In The Know: Fight over education at state Capitol | Suicides, ‘deaths of despair’ on the rise in OK | ‘Long COVID’ concerns and Legislature response

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

“Long COVID” increases the urgency for a state paid family and medical leave program: “Long COVID”— that is, the persistence of COVID-related symptoms for months after being sick — is likely to cause many Oklahomans to experience long-term health conditions that could impact their ability to work, including brain fog, fatigue, and mobility loss.  Given the reasonably anticipated increase in need for employment accommodations due to COVID-related symptoms, Oklahoma’s Legislature should act now to create and implement a state paid family and medical leave program that will support job and paycheck stability to workers caring for their own or their families’ long COVID-related conditions. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma fight over education heats up at state Capitol: The bill by top Senate Republican Greg Treat proposes that the state provide money for a student’s education through an Empowerment Account. The bill will then give the student’s parents access to that account to use for their student’s education. Hofmeister, who is also running for governor, stood alongside parents who all fear the bill will hurt rural schools that depend on state money and could lose it if parents choose another option. [KOCO

  • TV ads, mailers to challenge Speaker Charles McCall’s opposition to school voucher bill [The Oklahoman
  • Public School Supporters Rallying At State Capitol For Public Schools Week [News 9
  • Hundreds gathered at the state capitol to voice concerns about a new education bill [Fox 23

Oklahoma wants to pay some teachers six figures. Here’s how it would work: Proponents of the legislation say it could help retain highly qualified educators by matching funds from local school districts to increase salaries for high-performing teachers. Others say a pay raise for all public-school teachers would be a more effective way to fight the shortage. [The Oklahoman

Suicides, other ‘deaths of despair’ up in Oklahoma since 2019: ‘Every year is getting a little bit worse’: Deaths from suicide, alcohol and drugs — collectively called deaths of despair by some researchers — are trending up in the state since the beginning of the pandemic, prompting some to sound a sadly familiar alarm. [Tulsa World

State Government News

Oklahoma state Auditor Cindy Byrd: ‘I always tell people the numbers don’t lie’: “There are a lot of different passions surrounding government,” Byrd said in a recent interview. “While my passion is to shine light on the numbers and where our tax dollars are going and what they’re being used for, that is not always the focus of others’ passions.” She won statewide election in 2018 and became the first woman to hold the top job. She oversees a staff of 100 auditors tasked to review spending for all government agencies in the state. [The Oklahoman

Monday Minute: Gambling on the budget: In the Senate, 10 bills grace today’s floor agenda. In the House, 18 bills are eligible for floor consideration. Also this week, several House Appropriations & Budget subcommittees are set to meet. Let’s jump into it! [NonDoc

With bill, Oklahoma legalized sports betting prospects may improve, but obstacles remain: The introduction of a bill that could pave the way for legalized sports betting in Oklahoma might be cause for optimism for some, but major obstacles remain. Among the biggest is ongoing feuds between the state’s tribes and Gov. Kevin Stitt, who have fought over gaming compacts, and continue to fight over hunting and fishing licenses, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision. [Tulsa World

  • Medical marijuana, sports betting among issues considered Monday by Oklahoma House [Tulsa World
  • Oklahoma sports betting bill passed in committee, now headed to full House [Yogonet

(Audio) Capitol Insider: Vaccination bills moving through legislative process: Bills regulating vaccinations were among the most popular filed in the Oklahoma legislature this year and already lawmakers are indicating the extent to which they will go in establishing vaccine policy. [KGOU

House subcommittee OKs $30M for roads, bridges: A House subcommittee has given first approval to a bill that would increase the amount of appropriations the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Fund may receive by $30 million. [The Lawton Constitution]

Strictest data privacy bill in the country moving through the Oklahoma legislature: State lawmakers are advocating to keep Oklahomans’ private information protected. What many Oklahoma lawmakers are calling the strictest data privacy bill in America is making its way through the House. [FOX 25]

Lawmaker wants to allow guns at Tulsa State Fair: One Oklahoma legislator has modified a bill to potentially allow concealed guns at the Tulsa State Fair. Representative Justin Humphrey recently rewrote House Bill 4138, which initially did not pass. [The Black Wall Street Times

