In The Know: Police: Nex Benedict ‘did not die as a result of trauma,’ search warrants issued | Senate approves elimination of state portion of grocery sales tax | Grand Boulevard site picked for new Oklahoma County Jail | Rethinking our zoning laws

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: Oklahomans should welcome a variety of new housing in their communities: Oklahoma is experiencing a housing shortage that is quickly becoming a crisis with tens of thousands of housing units needed to meet our growing needs. One way to efficiently expand affordable housing and save taxpayer money is to rethink our zoning laws. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

The death of nonbinary teen shines a national spotlight on Oklahoma’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies: Nex Benedict, a non-binary 16 year old student in Owasso, died one day after a fight in a school bathroom. On Wednesday, the Owasso Police Department issued a statement saying that preliminary information from the state Medical Examiner’s Office indicated Benedict “did not die as a result of trauma,” but an investigation is still ongoing. While the circumstances surrounding Nex’s death remain under investigation, outrage has rapidly spread online as people linked the case to Oklahoma’s anti-woke school policies. Lawmakers at the Oklahoma Capitol have introduced new bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community this legislative session including Senate Bill 1831 which would limit Oklahoma statutes to strictly defined terms of “father” or “mother.” State statutes would define gender only as “a person’s biological sex at birth.” [The Frontier]

  • Owasso police say nonbinary student’s death not due to physical injuries from school fight [KOSU]
  • Nonbinary student ‘did not die as a result of trauma,’ Owasso police say [Tulsa World]
  • Family, friends of Nex Benedict remember Owasso teen: ‘We are incredibly sad’ [The Oklahoman]
  • Search warrant filed in Nex Benedict death: Investigators search school for blood, records [The Oklahoman]
  • Nex Benedict’s family to conduct independent investigation into non-binary student’s death [The Independent]
  • Youth mental health crisis calls in Oklahoma skyrocket after Nex Benedict’s death [The Advocate]
  • Officials speak out after Oklahoma student dies: ‘Nex should still be alive’ [The Oklahoman]

Nationwide AT&T service outage also affecting Oklahoma customers: A cellular outage across the United States is affecting AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon customers, according to outage tracking website The number of outages continues to grow this morning. It’s unknown at this time what is causing the nationwide problems for multiple carriers and when full service will be restored. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma Senate passes grocery tax cut bill, which now heads to governor’s desk: The state Senate on Thursday passed a grocery tax cut bill that will provide Oklahomans relief at the supermarket. The Senate voted 42-2 in favor of the House Bill 1955, which passed the Oklahoma House during the 2023 session and will head to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for his signature. [KOCO]

Oklahoma Senate committee OKs $8.3 million to restart McAlester prison rodeo: A Senate panel on Wednesday passed a bill that would provide $8.3 million to restart the prison rodeo in McAlester. Senate Bill 1427, by Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, passed by a vote of 5-0 and heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. [Oklahoma Voice]

Texas Gov. Abbott jokes about needing border wall with Oklahoma to keep out ‘radical woke’: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott jokingly suggested building a wall along the state’s border with Oklahoma in an attempt to stop the “radical woke left agenda” from spreading across the U.S. at a campaign event last week, Newsweek reports. Abbott said there are many challenges Texas is facing, “including this radical woke left agenda that we see crisscrossing the United States and even coming across the border of the Red River.” [The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Tax cuts great, but where will they come from?: Make no mistake: Stitt’s gambit won’t help anyone but a handful of rich folks, and even then, it’s more of a symbolic handout. But collectively, the tax cuts will chew through those rainy day funds within a few short years, and then the Legislature will be forced to raise taxes or fees again to keep our schools open and maintain other vital functions. [Editorial / Tahlequah Daily Press]

Health News

FDA warns against smartwatches and rings that claim to measure blood sugar without needles: Smartwatches and rings that claim to measure blood sugar levels for medical purposes without piercing the skin could be dangerous and should be avoided, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Wednesday. [AP / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma deals with ‘very high’ flu level: Seasonal influenza activity remains elevated nationally with Oklahoma seeing a “very high” activity level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma lawmaker proposes second nurse anesthetist training program: Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a bill to establish the state’s second training program for certified registered nurse anesthetists at the University of Oklahoma. Senate Bill 1308 by Sen. Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City, passed through the chamber’s Education Committee on Tuesday. Stanley told colleagues it would cost about $11.6 million over five years to create the program, which she described as desperately needed, as there are currently 117 open jobs for CRNAs in health care facilities across the state. [Tulsa World]

