In The Know: Mu virus variant detected in state | AG appeals school mask ban injunction | Interim study examines fines and fees

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

Interim study examines using fines and fees to fund court operations (Capitol Update): Last week Rep. Chris Kannady, R-OKC, Chairman of the Judiciary-Civil Committee, held an interim study hosted by Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, on the issue of excessive court costs, fees, and assessments in criminal cases. When fines and fees are added up, just the costs on a misdemeanor case might be upwards of $1,000, and a felony, even a nonviolent offense, can be twice that. It’s not unusual for people who are charged with multiple offenses from the same incident to owe thousands in costs, some in the tens of thousands. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Health officials say Mu variant of Coronavirus has been detected in Oklahoma: The latest coronavirus variant of interest has been confirmed in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Department of Health says the Mu variant appeared in 13 lab samples between May 20 and Aug. 10. The World Health Organization has designated Mu a variant of interest because preliminary evidence shows it may be able to escape antibodies acquired through vaccination or previous infection. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Community supports firefighter battling COVID: From ‘picture of health’ to ‘just trying to breathe’ [Tulsa World]
  • Long COVID ‘kind of forgotten’ amid hospitalizations, deaths but remains an ‘unsettling’ affliction [Tulsa World]
  • Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine or third dose in and around OKC? [The Oklahoman]
  • See where COVID-19 vaccinations are required in the Oklahoma City area [The Oklahoman]

House studies district court system funding structure: Reps. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, and Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, held an interim study Tuesday to review funding for the Oklahoma Court System, focusing on district courts. The study was held before the House Judiciary-Civil Committee, which is chaired by Kannady. Culver is vice chair. Damion Shade, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, discussed the negative affects of the steep cost of court fines and fees on Oklahoma families and communities. He suggested the state could better serve law enforcement, the courts and communities through a different mechanism that would provide more adequate funding for the courts. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Oklahoma attorney general appeals ruling tossing mask ban: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has appealed a state judge’s temporary injunction that prohibits the state from banning mask mandates in public schools. The appeal, filed Thursday, cited the state’s sovereign immunity and argued that the law passed earlier this year by the Legislature is constitutional. [AP News]

  • Union Public Schools to require masks in district buildings as COVID-19 surge continues [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Lawton Public Schools returning to mask mandate, effective Monday, as COVID-19 cases increase [The Lawton Constitution]
  • Op-Ed: Opposing views are using same justification. Whose personal liberty should we infringe upon? [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

State Government News

When it comes to some types of oilfield radiation, Oklahoma law is silent: When Patrick Keegan set out to clean up some old oilfield land he owned in Lincoln County, he wanted the site tested for radiation. An Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality technician found increased levels of gamma radiation near one old wellhead, 30 to 90 times greater than normal background radiation. The state’s response to the presence of radiation at the site has been, in Keegan’s eyes, unsatisfactory. [The Oklahoman]

Medical marijuana compliance efforts highlighted as deadline to hire more staff looms: Amid concerns with Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority meeting the Legislature’s directive to hire more compliance inspectors, the agency’s new director agreed further regulations are still “absolutely” needed for the expanding industry. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Republicans divided over Afghan refugees resettling in state: Gov. Kevin Stitt and some members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation say they welcome refugees displaced by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, though other Republicans have expressed concerns about the relocations. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Legal arguments, workplace disruptions feared as side effects of Biden’s vaccine mandate: Oklahoma leaders from both sides of the political aisle plunged late Thursday and Friday into the firestorm ignited by President Joe Biden’s vaccine/testing mandate that could impact nearly 100 million workers across the nation and potentially disrupt some businesses’ abilities to operate. The state is one of several pursuing legal action against the president’s mandate. [The Oklahoman]

  • When does President Biden’s vaccine mandate take effect? Here’s what we know [The Oklahoman]
  • Amid Biden’s plan for businesses, which of Oklahoma’s largest employers already mandate the vaccine? [The Oklahoman]

Families of Oklahomans killed at the Pentagon on 9/11 remember their legacy: It’s been 20 years since American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001; three Oklahoma service members died during the attack. For some of their family members, the day is still fresh in their minds. [NonDoc]

  • Mayor Holt on 9/11 — ‘My time on this earth was scheduled to end’ [OKC Free Press]
  • ‘He gave everything he had for us’: 9/11 victim came from Sperry [Tulsa World]
  • On 20th anniversary of 9/11, fallen heroes sister remembers [The Lawton Constitution]

‘Educate and unite’: How Oklahoma Muslims work to counter hate, misinformation on 9/11: Farid and Malaka Elyazgi abhorred the narrative that surrounded their Islamic religion in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. The metro-area couple knew Islam to be a religion of peace, love, humility and service, but they knew that many non-Muslim Americans thought Islam was more of a hate-driven and violent faith that fueled the terrorists who killed more than 3,000 people 20 years ago. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

How will Biden’s vaccine mandate affect Oklahoma tribes? It’s complicated: The email chains and phone calls among tribal leaders and lawyers started soon after President Joe Biden announced a sweeping plan Thursday to vaccinate millions of people against COVID-19. Large private employers must require employees to get vaccinated or face frequent tests. Federal employees, federal contractors and staffers of many health care facilities must also get vaccinated. [The Oklahoman]

OKC’s First Americans Museum is a decades-long journey filled with uncertainty: Kirk Humphreys was only mayor a few months when Oklahoma City was chosen over Edmond as the site of a future Native American cultural center. Even he didn’t know that when the site along the Oklahoma River was selected on in September 1998, the effort already had been underway for more than a decade. [The Oklahoman] More than 30 years ago, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce commissioned a study on the feasibility of an American Indian museum and cultural center in Oklahoma City. [Tulsa World]

