In The Know: New Native affairs liaison continues to draw criticism | State weighing feasibility of taxing motorists per mile | Food security in Oklahoma | More

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.


State Government News

Oklahoma’s new Native affairs liaison says he’ll repair relations. Critics doubt it: When lawmakers disbanded Oklahoma’s longtime Indian Affairs Commission in 2011, they said they wanted to create something better. They envisioned a liaison who would advise the governor, consult with tribes and help resolve conflicts before they spiraled into court. That has not been the reality under Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Cherokee Nation citizen. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma weighing feasibility of taxing motorists per mile driven: A state transportation study is examining whether Oklahoma drivers should be taxed per mile instead of at the gas pump. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is conducting the Fair Miles Oklahoma pilot project as a pay-per-mile alternative to the existing 20-cent tax that is added on to each gallon of fuel. The study was authorized in 2021 by the state Legislature and must be completed no later than Dec. 31, according to House Bill 1712. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma’s poverty rate is among the highest in the country: The U.S. Census Bureau last week released its annual state-level data snapshot on poverty and health. In 2022, Oklahoma had a poverty rate of 15.7% compared to the national poverty rate of 11.5%, leaving the state with the 8th highest poverty rate in the country. This ranking is unchanged from the previous year. [KOSU]

Legislature Will Answer Stitt’s Special Session Call: For the third consecutive year, Oklahoma lawmakers will return to the Capitol for a fall special session. Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order last Monday asking the Legislature to convene on Tuesday, Oct. 3 to consider a series of tax cuts and budget transparency measures. In a statement, Stitt said he wants lawmakers to pass a measure that would gradually reduce the state income tax to zero. [Oklahoma Watch]

Capitol Insider: Stitt calls legislature back for special session in October: Oklahoma legislators will be heading back to the state Capitol again this fall to consider three items on Governor Kevin Stitt’s agenda. [KGOU]

Political notebook: Cherokee Nation approves $3.8 billion budget; mixed results from state revenue: The Cherokee Nation last week approved a record $3.8 billion budget that includes nearly $70 million for courts, prosecutors and law officers. [Tulsa World

Federal Government News

As shutdown looms, Oklahoma Republicans look to win spending cuts and border changes: The federal government appears headed for a shutdown in less than two weeks, as Republicans hope to use their slim majority in the House to force spending cuts and tighter restrictions at the southern border. [The Oklahoman]

D.C. Digest: Hern backs continuing resolution as budget deadline nears: Congress and some government agencies seemed to be preparing for a partial government shutdown after a faction within the House of Representative’s slim Republican majority kept a relatively noncontroversial defense appropriations bill off the floor at midweek. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Muscogee voters reelect Hill and Beaver, send council incumbents to runoffs: Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill and Second Chief Del Beaver have been reelected to second terms, with Hill receiving majority support over three challengers and avoiding a Nov. 4 general election runoff that two incumbent National Council members were forced into after Saturday’s primary election. [NonDoc]

Voting and Election News

Civics test mandates like Oklahoma’s haven’t improved young voter turnout, study finds: Requiring students to take a civics test to graduate from high school, as Oklahoma started doing last year, has shown no nationwide impact on boosting young voter turnout, a new study found. [Oklahoma Voice]

Health News

Indigenous women navigate abortion access hurdles after Dobbs: Indigenous people have been uniquely affected by the Dobbs decision. Abortion was never readily available to Native Americans, thanks to a federal law that has prohibited nearly all abortions at Indian Health Service clinics since 1976. That’s always meant traveling long distances for the procedure.  [NonDoc]

New COVID vaccine expected to arrive in Oklahoma this month: An updated vaccine to help protect the body’s ability to fight the latest COVID-19 strains is expected to start arriving in Oklahoma for distribution later this month and into early October, state health officials say. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Giving first aid for mental health crises just as critical as other life-saving tools: As a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist — a physician who sees children and families impacted by mental illness — I was reminded of the importance of our emotional wellbeing in the state of Oklahoma. Mental illnesses, just like physical illnesses, are treatable and many are preventable. And yet so many children and adults go without appropriate, quality mental health care. [Dr. Sara Coffey / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoman man acquitted of murder after 595 days behind bars. Then jail made him stay another night: Ronald Bledsoe already had been in jail 595 days for a murder he said he didn’t commit when he was found not guilty at trial Tuesday afternoon. But there was no dramatic moment like in the legal dramas on TV where the acquitted defendant jubilantly walks out of the courtroom a free man. Bledsoe, 36, instead had to spend another night in jail. [The Oklahoman]

Undersheriff pushes for reality TV series following law enforcement in Osage County: The Osage County undersheriff said Friday he will continue to push for approval of a contract with a television production company that wants to feature the Sheriff’s Office in a new reality series, despite concerns that it will be shot down as a political stunt. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Why consequences for surviving domestic violence should not be worse than abuse: Unfortunately, consequences for surviving sexual assault and other forms of domestic violence can be worse than the actual abuse. Especially here in Oklahoma. Just ask the women languishing in prisons who survived their abusers. [Clytie Bunyan / The Oklahoman

