In The Know: State slow to spend relief funds | Grand jury indicts state rep. | Faith-based groups and virus information

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 slow to spend latest round of federal pandemic money: Nine months after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law, Oklahoma lawmakers have recommended spending few stimulus dollars from the state’s share of the $1.9 trillion federal relief package. Lawmakers have recommended projects amounting to $9.5 million, or less than 1%, of the $1.87 billion in stimulus funds state leaders will decide how to spend. [The Oklahoman]

Rep. Terry O’Donnell, wife indicted by grand jury over tag agency: An Oklahoma County grand jury indicted House Speaker Pro Tempore Terry O’Donnell late Friday afternoon, charging the House of Representatives’ second highest-ranking member and his wife, Teresa O’Donnell, with eight counts related to legislation he supported that allowed her to become a state tag agent. [NonDoc] The Catoosa Republican introduced a bill in 2019 that allowed spouses of legislators to serve as tag agents. The Oklahoma Tax Commission appointed his wife to take over the Catoosa Tag Agency on Aug. 1, 2019, three months after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law. [AP News] | [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall testified before grand jury that indicted colleague [The Oklahoman]

Health News

As Some Oklahoma Churches Push Vaccines, Others Sow Misinformation, Doubt: As concerns about the Omicron variant have fueled a renewed push by health experts to encourage vaccinations or boosters, the role that religion and church leaders have on vaccine acceptance has been put in the spotlight. Numerous studies have found that white evangelical Protestants, more than any other religious or demographic group, have resisted the vaccine. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Hundreds of law enforcement officers killed by COVID as debates over vaccine mandates rage [The Oklahoman]
  • (Audio) The Source: A year after the first vaccination became available, Oklahoma cases still high [The Oklahoman]
  • Grief from COVID losses harder this holiday with nearly 1,200 still dying each day in U.S. [Tulsa World]

Grading Oklahoma: Oklahoma ranks 1st in heart disease mortality rate in the nation: Heart disease tops the list of leading causes of death almost every year. Even with the emergence of COVID-19, nothing has killed more Oklahomans on an annual basis recently than heart disease. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Oklahoma not preventing people from reaching crisis in brain health: Oklahoma’s approach to brain health has evolved into an expensive model focusing on seriously ill patients, minimizing much-needed and more effective prevention services. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

$100 million to further Tulsa health equity pledged by Ascension St. John Foundation through 2032: Through the Community Health Equity Catalyst Strategy, the Ascension St. John Foundation is prepared to pump up to $10 million a year over the next 10 years into community agencies and organizations working across Tulsa to give each resident a fair and equitable opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

The jump from political staffer to lobbyist isn’t a far one, at least in Oklahoma: Taylor Broyles was a redistricting assistant for the state Senate until this month when she took a job with CMA Strategies, a Republican consulting firm that had submitted maps to be considered for new state and federal districts. She wasn’t the only Senate staffer to join the ranks of paid lobbyists. Keith Beall, the Senate’s director of redistricting, ended his work on Dec. 1 and registered Dec. 2 as a lobbyist for the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

(Audio) Podcast: Putting a bow on 2021: Well, it’s that time of year. Time to take stock of the past 12 months, to recount the good times and the bad, to reflect on our victories and disappointments and to meditate on our hopes for next year. [NonDoc]

Federal Government News

Case against state attorney general candidate dismissed after settlement over killing of trees on federal land: The federal government has settled its property destruction case against Tulsa attorney and GOP attorney general candidate Gentner Drummond and others after agreeing to a cash settlement from an aerial herbicide spraying company. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Voices: Tribal compact cancellations could hit Wildlife Department funding: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision not to renew hunting and fishing compacts with the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations for 2022 could mean a potential loss of millions of dollars in future federal funding for the state’s wildlife department. [Kelly Bostian, the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation / The Frontier]

Tulsa Mayor: Phone calls from business leaders not a factor in city’s decision to file brief supporting overturning McGirt: The city of Tulsa came close to not filing an amicus brief in support of the state’s effort to overturn or limit the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling despite receiving calls from CEOs of some of the region’s largest employers urging it to do so. [Tulsa World]

Rez ball in Chinle: Navajo Nation community rebounds after COVID peak: Shaun Martin’s office sits at the front corner of Chinle High School, down the street from the Navajo Nation hospital that serves his community. It looks onto Highway 191, and during the throes of the pandemic, it provided a window into the state of his city. [Cronkite News / NonDoc

