In The Know: Redistricting special session set for Nov. 15 | New higher ed chancellor named | COVID-19 updates

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

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt calls for November special session for redistricting: Gov. Kevin Stitt is calling state lawmakers back to the state Capitol to approve new maps for Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional districts. Stitt on Friday set Nov. 15 as the start of a special legislative session on redistricting. [The Oklahoman] The 2021 Oklahoma special session has been anticipated since the spring because access to finalized 2020 census data was delayed for states. State law allowed lawmakers to use estimated data to create new state legislative district boundaries within a margin of population. But federal law is more strict for congressional district populations. [NonDoc] House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said he believed the process can be completed in a week. [Tulsa World] In his executive order, Stitt said that lawmakers will only be able to use the special session to redistrict Oklahoma’s congressional districts; to update and redistrict as necessary the state’s legislative districts; and to amend candidacy and redistricting deadlines. [CNHI via The Norman Transcript] Census Bureau data shows population increases in urban and suburban parts of Oklahoma and population declines in rural areas of the state. [AP News]

  • (Podcast) Capitol Insider: Changes Coming To Oklahoma Legislative, Congressional Districts [KGOU]

‘Kids really taking the burden’: COVID-19 surge follows return to school in Oklahoma: Unlike the first three COVID-19 surges in Oklahoma, children and adolescents have shouldered the disease load this summer as the delta variant sweeps through the state. Public school districts were prohibited from mandating masks by Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Republican-controlled Legislature as students returned to classrooms in August. The 17-and-younger demographic comprised 17.4% of weekly reported cases, rising rapidly to 30.0% by Sept. 4. Three public school districts and three charter schools defied the new law, and a district court judge temporarily blocked it with an injunction Sept. 8. [Tulsa World]

  • Measuring Full Effects Of COVID-19 On Oklahoma Student Learning Will Be Incredibly Difficult [KOSU]
  • Oklahoma coronavirus numbers, hospitalizations decline [AP News]
  • Oklahoma’s first-dose vaccinations subside after boost amid delta variant surge [Tulsa World]
  • Eligible Oklahomans, including teachers and other frontline workers, can get COVID-19 booster doses [The Oklahoman]
  • Rollout date set for booster vaccines through Tulsa Health Department’s COVID relief efforts [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • COVID booster clinics planned for this week in Garfield County, area counties [Enid News & Eagle]
  • COVID-19 Tests Will Be Easier To Get In Oklahoma As State Renews Contract With IMMY Labs [KOSU]
  • COVID Reinfections Have Jumped 300% Since May [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • As Oklahoma’s COVID-19 toll hits 10,000, ‘it’s OK to ask for help,’ grief experts say [The Oklahoman]

Allison Garrett selected as first female chancellor of Oklahoma higher education: The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education voted today to hire Emporia State University President Allison Garrett as the state’s new systemwide chancellor, a decision that concludes a multi-year effort to find Glen Johnson’s successor and that will bring Garrett back to a state where she earned degrees from two private universities. [NonDoc] Allison Garrett, the first woman selected as chancellor, will succeed Glen Johnson, who is retiring Nov. 7 after 14 years as chancellor. Garrett will take office Nov. 8, said regents Chair Jeffrey Hickman. [AP News] The nine-member board of regents administers funds, sets academic standards and determines courses of study for all 25 public colleges and universities in Oklahoma. The chancellor acts as the chief executive officer for the state’s public higher education system. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Oklahoma abortion clinics see surge in out-of-state patients following new Texas law: Oklahoma abortion clinics are seeing a surge in out-of-state patients after Texas recently implemented the strictest anti-abortion law in the country. Women are traveling from as far as Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi to seek an abortion in Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman] The new Texas law prohibits abortions after about six weeks, a very early stage of pregnancy. Many women are now traveling out of state for the procedure. [The New York Times]

State Government News

Official expects state economic ‘explosion’: A labor shortage and supply chain disruptions continue to hamper Oklahoma’s economy as it tries to shrug off the lingering effects of COVID-19, but the state’s top economic development officer says he expects “some pretty big explosions in GDP over the next couple of years.” “Personally, I’m very bullish on where we’re headed as a state, mainly because I’m seeing the companies that are going to grow here and the ones that are wanting to locate here,” Oklahoma Department of Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling told a legislative panel. [Tulsa World]

Legislative studies examine possibilities for Oklahoma jail and prison reform: Legislators from both sides of the aisle grappled with how best to improve Oklahoma’s criminal justice system this week during a series of studies at the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Some legislators examined and discussed the reentry system for those released from county jails or Department of Corrections facilities. Others explored the conditions of detainees and inmates, as well as the correctional officers who supervise them. [The Oklahoman]

Column: Oklahoma’s excessive court costs created a self-defeating system: When people are sentenced for criminal offenses, in addition to their punishment, they are often assessed thousands in court costs, fees and assessments. Those range from a $6 law library fee to a $100 trauma care assistance fund fee. There’s a $10 sheriff’s courthouse security fee, a $15 District Attorneys Council assessment fee (misdemeanor) or $50 (felony), a $25 court information system fee and more. In total, costs on a misdemeanor case are close to $1,000 and a felony, even for a nonviolent offense, go up even more. People charged with multiple counts from the same incident can owe thousands in costs. [Steve Lewis / Tulsa World]

