In The Know: New year means new state laws take effect in Oklahoma | OTA to hold vote on controversial turnpike project | Policy Matters | 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.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: State, local media vital to Oklahoma’s well-being: Oklahoma’s media landscape has changed significantly due to the rise of social media and the consolidation of media ownership to large, out-of-state corporations. As a result, community newspapers have shuttered, and newsrooms have been downsized. These changes have resulted in fewer reporters watching the statehouse and our city halls and county courthouses statewide. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Tribes need tax revenue. States keep taking it: An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity in partnership with ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) found that many state and local governments infringe on tribal nations’ taxing authority, siphoning billions of dollars in tax revenue from reservations over the past few decades alone. [Center for Public Integrity and ICT / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma has tried to lower its incarceration rate. But many obstacles face the newly released: Difficulty with housing, employment and transportation are the most common barriers holding Oklahomans back from a successful transition for those released from prison. [PBS Newshour]

State Government News

Legislature likely to focus on taxes, workforce, vouchers in 2023: The election is over, but lawmakers are preparing to file bills for the 2023 legislative session that fulfill the promises they made the previous year – including efforts to revise Oklahoma’s tax structure and strengthen the workforce. [Journal Record]

As questions swirl, Ryan Walters focused on school choice, ideology: As Ryan Walters prepares to be sworn into office Jan. 9 as Oklahoma’s new state superintendent of public instruction, he is already leading weekly school choice coalition meetings in his capacity as the director of an education reform organization, a job he says he may or may not continue after he takes office, which has raised conflict of interest questions. [NonDoc]

Former inmate to serve on Oklahoma Board of Corrections: She was once in prison but now is on the board that governs the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Dec. 15 appointed Rhonda Bear, 58, of Pryor to the Board of Corrections. She replaces F. Lynn Haueter. Senate confirmation is not required. Bear served 19 months in prison, mostly on drug-related convictions, and Stitt pardoned her in 2019. [Tulsa World]

State lawsuits defend abortion access with religious freedom: Cara Berg Raunick watched with bafflement as Indiana’s Republican legislators took less than two weeks to debate and pass an abortion ban that the governor signed quickly into law. The women’s health nurse practitioner from Indianapolis was struck by just how frequently faith was cited in the arguments as reason to ban the medical practice. But Berg Raunick, who is Jewish, said those views go against her beliefs. To her, a pregnant woman’s health and life is paramount, and she disagreed with legislators’ assertions that life begins at conception, calling that a “Christian definition.” [Journal Record]

Oklahoma’s incoming AG says pandemic funds will be investigated: Oklahoma’s next attorney general said investigating the misuse of pandemic relief funds will be a priority early in his administration, which could include dropping the state’s lawsuit against a Florida company if he believes state officials were at fault. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to hold vote on controversial project: The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is preparing to vote on whether to spend millions of dollars on design plans that the agency may never use. The plan to add three turnpike expansions in central Oklahoma was put on hold last month. [KFOR]

Voting, unemployment, online commerce laws take effect in Oklahoma: As Oklahomans rang in the new year over the weekend, eight bills went into effect — but only three bring significant changes in the state. The Oklahoma Inform Act requires online stores verify the authenticity of third party sellers they use to protect consumers from fraud and limit the sale of stolen goods. Republican Senator Julie Daniels says the hope is it will help to legitimize online businesses. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Editorial: Naming Commission results show nonpartisanship approach at its best: Jenks resident’s service on the U.S. Naming Commission ought to remind Americans the good result a bipartisan, diplomatic approach can bring. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Tom Cole eyed as potential House Speaker: The longest serving Indigenous member in Congress would make history if elected as the Republican leader in the House. But so far, he hasn’t given any indication he wants it. [Indian Country Today]

Tribal Nations News

Could civil forfeiture be the next battleground in Oklahoma Governor’s fight over tribal sovereignty?: An obscure case of illegal hunting in south-central Oklahoma could point to new ways the state of Oklahoma is trying to assert jurisdiction inside newly affirmed tribal reservation boundaries. [KOSU]

