans and Democrats wanted. Are other tax cuts coming in this legislative session? [KGOU]

Opinion: How many more Oklahomans will die at bad intersections while millions spent on turnpikes?: The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office has recorded at least 10 separate serious crashes at a Tishomingo intersection over the span of a decade. In Johnston County (home of Tishomingo), the rate of fatal crashes has been twice as high as the state average for at least five years. Overall, rural highways account for nearly 60% of all fatalities and serious injury crashes in Oklahoma. [Derek Burch, Katherine Hirschfeld and Richard Labarthe / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Oklahoma’s Capitol morality police going after sex education, LGBTQ+ people: Don’t be fooled by a sex education bill parading as a parental choice option. It would damage progress made in reducing teen births and educating on sexual assault prevention. It also takes a swipe at LGBTQ+ people and relationships. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Editorial: State has enough money to fix its failure to give mentally ill defendants treatment: Oklahoma state officials ought to learn from history and keep a pending federal class-action lawsuit from seeing the inside of a courtroom. The state’s continued failure to provide services to defendants deemed incompetent for prosecution needs to be fixed without a judge forcing it to do so. [Editorial /Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Who wants the U.S. Supreme Court to limit abortion pill access? Anti-abortion groups, attorneys general from 25 states and more than 140 members of Congress have signed on to dozens of briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court during the past two weeks, encouraging the justices to revert use and prescribing of the medication abortion pill mifepristone to what was in place prior to 2016. [Oklahoma Voice]

D.C. Digest: Lankford ‘sacked by his own linemen’ on border bill: U.S. Sen. James Lankford felt like a quarterback who’s been tackled by his own offensive linemen after his fellow Republicans trashed the national security package he negotiated with Democrats, he told a GOP gathering in Washington last week. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: US is and will always be a nation of immigrants. What will it take to update the system?: The question arises as to why America needs an immigration system today. Immigration is primarily related to economics. Secondly, it is a humanitarian program. [Richard C. “Dick” Hall / The Oklahoman]

Health News

A positive COVID test no longer means five days at home, new CDC isolation guidelines say: People who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be directed to stay home for five days, now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its isolation guidelines. [The Oklahoman]

One-time appropriation could add nearly 300 behavioral health jobs, expand care in Oklahoma: An analysis by the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative and Tulsa Regional Chamber found a legislative investment in Oklahoma’s behavioral health workforce could add 272 providers to the state, generate taxpayer benefits and significantly expand access to mental health care. [KGOU]

National investor dropping out forces Juno to shutter Tulsa clinic, medical director says: The medical director of a clinic that opened last summer in Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District says he’s “heartbroken” that the Juno Medical facility is closing. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: On Medicaid and like your doctor? You might need to choose a health plan by March 10: In 2022, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law making Oklahoma the 41st state to adopt managed Medicaid. With managed Medicaid, the state pays third-party companies to manage patients’ care. [Dr. Rachel Franklin / The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley announces retirement: Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley, 56, said he would soon be stepping away from the position, after a 34-year career with the city. He has agreed to remain employed with the department until a successor is named and the position is filled. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma City Police Chief announces retirement [KOSU]

Oklahoma County commissioner denies donation swayed jail site choice: Oklahoma County Commissioner Myles Davidson on Thursday sent out an invitation to a campaign fundraiser hosted by the company chosen to build the new jail. The invitation quickly resulted in new criticism of the District 3 commissioner, who took office last year. [The Oklahoman]

License plate technology evolves, grows in use: Despite opponents’ concerns about privacy and accuracy, the use of license plate recognition technology is rapidly growing around the world and in Oklahoma. [Journal Record]

Punitive damages in Tulsa County jail death case dropped from $68 million to $7 million due to attorney misconduct: A judge has reduced a jury’s punitive damages award in a Tulsa County jail death civil rights lawsuit from $68 million to $7 million, citing “pervasive misconduct” by the plaintiff’s legal counsel during the trial that included repeated improper argument, showing excluded evidence and crying in front of the jury. [Tulsa World]

Four Oklahomans convicted in $100 million DOT construction bid rigging conspiracy: Four men worked together to squeeze extra money out of Oklahoma Department of Transportation construction projects. The final co-conspirator pleaded guilty in federal court in late February. [KGOU]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Chase Bank hosts Federal Reserve Speaker on History of Black Banks: History shows Black banks thrived in times of activism and community, and their decline was mainly attributed to economic downturns in the nation that disproportionately affected them. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Is a landlord allowed to deny my ADA accommodation request? How to ask for rental help: The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. Apartment units do not have to be ADA-compliant, however, a renter can request a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act, according to the Oklahoma Office of Disability Concerns. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

