In The Know: Infrastructure investments could be game changer for rural Oklahoma | Epic board exec resigns, asks for investigation | 7-day virus rate on the rise

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

Infrastructure bill seen as a game changer for rural Oklahomans, a boost for cities: The newly created Rural Broadband Expansion Council hoped it could get $20 million to $30 million to extend internet access in the state. But thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden in March, Oklahoma has gotten $163 million with Rep. Logan Phillips saying another $300 million is likely to follow from the pandemic relief bill for additional broadband infrastructure. And additional funding is on the way, thanks to the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed last month by Biden. The infrastructure bill is expected to send at least $5 billion to Oklahoma for various projects over the next few years. [The Oklahoman]

Epic’s Board Vice Chair Resigns, Asks for Investigation into Misconduct: Epic Charter Schools’ newly appointed governing board was put in place to help the troubled online school come into compliance with state law. But the board’s vice chair, so alarmed by what she’s seen and heard behind the scenes, resigned suddenly Wednesday, Oklahoma Watch has learned. She implored authorities to investigate the school for a number of issues. [Oklahoma Watch]

7-day average of Oklahoma coronavirus cases again tops 1,000: The seven-day rolling average number of new coronavirus cases each day in Oklahoma has again topped 1,000, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The average number of new cases daily during the past seven days reached 1,036 on Friday, according to the department, which does not provide reports during weekends. [AP News]

State Government News

Governor increases use of business incentive fund: Gov. Kevin Stitt has significantly increased the pace of spending on new business incentives issued through a special account under his control, including million-dollar payments to multiple companies in recent months. Designed as a final sweetener for businesses considering a move to Oklahoma or expanding their current operations, the Quick Action Closing Fund is under sole gubernatorial control and can be used to assist with development and infrastructure costs. [The Oklahoman]

House Republicans back special session on federal vaccine mandates: House Republicans said Friday that they support convening a special session to pass legislation addressing federal vaccine mandates facing court challenges. “President (Joe) Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandates are already under court injunctions secured by House Bill 1236 legal challenges,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “The injunctions are positive developments, but they are not permanent protections for Oklahomans being forced to choose between their freedom or their jobs. [Tulsa World]

Independents again may vote in Oklahoma Democratic primary: Oklahoma voters registered as an independent will again be allowed to vote in the state Democratic Party’s primary election, according to state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax. The Democratic Party has sent notification that it will allow independents to vote in the party’s 2022 and 2023 primaries, Ziriax said Friday. [AP News]

ONG’s proposed $1,320 utility service ‘exit fee’ explained: Why it triggers debate, criticism: What’s the fairest way to collect $1.37 billion from gas utility customers if those customers can just cancel their service? It’s a big question being weighed now by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which is considering whether to approve a 25-year plan to let Oklahoma Natural Gas recoup costs associated with the brutal February winter storms. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Unvaccinated Oklahoma Air National Guard members may be facing loss of pay next week: Members of Oklahoma’s Air National Guard who haven’t received COVID-19 vaccinations should be able to train this weekend and get paid, according to the state’s Adjutant General, but the situation may change next week. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Municipal, tribal officials planning for infrastructure funds: Cities and tribes across Oklahoma have miles-long lists of projects they hope to fund with the more than $5 billion that has been unlocked for Oklahoma by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. [NonDoc]

Jill Biden visits Cherokee immersion school to tout administration’s support for language preservation: As part of a federal push to highlight the importance of language preservation efforts, first lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland toured the Cherokee Nation’s immersion school Friday, meeting with students, faculty and tribal officials. [Tulsa World] The tribe has ramped up efforts in recent years to teach Cherokee to a new generation, including a $16 million total investment pledged in 2019. The Build Back Better Act sets aside $200 million for grants to help train Native language teachers. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Criminal Justice News

Report: Oklahoma Is The Deadliest State for Police Violence Against Black Americans: The Lancet found that between 1980 and 2019, Oklahoma has the highest rate of deadly police violence in the country, and the finding is especially alarming for the state’s Black residents, who account for 6 out of every 10 police homicide victims despite Black Americans making up 7 percent of the Sooner State population. [Atlanta Black Star]