Voting and Election News

Editorial: Upcoming year holds potential for progress on big problems: The upcoming year presents a unique time for potential progress with an absence of election distractions. That means much can be accomplished, if our leaders see fit to do so. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma news deserts: Data shows voting sagged in ‘orphan counties’: McCurtain County is an orphan county, a term coined by researchers to describe areas that receive little to no in-state public affairs coverage or political advertisements because of their media market placement. [Oklahoma Watch via The Oklahoman]

Column: Let’s commit to government transparency in 2023: What doesn’t seem to be on leadership’s agenda – but should be – is a commitment to transparency. An open process that makes it as easy as possible for all to understand how their tax dollars are being spent and why. Unfortunately, the statehouse’s capacity for opacity is boundless. The Legislature exempted itself from many open records and open meetings requirements years ago. The last two gubernatorial administrations routinely stonewalled open records requests. [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record]

Health News

Oklahomans Share Their Struggle for Mental Healthcare as Feds Investigate Statewide Treatment: In every county in the state, the need for care outweighs the number of mental health providers available to help, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Overwhelmed and underpaid counselors, many of whom face their own mental health challenges, had weeks or months-long wait lists for appointments, survey participants said. [Oklahoma Watch]

State data paints a dire picture of Oklahoma teenagers’ mental health: Rates of depression and suicidality have always been higher than researchers expected. But they were even higher in the early years of the pandemic. State data released this year showed that one in four Oklahoma teens contemplated suicide sometime between 2020 and 2021. [StateImpact Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

State Rep. Ryan Martinez charged with felony in connection with October DUI arrest: State Rep. Ryan Martinez was charged Thursday with a felony in connection with his October arrest for driving under the influence. The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office charged Martinez, R-Edmond, with “Actual Physical Control Of Vehicle While Intoxicated” and recommended that a warrant be issued for his arrest. [The Frontier]

  • Rep. Ryan Martinez charged with felony for alcohol-related arrest [NonDoc]

Push and pull: Police unions play multiple roles in reform efforts: Common demands for police reform entail chipping away at long-established police protections. For instance, many reformers want to make complaints against officers open to the public, tighten and enforce use-of-force rules, and reform the disciplinary process. In cities and towns across the country, those demands have met fierce resistance from police unions, which sometimes use their power and political influence to thwart efforts their members oppose. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Watch Sues Tulsa Seeking Details of Woman Arrested During Bipolar Episode: Oklahoma Watch and reporter Whitney Bryen are suing the City of Tulsa seeking details of an incident that resulted in the violent arrest of a woman in the throes of a mental health crisis. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma City scraps demolition plan for old jail, but future remains murky: Funding shortfalls put the original demolition on hold, and preservationists waged a successful battle to save the building when city officials sought to replace it with surface parking as part of a new public safety campus. [The Oklahoman]

Tiny state with highest execution rate in the US as 119 killed in just 44 years: Starting in August 2022, Oklahoma has committed to executing almost one convict a month until December 2024 putting this Southern state at the front of a small pack of states still carrying out capital punishment. [The Mirror]

Economic Opportunity

Leaders have high hopes for OKC’s tourism industry, which generated $3.8 billion in 2021: The Oklahoma City’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau recently announced the tourism industry generated a $3.8 billion economic impact for Oklahoma City in 2021. In that year, which saw lingering pandemic effects on the industry, 31,569 jobs were sustained by tourism in Oklahoma City, according to the study by Oxford’s Tourism Economics. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma is one of 3 states in the region with $7.25 minimum wage: Minimum wage is being increased this year in 26 states across the country, but not in Oklahoma. The Sooner State has not seen an increase to its minimum wage since 2008. [KFOR News 4]

Economy & Business News

Most workers looking for a new job in 2023: On average, more than 70% of all working people are actively looking for a new job, and 39% of those people are searching for higher salaries. [Journal Record]

Column: Rescue plan funds present unique opportunities to invest in Oklahomans: Most of my life has been shaped by poverty. Eviction slips, bolted doors and economic distress formed a rhythmic pattern of two steps forward and five steps back. Progress is more and more fragile for people that are poor due to the undercurrent of environmental vulnerabilities, economic downturns and social challenges. To fully realize a strong, resilient and competitive economy, how can we better align large scale planning, public-private partnerships and fiscal policies that will prioritize the economic well-being of communities? [Maurianna Adams Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Canoo sues startup over alleged ‘corporate espionage’: Business Insider first reported on the lawsuit, filed Dec. 22 in the U.S. Central District Court of California. The filing alleges former employees of Arkansas-based Canoo infiltrated the company to obtain its trade secrets and use them to start Harbinger, an electric vehicle company founded in 2021 and based in Gardena, California. [Journal Record]

