In The Know: Stitt: Mask mandate remains local issue | Judge rules election law ‘reasonable’ | Closer look at latest Census data

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

Census data show Oklahoma still lags nation in poverty rate: New Census data released Thursday show Oklahoma’s poverty rate remained higher than the national average in 2019 but is slightly decreasing. More than one in seven Oklahomans (15.2 percent, or 583,029 people) were living below the federal poverty line, which is $26,200 for a family of four. Oklahoma’s 2019 poverty rate was lower than 2018’s rate of 15.6 percent but was higher than the national average of 12.3 percent. While this data points to changes between 2018 and 2019, it fails to document our current economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the spring and summer, the national poverty rate has climbed with the Urban Institute estimating that more than 1 in 10 Oklahomans currently live in poverty.  [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Stitt: COVID-19 treatments improving, mask mandate a local issue: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and health leaders said this morning that treatment options for COVID-19 are improving and hospital capacity remains acceptable, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendation of a statewide Oklahoma mask mandate will not be followed. [NonDoc

  • Gov. Stitt downplays latest White House coronavirus report [The Oklahoman]
  • Gov. Stitt reports positive trends in COVID-19 hospitalizations [Tulsa World]
  • State leaders start distributing antiviral drug [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]
  • Why is Tulsa in the White House’s COVID-19 red zone and Oklahoma City isn’t? Masks in suburbs, Tulsa mayor says [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma health experts: COVID-19 also attacks the circulatory system [StateImpact Oklahoma]
  • WATCH: Gov. Stitt, commissioner of health to give COVID-19 update [The Oklahoman] | [Tulsa World]
  • Coronavirus in Oklahoma: 1,034 new cases; six additional deaths [The Oklahoman]

School-age coronavirus infections outnumber oldest demographic for the past two weeks in Tulsa County: Youngsters infected with COVID-19 are more numerous than positives in the oldest age group for the second consecutive week in Tulsa County, according to local data. [Tulsa World]

  • Owasso students return to class for in-person instruction [Tulsa World]
  • Stillwater school board adopts alternate schedule, tweaks protocols for activities [Stillwater News Press]
  • Enid sees drop in COVID-10 quarantines, isolations [Enid News & Eagle]
  • OKCPS shifts plan – youngest students return to buildings in October [OKC Free Press]

Federal judge upholds Oklahoma election law as ‘reasonable’: A federal judge on Thursday rejected the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s lawsuit challenging the state’s absentee voting rules. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Dowell wrote that the state’s absentee voting rules are “reasonable, nondiscriminatory and legitimate.” [AP News] The two Democratic Party groups sought in part to have Dowdell declare that notarization, witness and photo identification requirements to cast a mailed-in ballot in Oklahoma “impose undue burdens on the right to vote in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” [Tulsa World] It was not immediately clear Thursday if the Democratic groups plan to appeal the judge’s ruling. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

The head of an Oklahoma public health committee invited anti-vax doctors to talk with lawmakers about the coronavirus: An ophthalmologist paraded a series of internet conspiracy theories and unproven health claims before state lawmakers at a hearing at the Oklahoma Capitol this week — including that masks are ineffective at slowing the spread of the virus and that people of color need more vitamin D in their diets to prevent them from contracting COVID-19. [The Frontier]

Oklahomans tell lawmakers of COVID-19’s devastation: State lawmakers on Thursday heard heartbreaking testimonials shared by Oklahomans who have lost jobs, savings and much hope for the future as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Journal Record

State lawmakers study impact of COVID-19 on workers: An interim study at the state Capitol on the impacts of COVID-19 on workers in Oklahoma has become a discussion of policy. [News on 6]

Commission grapples with pandemic safety: Like many businesses navigating the process of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, city, county and state agency leaders also are balancing the pressing need to conduct business with the threat posed by the virus. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma unemployment claims decline 28% after increasing the week before: Initial unemployment claims in Oklahoma declined last week by 28% after coming off a prior week where first-time claims had increased compared to the week earlier, according to revised U.S. Department of Labor estimates. [Tulsa World] The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on Thursday said the four-week moving average for continued claims again fell during the week ending Sept. 12, marking the 12th-straight week of declines. [The Journal Record]