Oklahoma Republican lawmakers advance Texas-style anti-abortion bill on party-line vote: A state Senate panel on Monday passed a slate of anti-abortion bills, including legislation that would copy key parts of a restrictive abortion law recently implemented in Texas. [The Oklahoman] Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, who has a history of passing abortion bills that have been overturned as unconstitutional, said the measure seeks to move abortion bans closer to conception. [Tulsa World

Federal Government News

Where’s my refund? 2021 tax returns may see delays: Some preparers, who have spent years doing what they do, said they had never seen delays this long from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unfortunately, there may be more delays this year. [KFOR

Tribal Nations News

‘Critical’ U.S. Senate bill would expand tribal court power over non-Native defendants: A new bill in the U.S. Senate would expand the powers of tribal courts over non-Native people accused of sexually assaulting or trafficking Native Americans, potentially closing a gap in federal law that tribal leaders have long said leaves Indigenous people at risk. [The Oklahoman

Muscogee Nation: End of Hughes County cross-deputization risks public safety: In responding to a letter from Hughes County Sheriff Marcia Maxwell stating that she was ending the county and the tribe’s cross-deputization agreement, Muscogee Nation Interim Attorney General Kyle Haskins wrote his own letter Feb. 15 extending an invitation to rebuild the relationship. [NonDoc

Federal lawsuit challenges Oklahoma’s right to tax Native Americans under McGirt ruling: A Choctaw Nation couple have sued Oklahoma’s three tax commissioners in federal court, contending the state cannot tax their income as a result of a landmark Supreme Court ruling. [The Oklahoman

Days of Native Americans at boarding schools are being brought to light with professor’s work: Bryan Rindfleisch has come to expect his students’ surprised reactions when he discusses America’s boarding school era when the federal government removed thousands of Native American youths from their homes and forced them to attend residential schools. In an effort to assimilate the youths, many were stripped of their Native culture and customs — and often subjected to physical abuse and neglect in the process. [The Oklahoman

Voting and Election News

Report: no widespread fraud in Oklahoma’s 2020 election; some lawmakers seek forensic audit: While GOP lawmakers have filed a number of bills hoping to tighten election security, a recent report from the Oklahoma League of Women Voters found there were only 59 cases of voter fraud in the 2020 election, and only one has led to criminal charges being filed. [The Oklahoman

Oklahoma lawmakers debate recall options for school board members, but not legislators: Debate is raging over a proposed change to state law that would allow residents to use a recall process to remove local school board members from office. However, it would not give Oklahomans the same ability to oust elected state officials. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle

Abby Broyles, OKC Democrat running for Congress, blames medication and wine for insulting young girls: Abby Broyles, an Oklahoma City Democrat running for Congress, said Friday that a combination of medication and alcohol led to a bizarre scene last weekend in which she allegedly insulted young girls at a slumber party and threw up at least twice. [The Oklahoman

Health News

Omicron wave hit hospital admission rates in rural NE Oklahoma hardest, data shows: Rural areas — particularly in northeastern Oklahoma — had the highest COVID-19 hospital admission rates during the omicron variant surge, according to local real-time health data. The metric has continued to be a concern during the past several weeks of the omicron wave, said Dr. David Kendrick of MyHealth Access Network. [Tulsa World

Viewpoint: We become doctors in 100 days. This is how the pandemic changed us: While recently in isolation with my own COVID-19 infection during this omicron surge, I frequently thought back to my first night as a senior medical student in the emergency department. [Opinion / The Oklahoman

Oklahoma providers have seen rise in eating disorders since COVID hit. Here’s how to find help: Oklahoma treatment providers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking help for eating disorders as the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on.  While it’s difficult to pinpoint one cause driving the increase, experts said stressors of the pandemic play a role. [The Oklahoman

Criminal Justice News

As Oklahoma ranks top three in incarcerations, groups push for criminal justice reform: Oklahoma is ranked as one of the top three states for incarcerations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice’s most recent data from 2019. Many state lawmakers are working to change that. In this legislative session, there are more than a hundred bills focusing on criminal justice reform. [KOKH

