[In The Know] Major economic development package on fast track | Calculating overdue investments from SQ 781 | AG fires outside counsel on opioid cases

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

SB 844 would help calculate SQ 781’s overdue investments in mental health, substance use disorders (Capitol Update): Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed Senate Bill 844 by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, which is his latest effort to implement State Question 781 that was passed by vote of the people in 2016. Its companion measure, SQ780, changed simple drug possession and property theft less than $1,000 into misdemeanors when they were previously felonies in Oklahoma. Both state questions went into effect July 1, 2017, but SQ 781 has never been fully implemented. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

State Government News

Incentive package tweaks are on fast track as multibillion-dollar company eyes Pryor site: A multibillion-dollar company will decide Friday whether it will expand its operations to the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, a key state lawmaker said. Lawmakers on Monday took steps to update an economic development incentive package that would be offered to the unnamed company that reportedly is Volkswagen. [Tulsa World]

New AG Gentner Drummond fires outside attorneys from opioid crisis litigation: Two attorneys who made millions of dollars representing the state in legal actions against opioid companies have been fired. In a sharply worded letter, Oklahoma’s new attorney general terminated the contract with Michael Burrage and Reggie Whitten on Feb. 14. [The Oklahoman]

Republican lawmaker pushing back on Oklahoma BOE, Superintendent authority with new bill: Tulsa Public Schools is one of two districts last year that lost a bit of accreditation due to violations of the state’s critical race theory bill. But now the new Oklahoma State Superintendent is facing criticism from his Republican colleagues in the legislature. [KTUL]

Republican lawmakers urge Walters to maintain funding for ‘vital’ education resources: With federal grant deadlines looming, the state’s superintendent needs to urgently hire a federal programs director to ensure public school students have continued access to “vital classroom instructional materials and supplies” and food, two influential Republican state lawmakers said Monday. [CNHI]

Voting and Election News

SQ 820 supporters push back on ‘hyperbolic’ rhetoric against marijuana vote in Oklahoma: Opponents of recreational marijuana are adopting classic arguments used in the ongoing in the War on Drugs as they campaign against State Question 820, which will be on the statewide ballot Tuesday, March 7. Those fighting against the state question include religious leaders and law enforcement officials who warn that, among other negatives, allowing Oklahoma to become the 22nd state to approve recreational cannabis sales could lead to higher rates of drug use among children, more violent organized crime and increased mental health and substance abuse issues. [The Oklahoman]

Analysis: Marijuana Arrests Leading to Wasteful Incarcerations, Spending, and Misuse of Law Enforcement Resources: An analysis released today by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) shows that law enforcement officers continue to arrest and prosecute thousands of Oklahomans for having small amounts of marijuana despite voter and legislatively approved reforms aimed at reducing harmful contact with the criminal justice system. [Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Press Release] | [Analysis, PDF]

What To Know About SQ 820 and Legalizing Recreational Marijuana in Oklahoma: Oklahoma voters will decide next week if the state will join 22 others in the march to legalize the adult use of cannabis under State Question 820. Supporters want voters to approve an initiative that combines legal adult-use cannabis with criminal justice reforms to address past low-level convictions on marijuana-related offenses. Opponents said full legalization sends the wrong message to children and the state hasn’t done enough to deal with unintended consequences from the passage of medical marijuana in 2018. [Oklahoma Watch]

Legislative panel approves funds to hold recreational marijuana vote: A joint legislative panel passed a bill Monday that would give the Oklahoma State Election Board additional money to conduct the March 7 special election on recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, a House panel advanced two similar but conflicting bills dealing with election dates. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Federal government announces special enrollment period for people losing Medicaid coverage: Oklahomans who are losing SoonerCare coverage have an opportunity to sign up for private insurance. The federal government has created a special enrollment period for them: Oklahomans who are losing SoonerCare coverage have an opportunity to sign up for private insurance. But the federal government is opening a special enrollment period for the millions of people who will lose Medicaid coverage this year. [KGOU]

Oklahoma County reaches settlement with JUUL in marketing of vapes to teens: Oklahoma County Commissioners on Monday approved a proposal to settle litigation against JUUL Labs Inc. over allegations the electronic cigarette manufacturer marketed its products to teens. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Retired military adviser for Mary Fallin and Kevin Stitt to join Oklahoma County jail trust: Retired Maj. Gen. Michael C. Thompson, who served Gov. Mary Fallin during her administration as Oklahoma’s secretary of safety and security, as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and as leader of the Oklahoma National Guard for Fallin and for Gov. Kevin Stitt, was appointed Monday to the Oklahoma County Jail Trust. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma County Jail: Detainee dies from ‘significant preexisting medical issues’: The Oklahoma County Detention Center says it has recorded the second detainee death for 2023 in as many months. [KFOR]

Economic Opportunity

Getting around rural America without a car is hard. These communities developed solutions: In rural areas, residents can be miles away from essentials like doctors and grocery stores instead of minutes. Without transportation, people who don’t have a car or can’t drive often have to move closer to services. More than a third of state rural health offices reported lack of transit was the biggest barrier to elderly people staying in their homes. [KOSU]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma officials warn new WOTUS rule poses complications for farmers: Oklahoma officials are challenging a new rule that expands federal regulation of water bodies over concern for its effect on the nation’s farmers. This new rule, effective March 20, will redefine the term “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, restoring some of the federal government’s jurisdiction over bodies of water in the country that had been removed under a Trump administration revision. [NonDoc]