Developer sues Urban Renewal for $3.1 million after losing rights to Deep Deuce project: The former developer of an upscale neighborhood in Deep Deuce is suing the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, alleging he is owed more than $3.1 million. Bill Canfield competed with two other groups for the 12.6-acre hill overlooking Deep Deuce when he was chosen by the Urban Renewal Authority to build 153 townhomes with completion by 2008. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Oklahoma State Representative Files Bill To Support School: A State Representative from Tulsa filed a bill to give a pay raise to school support personnel in order to help ease ongoing staff shortages. Oklahoma State Representative John Waldron said the state needs to do a better job of supporting the people who support our children. [News 9]

Tulsa lawmaker seeking higher wages for school support staff: Citing a local school district’s fall 2021 decision to cancel classes for a day due to a lack of bus drivers, a Tulsa lawmaker has filed a proposal for the upcoming legislative session to provide a pay raise for school support employees. A general appropriation bill submitted Thursday by state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, would provide a 20% pay increase for non-certified school district employees who currently earn less than $80,000 per year, such as bus drivers, custodians, child nutrition staff, teacher’s assistants and paraprofessionals. [Tulsa World]

Inflation, waivers’ end impacting school districts’ child nutrition programs: As part of the Keep Kids Fed Act that was passed by Congress during the summer, school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program are reimbursed an extra 15 cents for each breakfast and 40 cents for each lunch served during the 2022-23 school year. [Tulsa World]

General News

Inaugural balls in Tulsa, OKC, Enid to feature Oklahoma entertainers: The Oklahoma Inaugural Committee has announced entertainment headliners for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s 2023 inaugural balls, all featuring state artists who specialize in the red dirt country music scene unique to the region. [Journal Record]

Column: Open-mindedness, tolerance should be Oklahoma’s 2023 resolution: A new year weighs heavy with expectations, resolutions and hope. We pledge to be better spouses, friends, partners and community members. We resolve to be heathier, more financially responsible and more present. As I reflect on last year and my commitments for 2023, I wonder what Oklahoma would be like if each of us pledged to be more open-minded and tolerant. [Marnie Taylor Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Column: Want to help your community? Get started: Most of my work experience has been in underserved communities. Most underserved communities suffer from lack of funds/opportunities to enable its citizens to prosper. They end up on an unequal playing field, which hinders their growth while other groups enjoy and take part in their own futures. [Rosetta Funches Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

‘A superb public servant’: Gary Ridley dies at 77: Longtime Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley died Wednesday at age 77. He is survived by his wife, Eula, and his children Daphne and Joe. [NonDoc]

Quote of the Day

“It’s a modern version of wealth extraction, treating tribes as lesser entities whose sovereignty can be ignored. And it reduces the money tribal governments can spend on services in their communities, where poverty rates are often higher than in surrounding areas.”

– Maya Srikrishnan, Shannon Shaw Duty and Joaqlin Estus, from the Center for Public Integrity and ICT, who found that many state and local governments infringe on tribal nations’ taxing authority, siphoning billions of dollars in tax revenue from reservations over the past few decades alone. [Center for Public Integrity and ICT / The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day

$2.4 million

Amount privately raised for the Tulsa Immigrant Relief Fund to provide economic support for immigrants who were unable to receive federal pandemic relief or other financial assistance due to their immigration status. [Tulsa World via Catholic Charities]

Policy Note

Providing Unemployment Insurance to Immigrants and Other Excluded Workers: A State Roadmap for Inclusive Benefits: The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and its induced recession underscored the crucial importance of unemployment insurance (UI) to workers, and to the stability of the American economy. Temporary federal expansions of unemployment systems during the pandemic showed how they can quickly be scaled to increase benefit levels and to include categories of workers who were not previously eligible, such as the self-employed, caregivers, and low-wage workers. And, states showed that separate programs can be set up to provide similar benefits to workers who are explicitly excluded from unemployment insurance—in particular immigrants who do not have a documented immigration status. [The Century Foundation]

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Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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