$800 million data center in the works in east Tulsa: The city is working to finalize a development deal that would bring an $800 million data center to far east Tulsa. The facility, referred to in planning documents as “Project Anthem,” would be the first major acquisition for the city as it works to establish the area as a major employment center for high-tech companies. [Tulsa World]

Regional manufacturing activity falls slightly, but employment up: Manufacturing activity for the region that includes Oklahoma fell slightly in February, and expectations for future activity were not as high as last month, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City said. [Tulsa World]

US counties are blocking the future of renewable energy: These maps, graphics show how: The U.S. has set a goal to reach 100% clean energy by 2035, but a nationwide analysis by USA TODAY shows that achieving it is increasingly unlikely ― local governments are banning green power faster than they’re building it. [USA Today via The Oklahoman]

Education News

350+ leaders call for Walters’ removal following Nex Benedict’s death: In the wake of Nex Benedict’s death, scores of organizations have called on Oklahoma’s leaders to remove state Superintendent Ryan Walters from office. [Public Radio Tulsa]

How Oklahoma school district’s ‘hope-centered’ effort helps students thrive: Union Public Schools are working to become a “hope-centered” school district. The goal is to implement hope science districtwide as a way to better promote students’ overall well-being, helping them in life and academics, on their way to becoming healthier, more resilient adults. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Public Schoolboard to consider district participation in teacher merit pay program: Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education will consider a proposal Monday night for the district to participate this semester in a merit-based teacher stipend plan. [Tulsa World]

Education Service Center staff pinch-hitting at Tulsa schools: As part of its response to the state takeover threat from State Superintendent Ryan Walters and the Oklahoma State Board of Education, Tulsa Public Schools has begun deploying groups of certified employees normally based out of the Education Service Center to help teach in 15 classrooms around TPS this semester to provide additional support for classes that either have a novice teacher or are being covered by a long-term substitute. [Tulsa World

Opinion: Day of reckoning faces UCO, other regional universities: Regional universities are facing an issue of the impending enrollment cliff facing higher education as a whole. This problem arises from declining birth rates over the past couple of decades, leading to fewer prospective students entering colleges and universities. [Myron Pope / NonDoc]

Opinion: ‘Sticks and Stones’ can be potent weapons as Ryan Walters’ agenda fuels rhetoric, hate speech: Oklahoma, along with several other states under Republican leadership, has become a hotbed for a slew of bills and policies targeting already marginalized groups, particularly transgender youths. [Kevin Bolling and Luke Fisher / The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Lawmakers have a chance to influence Education Department. They should take it: An effort to put a check on the Oklahoma State Department of Education and to bring balance to its oversight board have passed the first hurdles in the Legislature. It ought to become law. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Community News

Burst pipes, months-long outages: Konawa’s water problems reflect issues faced across Oklahoma: Unfortunately, reliable water service isn’t just a Konawa problem. Hundreds of rural communities in Oklahoma, and many more across the nation, suffer from aging water systems that are time-consuming and expensive to replace. [The Oklahoman]

Mail carriers association rallies at Oklahoma Capitol for support: As part of a nationwide response to a recent increase in assaults and robberies of mail carriers, Oklahoma postal workers, residents and community leaders gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to bring attention and demand an end to violence. [Journal Record]

Coffee shop’s disabled employees harassed over viral feet-licking video, director says: A nonprofit coffee shop that employs students and adults with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities has received phone threats, angry emails and poor reviews online following a controversial video that went viral last week. [The Oklahoman]

Local Headlines

  • Lead rarely found in Tulsa’s water service lines, official says amid inspections [Tulsa World]
  • Mayor Bynum: Grant Miller unfit to sit on Tulsa City Council [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa hires economic development director [Tulsa World]
  • Edmond residents will soon be able to keep a closer eye on water, electric bills [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Generational wealth doesn’t have to be just money, but we can also pass down generational knowledge and resources to our family instead of living paycheck to paycheck.”

-Ashley Townsend, Tulsa’s Chase Bank Community Manager, speaking during a recent talk about the history of Black banks. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma children — 19% or nearly 1 in 5 — living in households where, in the previous 12 months, there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household members because of insufficient money or other resources. [KIDS COUNT]

Policy Note

Tribal Nations Are Taking Back Their Food Systems: For years, the Oneida Nation has been growing crops and raising cattle and buffalo on its 65,000-acre reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Now, some of that food is doing more than nourishing people: It’s helping undo centuries of government overreach. As part of a pilot program included in the 2018 farm bill, the tribe is using federal dollars to buy food grown on the reservation and distributing it for free to low-income members of its tribe and another, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. [Mother Jones]

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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.