  • ‘A love letter to our communities’: First Americans Museum to open Sept. 18 [Tulsa World]
  • Long-awaited landmark: Caddo potter Jeri Redcorn designs piece for First Americans Museum [The Oklahoman]

After impeachment attempt, Travis Scott faces 3 opponents for Okfuskee District B: In the Sept. 18 Muscogee Nation primary election, controversial incumbent Travis Scott is taking on three challengers while trying to retain his Okfuskee District B seat. [NonDoc]

Parish challenges Deere for Muskogee District B seat: Incumbent Joyce Deere will take on challenger Sandra Parish in the Sept. 18 Muskogee District B seat primary election for the Muscogee National Council. [NonDoc]

Criminal Justice News

Six years have passed since Oklahoma conducted an execution. Now it wants to put seven men to death in five months: Oklahoma hasn’t attempted an execution since a series of bungled attempts ushered in a six-year moratorium on capital punishment. Now it says it’s ready to execute seven men in three-week intervals beginning as early as next month. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma court declines to bar duo from death penalty case: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected a request to remove two members of the state’s Pardon and Parole Board from a high-profile death penalty case. The court’s brief ruling on Friday denied a prosecutor’s request to remove Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle from considering the commutation request of Julius Jones, who was sentenced to death for the 1999 killing of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. [AP News] | [The Oklahoman] | [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Amid more controversy, parole board to meet Monday over death row inmate Julius Jones [The Oklahoman]

Amid frustration, Clinton police release statement on Butch Herndon death: Shortly after demonstrators had gathered outside the Clinton police station Friday afternoon to protest mistreatment of Native Americans in their community, Chief of Police Paul Rinkel sent NonDoc a press release regarding the Aug. 31 death of a 37-year-old Indigenous man in police custody. [NonDoc]

Editorial: Ways Tulsa Police could create stronger programs to build trust: The Tulsa Police Department created a path to the kind of transparency the city needs through two new programs. It’s not there, yet. Two years ago, Mayor G.T. Bynum proposed an Office of Independent Monitor that would have reviewed police use-of-force incidents. The proposal also included a citizen oversight board to make recommendations on police policies and engage the public. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

New program provides work and resources for OKC’s homeless: A new program meant to provide opportunity for those contending with homelessness will launch in Oklahoma City next week in a clear departure from a previous effort to respond to the city’s panhandlers. A Better Way, in partnership with Oklahoma City and several of the state’s nonprofit organizations, will start canvassing the metro area in search of willing panhandlers interested in a day of work. [The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: Latino agency instituting program for catastrophic losses: The Latino Community Development Agency is a nonprofit social services organization that was founded in 1991 in Oklahoma City by a cross-section of community and business leaders to address the unique needs of Latino immigrantsand Spanish-speaking persons who were relocating to Oklahoma. [Raul Font Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

As delta surges, workplace concerns reemerge:  With the stunning rise in COVID cases related to the delta variant, employers face a renewed need to focus on the impacts of COVID, whether that be workplace precautions, approaches to vaccination, or the long-term impacts of COVID on some employees. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

See which direction the economy is trending in Tulsa and Oklahoma with these 7 charts: Is unemployment going down? How many small businesses are still open? Find out with these Tulsa World charts and maps, updated weekly. [Tulsa World]

Report: Restaurants in OKC showing strong recovery: Oklahoma City ranked as No. 1 and Tulsa as fifth on a nationwide report examining which cities’ restaurants are showing the strongest recovery from the pandemic. LendingTree, a marketing lead generator and mortgage broker based in Charlotte, North Carolina, examined U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for the restaurant industry in the nation’s 50 largest metros. [The Journal Record]

Carvana is building a gigantic auto detailing shop in OKC. Will it get state incentives? What’s it worth to the state to have a nearly 200,000-square-foot auto detail shop in Oklahoma City — one that does more than detailing? It depends on how many jobs come with it. The Oklahoma Commerce Department is in final negotiations with Carvana, the online used car dealer known for its big, auto “vending machines.” [The Oklahoman]

Education News

State Regents OK contract with online-learning giant: The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education on Thursday approved a contract with Coursera, one of the largest online-learning platforms in the world, that will benefit 15 participating colleges and universities and the students they serve. [The Journal Record]

Quote of the Day

“Our public servants are burdened with the impossible task of trying to collect money that we will never see, and it’s on taxpayers’ own dime. It’s time to consider potential avenues for a new approach that saves time and taxpayer dollars while ensuring people who commit crimes are fairly punished.”

-Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, speaking about the inefficiencies of Oklahoma’s fines and fees system that funds state courts [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Number of the Day

33%

No more than 33 percent of court debt assessed in Oklahoma has ever been collected in a given year [OK Policy]

Policy Note

How to Use Budgets to Understand Criminal Justice Fines and Fees: The costs of fines and fees can easily add up to thousands of dollars for people stuck in the system, creating a major financial burden for households that are often already cash-strapped. In many states, advocates are working to change these policies by pushing to end court costs for people with low incomes and by advocating to abolish fees. But it’s hard to find out who is paying fines and fees and who is collecting them. Many agencies, including jails, probation departments, and courts, assess fines and fees, and the money often supports dozens of different agencies. This means that fines and fees can often be hidden in plain sight. But because fines and fees ultimately become revenue for governments, they are usually reported in budget documents—sometimes in great detail. [Vera Institute for Justice]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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