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma might allow 18 and 19-year-olds to work in prisons: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is working with lawmakers to possibly change state law so the agency can hire 18 and 19-year-olds to work in state prisons and help address a shortage of nearly 500 workers. [AP News

  • Corrections Department Seeks to Hire Teenagers as Detention Officers [Oklahoma Watch]

Uptick in attacks on Oklahoma police officers leaves experts debating the root cause: Attacks on police officers were rising across the country the morning Caleb Sherman, a 5-year veteran of the Broken Arrow Police Department in his early 30s, pulled over a vehicle for a traffic violation on Nov. 6. [The Oklahoman]

Petition drive for grand jury investigation of DA falls short: Community activists had thought they had more than enough signatures on petitions calling for an investigation of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. They needed 5,000 signatures from voters for a county grand jury to be convened. They had collected more than 7,200. The Oklahoma County Election Board, though, determined they fell short after checking the signatures against voter rolls. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Urban Renewal may use eminent domain to acquire former eastside Oklahoma City Buy For Less property: The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority is preparing to use eminent domain for the first time in more than 20 years. The organization plans to acquire a controversial property in northeast Oklahoma City that was once eyed for redevelopment as a shopping center anchored by an Uptown Grocery. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Hispanics increasingly entering housing market: Almost 12% of Oklahomans identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making them the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the state. One result is more Hispanics are becoming homeowners in Oklahoma and across the country, despite financial, language and trust barriers. Projections show half of all homebuyers nationally will be Hispanic in the next decade. [The Journal Record]

Grading Oklahoma: This state has the most marijuana dispensaries in the nation: This week we look at the marijuana industry, and the number of dispensaries in our state in particular. Oklahoma has the most dispensaries of any state in the country outpacing states with larger populations, more mature marijuana markets, and even more than states with legalized recreational marijuana. [The Oklahoman]

  • Pulling out the weeds: Oklahoma farmers raise concerns with rural marijuana grows [Enid News & Eagle]

Education News

Facing $9.1 million withholding, Epic Charter Schools want Epic Youth Services reimbursement: Epic Charter Schools will seek reimbursement from their former management company, Epic Youth Services, for the $9.1 million in state funding that will be withheld by the Oklahoma State Department of Education over the next 12 months. The OSDE governing board formalized its decision to withhold the money Thursday owing to Epic’s prior over-expenditures on administrative costs identified in the the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office investigative audit last year. [NonDoc]

General News

‘These are human beings’: Annual memorial for those who died while homeless moved to Jan.: Anton “Tony” McFarthing, 66, and Kenny McGee, 54, also had some other things in common. Each man experienced periods of homelessness on the streets of Oklahoma City and they both died in 2021. McFarthing died in November while sleeping outside the bakery he loved so much. McGee died in April after being hospitalized. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC homeless shelters brace for surge as frigid temperatures expected [The Oklahoman]
  • McElhaney has no opponents for OKCPS Board Dist 7, preps for next term [OKC Free Press]
  • City has spent $2 million recovering from ransomware attack, city officials say [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa’s DPS megacenter to close soon after serving nearly 45,000 Oklahomans’ Real ID needs [Tulsa World]
  • Community members turn out to oppose Bell’s Amusement Park development in Broken Arrow [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“In the case of COVID vaccines, we know that doctors and medical professionals are of course the experts. But it bears out in the numbers that religious organizations and religious leaders are also in people’s trust circle and there is considerable attention to what respected religious leaders say.”

-Natalie Jackson, director of research at the Public Religion Research Institute. [Oklahoma Watch]

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma children under 18 who would lose out if federal Child Tax Credit expansion is not extended. This is about 93% of Oklahoma children. [CBPP]

Policy Note

Allowing the expanded child tax credit to expire would be a major mistake: For the past six months, families with kids have received monthly payments from the federal government as part of the expanded child tax credit — a policy that has slashed child poverty in the US. If Congress doesn’t act, however, this measure is set to expire for future payments near the end of the month. The last monthly payment was scheduled to go out on December 15, after which these installments will end. (This year, six monthly payments have been sent out; one larger payment will be distributed next year during tax season 2022.) [Vox]

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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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