In The Know: Groups sue state over HB 1775 | School employees contracting virus at higher rates | Legislative Compensation Board

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

ACLU, state educators file federal lawsuit challenging Oklahoma House Bill 1775: Arguing it restricts classroom discussion without educational justification, a group of educators and students announced Tuesday afternoon that they are filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s so-called “critical race theory” ban. [Tulsa World] The plaintiffs say House Bill 1775, which Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law this year, is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Attorney General John O’Connor said he looks forward to defending the law against “activists who do not share our Oklahoma values.” [The Oklahoman] The law never actually mentions the phrase critical race theory. But the intention, GOP lawmakers said when they passed it, is plain: ban teaching that makes students feel uncomfortable. How the state board can do that remains unclear, and state standards will continue to include difficult topics like the Tulsa Race Massacre and Trail of Tears. [Public Radio Tulsa] Oklahoma is one of eleven states across the country that have passed similar laws aimed at censoring discussions around race and gender in the classroom, and this is the first federal lawsuit facially challenging one of these statewide bans. [Black Wall Street Times]

Officials: School employees contracting COVID at higher rate than average Oklahomans: A recent survey indicates that school employees are contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than the average Oklahoman. Speaking as part of a media briefing Tuesday from the Healthier Oklahoma coalition, Oklahoma Education Association Executive Director Carolyn Crowder said a statewide survey of the organization’s members revealed that 27% of school employees have tested positive for COVID-19. By comparison, 15% of Oklahomans have tested positive. [Tulsa World]

Health News

COVID-19 vaccine trials recruiting Oklahoma participants, including young children: Several COVID-19 vaccine trials are recruiting participants in Oklahoma, including a trial for young children, booster shot trials for adults, and a study aimed at people with autoimmune conditions who didn’t mount a strong response to their initial vaccinations. [The Oklahoman]

Hospital staffing shortage in Oklahoma hits over 30% of hospitals: 34% of hospitals across Oklahoma now have staff shortages according to an Oct. 15 report from the White House, CDC, and other federal agencies. That’s a 5% increase from the previous week. It puts Oklahoma in the ‘red,’ or the second highest level of concern established by the metrics. The state has been in this category since early August. [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Government News

Good enough: Legislative Compensation Board keeps lawmaker pay flat: Oklahoma is almost top 10 in legislative pay. This morning, the obscure board that has exclusive power to set lawmaker pay said that’s good enough. Members of the Legislative Compensation Board voted 7-1 to maintain the current salary of elected legislators at $47,500 per year, a figure that reflects the $12,749 raise approved by the board in 2019, the first hike of lawmaker pay in 20 years. [NonDoc] A majority of the compensation board shot down a proposal to boost extra stipends for some legislative leaders, including House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman]

Public submissions provide glimpse of congressional redistricting possibilities: On Tuesday, lawmakers and the public caught a glimpse of what Oklahoma’s new congressional districts might like look. Or, in any event, what some people would like them to look like. In practice, none of the 10 congressional maps submitted by the public and reviewed by a joint legislative committee on Tuesday is likely to be fully adopted when the Legislature meets in special session next month. But they did raise some interesting ideas and provoke discussion, especially about what seems to be the primary point of contention — what to do with the Oklahoma City metro area. [Tulsa World]

Rep. Forrest Bennett Op-Ed: You can’t fix the whole drug problem without seeing the full picture: You might have noticed that our Governor traveled to the southern border recently. From the sparse statements his office has provided, we can gather that it is because he takes seriously the issue of illegal drugs coming into Oklahoma. If you support the Governor, you probably applaud his action. Even if you don’t, you have to acknowledge that illegal drugs are a serious problem across the state. That is certainly part of the story. No matter how you feel about the Governor, I’ll bet you don’t know the rest of the story. Neither did I, and if it weren’t for the courageous work of local newspaper reporters in western Oklahoma, I don’t know that I ever would. [Rep. Forrest Bennett / Oklahoma City Free Press]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma AG accuses two parole board members of bias, wants them off Julius Jones’ clemency hearing: Oklahoma’s new attorney general wants the chairman and another member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board banned from two upcoming clemency hearings on bias grounds. [The Oklahoman] The action comes as the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to take similar action on the same two board members in Julius Jones’ commutation hearing at the request of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. [Tulsa World]

