In The Know: Parole board decreases commutation reviews | Prisons continue to be virus hotspot | Interim studies review police reforms

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

Parole board decreases commutation reviews, potentially creating a backlog: The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has dramatically decreased the number of stage one commutation applications it reviews each month, potentially creating a backlog of years for inmates applying to have their sentences reduced, especially if voters approve new sentencing reforms later this year. With nearly 3,000 commutation applications awaiting the first review, staff for the parole board had scheduled monthly dockets through March of next year with 425 offender applications each. But this month’s docket was decreased to 150 following a request by board member Allen McCall who said the dockets were too big. [The Frontier] OK Policy: Parole reform was crucial in ending Oklahoma’s status as the world’s prison capital.

Poll shows opposition to cutting police budget, athletes kneeling: As state and local officials examine potential solutions to racial inequity, a new poll shows nearly half of likely Oklahoma voters agree there is racial bias in law enforcement but nearly two-thirds don’t want police funding cut. The poll came as two state Senate committees conducted interim studies this month on racial issues and discussed policies that disproportionately affect communities of color, including court fees and fines. Damion Shade with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, and Nikki Nice, an Oklahoma City council member, emphasized the importance of data in influencing policy. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma’s hotspots continue to be in prisons: At least seven prisons in rural towns across Oklahoma are coronavirus hotspots, joining some college campuses in the latest weekly jumps in active cases. More than 830 inmates at William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply, in Woodward County, are infected with the virus, the Department of Corrections said in its latest test update. That outbreak pushed the 73841 ZIP code to the top of this week’s hotspot list, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. At least seven prisons in rural towns across Oklahoma are coronavirus hotspots, joining some college campuses in the latest weekly jumps in active cases. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • The number of positive COVID-19 tests reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health increased by 823 to 84,333 on Sunday [The Oklahoman]
  • State’s 7-day rolling average declines for second consecutive day after 823 cases and two deaths reported [Tulsa World]
  • See where and how fast virus cases are rising in our state and nation, in 8 maps and charts [Tulsa World]

Health News

Tackling unanswered COVID-19 questions: Mask mandates, widespread interest in teleworking, high anxieties aggravated by COVID-19, and other workplace issues never before encountered by employers were addressed during a recent online forum presented by an Oklahoma City law firm. [The Journal Record]

As cases increase, Oklahoma health officials urge caution over rabies: This year has seen a rise in the number of rabies cases among animals that don’t usually carry rabies, including domesticated livestock that can have close contact with humans. That’s why the state Health Department recently issued a public caution after a second infected bat in six weeks turned up near Bell Cow Lake in Lincoln County. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

After law change, legislator’s wife gets tag agent job: A state representative’s wife became a tag agent last year after he successfully pushed through legislation allowing it, The Oklahoman has learned. Rep. Terry O’Donnell introduced House Bill 2098 and spoke out for it on the House floor. He later helped his wife, Teresa, apply to take over the Catoosa Tag Agency to replace her mother after the change went into effect, records show. [The Oklahoman]

Senate study examines modernization of Open Meeting Act: An Oklahoma Senate interim study examined the potential to make permanent changes that the Oklahoma Legislature made this year to the state’s open meeting law that allowed agencies, boards and commissions at the state and local level to meet and hold public meetings virtually, in accordance with health and safety guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic. [The Journal Record]

Political notebook: Norman lawmaker wants tougher rioting laws to stifle property damage: Oklahoma has not had much rioting or looting this year but state Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, says stricter laws are needed to deter the “deliberate and wanton destruction of property and other people’s livelihoods.” [Tulsa World]

Voters to decide state questions on criminal justice, Medicaid: Oklahoma residents on Nov. 3 will decide the fate of a criminal justice reform measure. They will also determine whether funds going to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, called TSET, can be diverted to be used to garner federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. [Tulsa World]

Capitol Insider: Oklahoma voting process explained (audio): Mail-in absentee voting has already begun in Oklahoma’s 2020 General Election. State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax discusses the procedures for voters to follow to make sure their votes count amid the coronavirus pandemic with KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley. [Capitol Insider / KGOU]

Opinion: With redistricting, Oklahoma lawmakers must keep their pledge: Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House and Senate are promising an open and inclusive process in redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts next year. A group that wanted to take that power away from lawmakers plans to hold them to that promise. Others should, too. [Opinion / The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

CLEET hearing set for Delaware County sheriff-elect on question of falsified records: A state law enforcement agency set a hearing in October concerning the embattled Delaware County sheriff-elect and allegations he falsified records. Mark L. Berry, 60, won the Republican runoff race on Aug. 25 and was scheduled to be sworn into office on Oct. 1, after current Sheriff Harlan Moore announced his retirement effective Sept. 30. On Tuesday , the Delaware County commissioners are expected to appoint an interim sheriff to fulfill Moore’s term. The Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement and Training confirmed Berry’s meeting is set for 10 a.m. Oct. 23 in Ada. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Sheriff’s appearance in Inhofe ad raises eyebrows: Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado’s appearances in a campaign advertisement for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and at rally for President Donald Trump may have ticked off some constituents but don’t seem to have violated any state or federal laws. [Tulsa World]

Child neglect charge applies to unborn, Oklahoma court rules after pregnant woman accused of drug use: Unborn children are included in the definition of “child” for purposes of prosecuting child neglect cases, an Oklahoma appeals court ruled Thursday. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a lower court ruling in a case involving Rogers County resident Kearline Datara Anderson, who was charged with child neglect on an allegation that she used illegal drugs while she was pregnant. [AP via Tulsa World]