Grocery prices eating into Oklahomans’ budgets: Inflation-fueled grocery prices are taking too big a bite out of household budgets. A new study shows Oklahomans on average spend 17.8% of their income on groceries – the fourth-largest percentage nationwide. [Journal Record]

‘Entrepreneurship incubator’ in works for Tulsa’s Greenwood community: Plans are accelerating for an entrepreneurship hub to help drive innovation, business development and economic vitality in north Tulsa. [Journal Record]

  • Design of Greenwood Entrepreneurship Incubator @ Moton takes shape [Tulsa World]

Education News

State Superintendent meets with school leaders from NE Oklahoma: State Superintendent Ryan Walters was in Broken Arrow on Monday for a roundtable discussion with school leaders from northeast Oklahoma. The districts that attended the roundtable with Walters included Broken Arrow, Peggs, Pawhuska, Pryor, Oologah and Pretty Water. [KOTV]

Tulsa school board remains deadlocked on vacant seat: Dspite meeting for more than four hours and hearing pleas for representation from multiple people during the public comment period, Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education could not reach a consensus Monday night on an appointee to the vacant District 2 seat. [Tulsa World]

All Black school remembered in Hartshorne: Phillis Wheatley Grammar School previously operated as a single room school on Carbon Street in Hartshorne before an all-brick building with two classrooms and an auditorium was constructed by 1910. It became a fully-operating school in 1933 with debate clubs, basketball teams and more. The school’s namesake – Phillis Wheatley, also spelled “Phyllis” in history – is considered the first African-American author of a published book of poetry. [CNHI via Stillwater News Press]

General News

Congressional Black Caucus seeks racial equity in North Tulsa: Inside the walls of Booker T. Washington High School in North Tulsa, members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation held a series of “Community Conversations” with local advocates and business owners as part of its annual summit on racial justice. The CBCF traveled to Oklahoma on Saturday, Feb. 25, to hold its third annual National Racial Equity Initiative for Social Justice in Historic Greenwood District, home to the original Black Wall Street. [The Black Wall Street Times]

“Stop the violence” peace march builds community in Lawton: The small city of Lawton often only receives headlines after violent police shootings or community violence, and when it comes to brutality by law enforcement, what happens in this community on the Southwest edge of Oklahoma often goes unnoticed or overlooked. Holding a peace march on Saturday, Feb. 25, outside the Comanche County Courthouse, a clutch of advocates impacted by violence hope to change that. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Ernestine Dillard, Known As ‘The Voice Who Helped Healed The Nation,’ dies: Ernestine Marcus Buntyn Dillard, who spent three decades as a registered nurse but whose gift as a self-trained singer led her to perform first in church choirs and later at some of the most treasured venues in the United States and Europe, and before three U.S. presidents, died Feb. 16 in Tulsa following a lengthy illness. She was 81. [Oklahoma Eagle]

Tulsa City Council’s welcoming-city resolution de-emphasizes sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression: A proposed change to a pending City Council resolution reaffirming Tulsa as a welcoming city would eliminate language that explicitly highlights fostering a safe and inclusive community, “regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” [Tulsa World]

Podcast: ‘Focus: Black Oklahoma’: implicit bias, wealth inequality, Oklahoma’s upcoming vote on legalizing medical cannabis: In this episode, we begin with a story that explores the insidious aspects of implicit bias. They are an ever present part of the lived experiences of people of color in America. Black women are the most susceptible to bias through the lens of the healthcare system. [KOSU]

Oklahoma Local News

  • New NBA arena timeline? Ways to reduce homelessness? Mayor Holt answers your questions [The Oklahoman]
  • Urban Land Institute tells Edmond to ‘be bold’ with downtown projects [NonDoc]

Quote of the Day

“I believe that Tulsa is programs-rich and systems-poor.”

-Carlisha Williams Bradley, executive director of Women Empowering Nations. She said dozens of programs, initiatives and grants available to entrepreneurs in Tulsa’s Greenwood community will be of little value if the area lacks the infrastructure and ecosystems required for them to succeed. [Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Percentage of individuals held by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections who exhibit symptoms of a serious mental illness [Oklahoma Department of Corrections]  

Policy Note

Rural Communities Need More Health Care, Not More Jails: Millions spent on new jails instead of on much-needed infrastructure like education, affordable housing, and health care has become dynamic evident across the United States. But it is particularly pronounced in rural counties, where jail populations have grown at an alarming rate over the last several decades. Mayors, commissioners, and sheriffs are spending scarce local resources to increase jail capacity—building more and bigger jails—and then quickly filling up those jails. The vast majority of people in jail—approximately two-thirds—haven’t been convicted of a crime. They are awaiting trial, and often, they are stuck behind bars because they can’t afford bail. They spend days, weeks, months, years—even the rest of their lives—incarcerated, awaiting trial. [Vera Institute of Justice]

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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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