Vaping industry worries about oversight from Oklahoma AG’s office: A bill that would give enforcement of Oklahoma’s vapor industry to the state attorney general’s office has store owners and smoke-free advocates concerned about overregulation. House Bill 3971, authored by state Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, would require vapor shops and wholesalers to ensure that the products they sell have a marketing order from the FDA. [Journal Record]

Criminal Justice News

AG asked to examine OSBI director after discipline dispute reveals attorney conflict: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s governing body voted 6-0 on Wednesday to send complaints about the agency’s director to Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office for a formal inquiry. A former state trooper, Joe Kimmons, had received his own disciplinary complaint in 2023 for using the phrases “my n—a” and “n—a please” during a phone call with another agent that was overheard by a third OSBI employee in October. Conflict over how that complaint was handled led Kimmons’ wife, Jennifer, to file a complaint with the OSBI Commission alleging OSBI director Aungela Spurlock had abused her power. [NonDoc]

Despite Del City’s lawsuit threat, Grand Boulevard site picked for new Oklahoma County Jail: After hours of public comments and a protracted executive session led to a five-hour meeting today, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners selected a site at 1901 E. Grand Boulevard as the location for the new county jail, although a long road remains before ground will be broken. [NonDoc]

  • Location near Crooked Oak schools selected as new home of OK County jail [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma County Commissioners select site in southeast OKC for new county jail [KOSU]

Inmate killings, violence continue to plague Oklahoma’s corrections system: Raymond Bailey was brutally attacked and killed last October at the Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility. The Department of Corrections and the private owner, The Geo Group Inc., conducted an “After Action Review” with seven committee members between the two entities. In its initial review, multiple corrections and company policies were violated during the early morning hours of Oct. 26, including not properly conducting counts. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

‘Incalculable impact’: Shawnee coach Ron Arthur sentenced to 5 years in prison: In a short hearing this afternoon, Pottawatomie County District Court Judge John Canavan accepted a jury’s recommendation and sentenced former Shawnee Public Schools basketball coach Ron Arthur to five years in prison for his November felony conviction of soliciting sex from a minor by use of technology. [NonDoc]

  • Former Shawnee basketball coach sentenced to prison for sexting 17-year-old [The Oklahoman]

Who decides on what books can be in school libraries in Oklahoma?: One day after being sued by the Edmond Public Schools district, the Oklahoma State Board of Education declined Wednesday to put an action item about the situation on its publicly posted agenda for its regularly scheduled February meeting. In its lawsuit, the district asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide whether the state board or a local, elected school board has the authority to establish policies concerning books in the district’s libraries. [The Oklahoman]

Alternative education programs, accreditation standards and legal service on BOE agenda: The Oklahoma State Board of Education will meet on Thursday as hot-button issues continue to face the board and public comment is expected. [KOCO]

Opinion: Oklahomans have more school choices than ever but need same accountability: For advocates, school choice is heralded as the last, best hope of rescuing children from failing public schools. For opponents, promoting alternatives to traditional public schools under the guise of school choice represents a deadly assault on a bedrock institution of our shared democracy. What is often missed in the heated and polarized debate over school choice is the wide range of educational options that are actually in place in Oklahoma. [David Blatt / Tulsa World]

General News

More taxpayer money benefits pro sports owners amid ‘stadium construction wave’: Elected leaders continue to shower tax revenues on stadium and arena projects with the aim of recruiting or keeping teams and boosting local economies. But public debate is growing, as decades of research shows that taxpayers don’t see a positive return on their investment. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“Nex did not see themselves as male or female. Nex saw themselves right down the middle. I was still learning about it, Nex was teaching me that.”

-Sue Benedict, grandmother of non-binary Owasso student Nex Benedict, who died a day after a bathroom fight at school. [The Frontier

Number of the Day


About two-thirds (66%) of Americans surveyed say they have a favorable view of their local government, compared with 54% who have a favorable view of their state government and just 32% who have a favorable view of the federal government. [Pew Research]

Policy Note

How trusted are state and local governments?: While states and localities are unquestionably considered more trustworthy than are the feds, a look at the numbers shows they still confront a significant lack of confidence. [Route Fifty]

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Kandis West is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, she served as the Communications Director for the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus. She spent nine years in the Olympia/Tacoma area of Washington organizing compensation campaigns for teachers for the Washington Education Association. Kandis has a proven track record of increasing community engagement, public awareness and media exposure around the most pressing issues that impact citizens. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.