Lawmakers mull increasing access to polls: Access to voting remains at the forefront of many lawmakers’ conversations, as some states have implemented stricter voting rules while legislation to open up access is being considered. Three state lawmakers recently hosted an interim study on Oklahoma’s absentee voting process. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Oklahoma regulators hear utilities’ ideas to limit future cold snap costs: Regulated Oklahoma utilities are considering returning to an old-school way of buying fuel used to support power generating needs, potentially protecting customers from the types of astronomical price spikes seen in recent extreme winter weather. [The Oklahoman]

Mike Mazzei drops out of treasurer race: Former state Sen. Mike Mazzei has dropped his campaign for state treasurer, citing a conflict with the financial services company with which he is affiliated. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

First Afghanistan refugee arrives in Tulsa with welcome from Catholic Charities, volunteers: The first Afghan refugee assigned to Tulsa arrived Friday evening at Tulsa International Airport and was welcomed by Catholic Charities. The nonprofit in a statement earlier Friday said the 36-year-old man “will most likely be very anxious upon arrival in his new hometown.” Tulsa is expected to receive about 800 people who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Land vote marks new start, curbs tensions between Citizen Potawatomi, city of Shawnee: John “Rocky” Barrett was in high school when he learned Shawnee officials had quietly annexed Citizen Potawatomi lands into their city. The 1960s land sweep came without warning and divided the city and tribe for generations. Now they hope to start a new joint chapter. Shawnee’s seven commissioners voted unanimously earlier this week to detach about six square miles of land, mostly owned by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, from their suburban city. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

‘Something that I don’t take lightly’: Gov. Stitt still mulling Julius Jones commutation: Gov. Kevin Stitt said he is leaning on his faith and the advice of former Oklahoma governors as he carefully considers whether to commute the sentence of a high-profile death row inmate. Stitt said Friday he is still considering whether to commute the sentence of Julius Jones, whose case has garnered national attention. [The Oklahoman]

Stitt taps George ‘Buddy’ Leach III as DA for District 1: George “Buddy” Leach III will be the new district attorney for District 1 after his appointment was announced Friday by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Spanning the Oklahoma panhandle, the district covers Beaver, Cimarron, Harper and Texas counties. Leach will succeed James M. Boring, who will retire Sept. 30. [NonDoc]

A $50,000 bond for a 43-cent theft: How the cash bail system favors the wealthy: Last month, a homeless man in Duncannon, Pennsylvania paid a convenience store $2 for a bottle of Mountain Dew and then left. But the soda cost 43 cents more than that, and after the Exxon store called the police, Joseph Sobolewski was arrested, receiving a felony charge and a $50,000 cash bond, PennLive reported. During the pandemic, some state and local courts reduced or eliminated bonds to keep jail populations down. Oklahoma County Chief Public Defender Robert Ravitz said early efforts to reduce bonds and release people held on misdemeanors had tapered off by the summer last year. [Big If True]

Column: Oklahoma can do simple things to reduce trauma for children of incarcerated parents: Criminal justice reforms aren’t all about major shifts in laws or funding; sometimes it’s as simple as phone calls and visitations. Oklahoma does not fare well in incarceration and hasn’t for decades. The state has the dubious distinction of locking up more people than any other democracy in the world. It’s been No. 1 in female incarceration for more than 30 years and has ranked among the top five for men about that long. Overall, the state is No. 3 in the incarceration rate. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

Back Rent Up In Oklahoma County: Analysis: Around 6.3 million rental households nationwide could face eviction in the near future, despite the availability of extensive government funding for rental assistance. More than one out of every five Oklahoma County rental households were in arrears as of early August, according to a new county-by-county analysis by Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit organization that uses data to analyze health and social problems in communities. An estimated 25,690 (20.7 percent) rental households are in danger of eviction. [Patch]

A chance for panhandlers to earn a day’s wage: Response to a new employment program for people who are panhandling exceeded expectations during the first week. “It is really encouraging. People do want to work,” said Lindsay Cates with the city of Oklahoma City. “Employment is what this program is really about.” [The Journal Record]

Education News

From Nairobi to Oklahoma: A Kenyan’s journey past obstacles to education: On a cold Friday morning in September 2019, a young Kenyan man woke up early in Nairobi, eager to fly to the United States. Had he really slept at all? With the joy and anxiety of traveling to the U.S. for the first time, it must have been hard to rest the night before. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“Whether your goal is as deep as helping the human spirit or as simple as saving money on incarceration, the assistance we give Oklahomans as they leave a state correctional facility can make all the difference in their transition back into society.”

-Rep. Ajay Pittman, speaking during an interim study about resources made available to Oklahomans when leaving a correctional facility [The Oklahoman

Number of the Day


More than 100,000 Oklahomans would be eligible to seal criminal records and lead more productive lives if Oklahoma implemented an automatic expungement system. [OK Policy]

Policy Note

During the pandemic, employers in the hospitality sector turned to the formerly incarcerated to fill jobs: Significant hurdles certainly continue to make finding employment difficult for the formerly incarcerated. But there has been recent progress, thanks to organizations that help formerly incarcerated men and women acquire job readiness and essential related skills, and have pushed “ban the box” policies to prevent criminal background checks from hindering employment opportunities. [The Counter]

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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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