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Opinion: Do you know what your local food bank is doing to end hunger?: September is Hunger Action Month and each year the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma joins other food banks across the country to encourage the public to join us in fighting hunger and learn more about the issue of food insecurity that exists in our communities and across the country. [Stacy Dykstra and Phi Nguyen / The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Tulsa’s women entrepreneurs shine during pitch competition: Nonprofit Build in Tulsa held its eighth quarterly Female Founders Pitch Night, where women entrepreneurs owners get to sell their brands to a panel of judges. The first place winner gets $10,000 and mentorship from the organization. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Education News

Ebony Johnson begins new role as Tulsa superintendent: ‘Our students need stability’: After 24 years with Tulsa Public Schools, Ebony Johnson is taking on a new position. Named to the role on Aug. 23 by the Tulsa school board, Saturday was Johnson’s first day as TPS’ interim superintendent after the district reached a mutual separation agreement with former Superintendent Deborah Gist. [Tulsa World]

  • On her last day, Gist discusses district’s growth, ongoing embezzlement case and more [Tulsa World]

Reading Partners comes off strong year hoping to recruit more volunteer tutors: After providing more than 24,500 tutoring sessions last school year for student readers, a Tulsa-area nonprofit literacy program hopes to build on the number this year by recruiting more volunteer tutors. [Tulsa World]

Teacher honored by nonprofit says STEM ed critical as world faces serious environmental problems: Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is more important now than ever as the world faces extraordinary environmental challenges. That’s according to a teacher named STEM educator of the year by a local nonprofit. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Opinion: Ryan Walters’ lips say one thing, but his actions reflect the opposite: State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ has said that “I’m willing to do anything to turn these schools around. I’m willing to do whatever it takes for these kids.” But it is difficult to find any actions that support those words he spoke about improving the academic outcomes at Tulsa Public Schools. Rather than presenting positive plans, he continues with threats and additional requirements. [Janis Blevins / Oklahoma Voice]

General News

Why are Oklahoma homeowners and car insurance among highest in the US? How you can lower your bills?: Homeowners insurance in Oklahoma is way through the roof, and car insurance is on the rise, too, especially since COVID, thanks to inflation, the weather and possibly climate change. [The Oklahoman]

Does the Pioneer Woman live on stolen Osage land depicted in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon?‘: “The Pioneer Woman” Ree Drummond made the town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, famous through her farm lifestyle brand, but a recent social media post about an upcoming film is drawing attention to the darker history of the Drummond family’s land. [The Oklahoman]

Black Towns of Oklahoma Bike Tour lets you cruise through history: At one time, Oklahoma was home to more all-Black towns than any other state or territory. On September 23, organizers of the Black Towns of Oklahoma Bike Tour will guide tourists through several that remain. In an effort to educate the community about this rich history and to help raise funds to support all-Black towns, visitors can register to cruise through Tullahassee, Red bird and Taft. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Remains exhumed in search for Tulsa Race Massacre victims: Archaeologists have exhumed the remains of one person and plan to exhume a second set as the search for victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre resumes in a Tulsa cemetery. [AP via Journal Record]

Opinion: Our burning bush is the dumpster fire that is our state: With our status as a Top 10 state for highest poverty rates, we can hear the cries of those who are suffering. Our burning bush is the dumpster fire that is our state. If we quit messing around with partisanship and get busy with the real work of shaping a just world, all of us might actually experience salvation. That sounds a lot like the Gospel. [The Rev. Lori Walke / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • What MAPS projects will start in 2024? Everything to know about ongoing OKC projects [The Oklahoman]
  • Public Eye: Why haven’t the owners cleaned up this neglected OKC apartment complex? [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Food insecurity is everyone’s issue, and to end hunger, it will require all of us working together.”

-Stacy Dykstra, CEO of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, and Phi Nguyen, board chair of the organization, writing about how Oklahomans can help fight hunger and learn more about food insecurity that exists in our communities. September is Hunger Action Month. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s uninsured rate declined from 13.8% in 2021 to 11.7% during 2022, which had one of the nation’s highest improvements during this period thanks to Medicaid expansion and pandemic-relief coverage. [U.S. Census Data via OK Policy

Policy Note

Record Low Uninsured Rate Offers Roadmap to Long-Term Coverage Gains: The reduction in the uninsured rate shows that policy can drive major coverage gains. In particular, the drop in the uninsured rate was driven by pandemic-era Medicaid protections, Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansions, and policies that improved access and affordability in the ACA marketplace. Although the recent expiration of pandemic-era Medicaid protections is now causing many to lose their coverage, the policies that led to 2022’s historically low uninsured rate provide a roadmap to future coverage gains. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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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