Lawmakers advance 35% pay raises for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers: Top state lawmakers have said increasing trooper pay is a priority this legislative session in order to recruit top law enforcement officers to the Department of Public Safety. [The Oklahoman

Harding Fine Arts Academy invites community to explore criminal, social justice issues: Harding Fine Arts Academy has planned a series of free events in the coming week to explore issues related to criminal and social justice reform. Issues will be examined through film, literature and art. [The Journal Record

Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma leaders look to create state broadband office to improve internet access: Oklahoma is among the worst states for broadband connectivity and has limited options for reliable and affordable high-speed internet in rural parts of the state.  [The Oklahoman

Previously from OK Policy: Broadband is more important than ever — here is how Oklahoma can respond (Guest Post: Dr. Brian Whitacre) 

Economy & Business News

Filings for new businesses on rise in Oklahoma, across U.S.: The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the economic landscape in many ways, arriving as a death knell to countless businesses – but it also ushered in an era of entrepreneurial opportunity recognized in Oklahoma and across the country, according to a recent report on new business application filings. [The Journal Record

  • ‘Very little venture capital.’ Oklahoma wants to invest tax dollars into business startups [The Oklahoman

Loss of business, flat revenues are possible outcomes as Oklahoma’s marijuana prices plummet: Medical marijuana cardholders have likely noticed many cannabis products are much, much cheaper than they were a year ago. Due to continued oversupply from growers and an apparent plateau of customers, the wholesale and retail value of cannabis has fallen dramatically in recent months. [The Oklahoman

“Building Black”: Tulsa org sponsors pitch night for Black business owners: The Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) announced the launch of “Building Black Pitch Night” from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, February 25th. The evening, set to take place at the 36th Street North Event Center, will highlight “Black-owned small business owners from a variety of industries” in a powerful and “celebratory” event. [The Black Wall Street Times

Education News

Chief Chat: Native history is essential to any successful public education curriculum: Recently an online school in Georgia assigned a disturbing writing prompt. The school asked students to theoretically argue why removing the Cherokee people from their homelands on the Trail of Tears would “help the United States grow and prosper.” It showed an incredibly shortsighted approach to history, but fortunately we were able to correct it after talking with the school’s administrators. [Opinion / Tahlequah Daily Press

OU student leaders make ‘voices heard’ during Higher Education Day: OU student government leaders met with Gov. Kevin Stitt and state legislators at the Oklahoma state Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for higher education. Higher Education Day is an opportunity for student leaders from Oklahoma universities to meet with state legislators to share their college experiences and discuss the importance of funding higher education. [OU Daily

General News

Goodwin hopes to enhance Tulsa Race Massacre descendant scholarship program: A Tulsa Democrat is pushing a measure to reform and enhance a scholarship program originally intended for the descendants of survivors and victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre. [Public Radio Tulsa

Oklahoma Local News

OKC forensic testing company data breach may have compromised victims’ personal data: A company the Oklahoma City Police Department previously used to process sexual assault kits experienced a security breach last November that may have compromised sexual assault victims’ personal information. [The Oklahoman]

  • OKC Police rape kit info exposed in data breach of DNA contractor [OKC Free Press]
  • Rape kit data breach blamed on OKCPD contractor’s ‘third-party software’ [OKC Free Press]

Quote of the Day

“I always felt like if I could provide the right documentation and the facts to those who could make decisions, they would utilize the state auditor’s office and trust that. And I’ve found that sometimes people have such strong beliefs that even when facts are placed in front of them, they are not accepting of the facts.”

– Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


The number of historic All-Black towns still incorporated in Oklahoma today. Between 1856 and 1920, more than 50 All-Black towns were established in Oklahoma.

[Source: Oklahoma Historical Society]

NOTE: February is National Black History Month, a time to honor the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation, and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history.

Policy Note

Deep Divisions in Americans’ Views of Nation’s Racial History – and How To Address It: More than a year after nationwide protests erupted after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police, the public is deeply divided over how far the nation has progressed in addressing racial inequality – and how much further it needs to go. [Pew Research Center]

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Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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