Opinion: Coleman trial commentary: How a judge was removed: In watching and writing about Kendra Coleman’s struggle to retain her seat on the Oklahoma County District Court bench, it struck me how her life had been exposed to the public in a way few of us will ever endure. After a three-week trial before eight fellow judges and a lawyer serving as jury, Coleman was removed from her position of state district court judge Sept. 18 by the Court on the Judiciary for misconduct in office. [Commentary / Non Doc]

Education News

This week in coveducation: OKCPS raises alert level, state board discusses response: Oklahoma City Public Schools announced Friday that the district will transition to a higher level of safety protocols after Oklahoma County reported a rise in COVID-19 cases this week. Teachers also gathered at the Norman Public Schools board meeting Monday evening to urge the continuation of online learning owing to COVID-19 concerns. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma City Public Schools cancels all athletics until further notice starting Monday: Oklahoma City Public Schools announced Friday that because Oklahoma County’s COVID Alert Level had risen to Orange Level 2, all athletics would be canceled until further notice beginning Monday. That includes games, events and practices. [The Oklahoman]

Back to the classroom: Stillwater Schools begin alternate schedule Monday: Students and parents who are fed up with distance learning, will get some relief next week as Stillwater Public Schools return to the classroom under an alternating schedule beginning Monday. [Stillwater News Press]

CareerTech enrollment rebounding from COVID-19: Enrollment in CareerTech programs in Oklahoma took a sizable hit in the spring when COVID-19 arrived in the state, but it has since been on the rebound, CareerTech Director Marcie Mack said. Career technology students across the state numbered 455,124 in June as compared to 558,169 counted in the same month of 2019. [The Journal Record

The Dream Clock: Foundation for OKC schools says listening to community vital to changing lives: Last year, the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools helped provide direct support to more than 1,000 classrooms through DonorsChoose while also helping fulfill nearly 300 principal-requested projects. The Foundation has also revved up its ReadOKC program, an initiative to promote the love of reading through different challenges, and is working hard to get more teachers of color into Oklahoma City classrooms. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Formal recognition of four other tribal reservations could come by year’s end: When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation had never been terminated, it was widely expected that the decision would apply to the other four members of the Five Civilized Tribes because of their parallel histories. [The Oklahoman]

Tribes spend pandemic aid on projects, jobs, services: Tribes across Oklahoma are pumping millions back into the economy with CARES Act allocations being used to build emergency response centers, food pantries and health clinics as the state continues to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

Local vigil honoring Breonna Taylor a call for justice, community: More than 100 people practicing social-distancing gathered outside Nappy Roots Books in Oklahoma City on Thursday night to call for justice, solidarity and voice the names of people of color, including Breonna Taylor, killed by police in recent years. [The Oklahoman]

Rural internet access depends on your state, study finds: As workplaces and schools go online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people are relying on a strong internet connection. But in some states, less than 50% of rural households have access to broadband, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. A study from Oklahoma State University and Purdue found that some government policies can increase — or inhibit broadband availability in rural areas. [KOSU]

Rural renewal topic of upcoming virtual symposium: Those interested in learning more about rural renewal should make plans to attend the virtual 2020 Rural Renewal Symposium. Slated Oct. 13, the virtual symposium will feature research presentations on the latest work in rural renewal and roundtable sessions for community leaders to discuss strategies that have worked in their own communities. [Ada News]

Opinion: The Census makes sense for you and cents for your community: Between a global pandemic, economic crisis and multiple natural disasters, there are few aspects of 2020 that any of us could have predicted, and many Oklahomans feel uncertain about the future. One thing we can do to build a stable and prosperous Oklahoma is for all Oklahomans to complete the 2020 U.S. Census. [Justin Brown Op-Ed / Claremore Progress]

Michael Overall: When COVID hits home, complacency has to end: My Aunt Sandy — you might remember her as Sandra Majors, Ph.D., who taught for many years at Jenks East Elementary — tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-August. My family comforted itself with both prayer and science, because the data told us that the odds were very much in her favor. Even after being hospitalized, four out of five patients her age fully recover, according to the CDC. Statistics, however, don’t have a face. They don’t know anybody’s name. [Michael Overall Column / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Demonstrators protest ‘oppressive’ behavior along 39th Street in Oklahoma City [The Oklahoman]
  • Special taxing districts that support Tulsa development came up short in FY20 [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Woodward County Commissioners facing number of agenda items [Woodward News]

Quote of the Day

“We cannot give up. This is the only system we have. We gotta believe in it we, gotta fix it, change it and correct it. My charge to you all this evening is stay in the struggle. You play a role in fixing, changing and correcting every aspect of our lives.”

-NAACP president Garland Pruitt speaking to an OKC rally for justice, solidarity and voicing the names of people of color, including Breonna Taylor, killed by police in recent years [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children, or about 105,000 children, who live in high-poverty areas in the state

[Source: KIDS COUNT]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Can We Bridge the Partisan Divide and Conquer COVID? Masks have become a flash point in our culture wars: as a symbol of either a commitment to public health or an infringement on basic liberties, the mask encapsulates the politicization of science. But since human behavior — including wearing or shunning masks — will determine the pandemic’s ultimate toll, communication strategies that bridge our partisan divide over science may prove as important as any novel therapeutic. [New England Journal of Medicine

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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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