Stitt expresses confidence in Pardon and Parole Board: While critics are taking aim at the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Kevin Stitt is not among them. Stitt has three appointees to the five-member board. Two members are appointed by the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Oklahoma Supreme Court. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma governor denies clemency for death row inmate: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt denied clemency on Friday for a death row inmate sentenced to die for the 1985 shooting death of a Putnam City schoolteacher. [AP News] Bigler Jobe “Bud” Stouffer II, 79, will become the second inmate executed in Oklahoma in more than six years unless he gets a stay in court. [The Oklahoman] The three-sentence announcement said Stitt reached the decision “after reviewing materials presented by all sides of the case.” No other statement from Stitt was included. [Public Radio Tulsa]

‘An ancestral fight’: Tribal members condemn death penalty following Jones’ clemency: The beating of the elk hide hand drum, symbolizing “the heartbeat” of then-death row inmate Julius Jones, combined with singing in the Pawnee and Seminole languages made for a powerful prayer outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on the day Jones was scheduled to be put to death. [The Oklahoman]

Family of Oklahoma man shot by police sues city, officers: The family of a man shot and killed last year by an Oklahoma City police officer is suing the city and two officers involved in the shooting. [AP News] The family of Bennie Edwards accuses two officers of unjustifiable force and failing to follow department policies when encountering a person dealing with mental illness, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the officers and the city. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

For some Tulsa landlords, patience is running thin with rental assistance: After paying on-time every month for three years, one tenant gave Gary Cheatham only part of the rent due in March and didn’t pay at all in April, May or June. Ordinarily, Cheatham could have threatened to evict him. But it wasn’t an option under a federal moratorium, initially imposed by the Trump administration in 2020 and continued this year by the Biden White House to prevent a wave of evictions and homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Economics, not just emotions, tied to abortion fight: Two transplants to Oklahoma, skilled workers in some of Oklahoma’s key industries, stood outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Oklahoma City last week. They also illustrated the economic stakes tied to the emotional abortion debate sweeping the nation. [The Journal Record]

Economy & Business News

Holt: Oklahoma City has second lowest unemployment rate in the country: For the second straight month, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt announced that the city still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. On Sunday, Mayor Holt announced that Oklahoma City’s unemployment rate is at 1.9%, which is the lowest rate in modern Oklahoma City history. [KFOR]

Education News

Amid football fears, OU leadership lauds the broader, brighter picture: For the second time this week, University of Oklahoma President Joe Harroz faced a pack of prying journalists Thursday and answered a slew of questions about when, why and under what criteria his athletic director will hire a new head football coach. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

  • School board filing window opens for area districts [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa city councilors discuss proposals to lengthen their terms, make job full-time, add powers [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Wagoner County’s future: Officials hold public forum on 2030 Comprehensive Plan [Tulsa World]
  • OU fraternity suspended, sorority disciplined as investigations continue [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“My mother was beaten in school by educators when she spoke Keres, and because of that trauma, she could not bear to teach me or my siblings. After I had my child, my mother felt safe to teach them our language. We’re lucky.”

-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the nation’s first Indigenous cabinet secretary — speaking during a visit to the Cherokee Nation last week along with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and said she doesn’t speak their language because of the federal government’s forced assimilation of Indians at boarding schools. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma rate of violent crime offenses per 100,000 people during 2020, which is above the national rate of 398.5 per 100,000 residents. [FBI Crime Data Explorer]

Policy Note

Want to reduce violence? Invest in place: To understand the causes of—and potential solutions to—violence in the U.S., one must pay attention to the long-standing relationship between violence and place. Within cities, gun violence is concentrated in a small set of disinvested neighborhoods, and within these neighborhoods, such violence is even more concentrated within a small set of “micro-geographic places,” like particular streets. This is a well-established trend that holds in every city or non-urban setting in which it has been studied. And when it comes to solutions, a growing body of evidence also demonstrates the promise of micro-level place-based interventions (such as rehabilitating vacant lots or increasing the number of community organizations) in significantly decreasing violence within these neighborhoods. [Brookings]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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