Judge Ogden quashes citizens’ grand jury application: Oklahoma County Judge Richard Ogden today quashed five citizens’ application to pursue an initiative petition for convening a grand jury to investigate allegations of abuse of power by District Attorney David Prater. Ogden wrote that the citizens’ application “does not contain reasonably specific identification of areas to be inquired into” and that its allegations “are actions inherent to D.A. Prater’s prosecutorial functions.” Petitioners have two days to amend their application and refile. [NonDoc]

U.S. Supreme Court again protects police accused of excessive force: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday signaled that it is not retreating from its inclination to grant a legal protection called “qualified immunity” to police accused in lawsuits of using excessive force, ruling in favor of officers on Monday in separate cases from California and Oklahoma. The justices overturned a lower court’s decision allowing a trial in a lawsuit against officers Josh Girdner and Brandon Vick over the 2016 fatal shooting of a hammer-wielding man in Tahlequah. [Reuters]

Economic Opportunity

Editorial: Oklahomans continuing to go hungry: Hunger in America doesn’t look like stereotypes of waifish or chronically unemployed people. Food insecurity means stretching food by choosing cheap options with little nutrition or skipping meals. It means viewing food as a survival challenge rather than pleasure or entertainment. Oklahoma hasn’t fared well in measures of hunger. The state was No. 6 last year in the rate of people who are food insecure, according to Feeding America. It was No. 5 in 2019 and 2018. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

As the Tulsa Day Center’s facility grows, so does its ambition for helping the homeless: The original idea of the Day Center was simply to offer a safe, comfortable place for people to come indoors while they waited for the city’s overnight shelters to open in the evenings. In the decades since, however, the center has expanded its mission to provide not only day-time shelter but food, clothing, medical care and other basic needs. [Tulsa World]

Education News

OU partnering with hospitals in Norman, Duncan to offer nursing degrees at new locations: The University of Oklahoma is expanding its nursing education program, partnering with hospitals in Norman and Duncan to offer additional sites for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Crusading to ‘Keep Communities Free From Violence and Harm’: In an Oklahoma Watch feature “A Mile In Another’s Shoes,” an initiative to give voice to the voiceless or call attention to the plight of those affected by public policy, Tiffany Crutcher talks about advocating for Black victims of police brutality and the generational trauma that fuels her. [Oklahoma Watch]

Second Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate changes political affiliation, abandons GOP: A Republican gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday renounced his political party and said he plans to challenge Gov. Kevin Stitt as an independent. Dr. Ervin Yen, a former state senator and Oklahoma City anesthesiologist, criticized the Oklahoma Republican Party’s opposition to COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates and dismissed conservative conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, baseless claims that have been debunked. [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“HB 1775 is so poorly drafted — in places it is literally indecipherable — that districts and teachers have no way of knowing what concepts and ideas are prohibited.”

-ACLU staff attorney Emerson Sykes, speaking about the lawsuit against the recently enacted bill that places a chilling effect on teaching about race [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Black youth are three times as likely to be arrested than White youth, and Native youth are two and a half times more likely to be incarcerated when arrested than are White youth. [Open Justice Oklahoma]

Policy Note

Framework and Tool Help Juvenile Justice Agencies Treat Families as Partners: Families are central to a young person’s support network, sense of identity and healthy development. A new framework and tool from the Annie E. Casey Foundation helps juvenile justice agencies develop and maintain collaborative relationships with family members and engage them as valuable partners in encouraging positive behavior change, personal growth and long-term success for youth in the justice system. [Annie E. Casey Foundation]

Note: October Is National Youth Justice Action Month

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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.

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