Okmulgee County special judge appointed to district judge position: A special judge in Okmulgee County has been appointed to a district judge position in the state’s 24th Judicial District. Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Pandee Ramirez as a district judge in Okmulgee County, he said in a news release. [Tulsa World]

COVID-19 in prisons, Tulsa hate crime ordinance, tribal gaming compacts & more (audio): This Week in Oklahoma Politics discusses a criminal justice reform group calling on Governor Stitt and the Department of Corrections to take steps to stem the spread of COVID-19, Tulsa City Council unanimously approved a new Hate Crimes ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity and the state Supreme Court denies Stitt’s request for a rehearing on its decision over tribal gaming compacts. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma lawmakers back bill to protect pregnant women in workplace: Four of Oklahoma’s five members of the U.S. House backed legislation approved on Thursday aimed at preventing employers from discriminating against pregnant women. The measure, which was co-sponsored by Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, passed 329-73. Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Tulsa, was the only Oklahoma vote against the measure. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

More Oklahomans are obese — and more susceptible to COVID complications: Oklahoma’s adult obesity rate is up two percentage points from last year. According to the latest edition of the State of Obesity report by Trust for America’s Health, 36.8% of Oklahoma adults in 2019 had obesity, the fourth-highest rate in the nation. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Criminal Justice News

Ginnie Graham: Oklahoma prisons show symptoms of the disease of systemic racism: Using 2010 census data, researchers at the Prison Policy Initiative found Black, Hispanic and American Indian people are over-represented in the state’s prisons and jails. These new findings show how little progress has been made in the past decade. But, does Oklahoma have the same systemic racism that Massachusetts has documented? It appears Oklahoma has symptoms of that disease, according to new findings by Open Justice Oklahoma, a program of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. [Column / Tulsa World]

Rally planned to raise awareness about Taft inmates: Advocates demanding justice for the women at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center plan to present their demands on Friday during a rally outside the Capitol in Oklahoma City. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Pilot project takes aim at prison cell phones: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections next month is expected to launch a pilot project aimed at reducing the number of cellphones used behind bars to conduct criminal activity. [Tulsa World]

In Coleman trial, Judge Aletia Timmons gives scathing indictment of judicial peers: A state judge testifying in the removal trial of District Judge Kendra Coleman sharply criticized her fellow Oklahoma County judges today for spreading gossip and being untrustworthy. [NonDoc] Oklahoma County District Judge Kendra Coleman admitted at her ouster trial that her personality may not be “warm and fuzzy and cuddly” but she denied ever berating anyone in her courtroom. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma police chiefs express concerns about recruiting: Growing anti-police sentiment around the country could have a profoundly negative impact on the ability to recruit quality officers, police chiefs from two Oklahoma cities told state lawmakers on Thursday. [AP News]

District attorney clears police officers in May death at Oklahoma County jail: Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has cleared officers of any legal wrongdoing in the May death of a 56-year-old Black man who died following a struggle with officers at the Oklahoma County jail. [The Oklahoman]

Listen Frontier: Video released that captures killing of Tulsa officer (audio): Host Ben Felder talks with Dylan Goforth about the recent release of videos that capture the moments before and during when a man shot two Tulsa police officers, killing one. [The Frontier]

  • Death penalty to be sought against man charged in police sergeant’s killing [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Chesapeake Energy to cut 200 from its workforce Friday, CEO’s email states: Chesapeake Energy Corp. plans to lay off 200 tomorrow. Employees were notified of the planned job cuts in an email sent Thursday afternoon. The cut amounts to about 15% of Chesapeake’s current workforce, which numbers about 1,500. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Energy Index points to prolonged economic uncertainty: The downturn in Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry may be reaching its lowest point, but the Oklahoma Energy Index raises concerns for prolonged economic uncertainty for the state and its defining industry. [The Journal Record]

Metro home starts for August continue upward trend: The strong area housing market continues to flex its muscles. August housing starts for the area totaled 307, a 7.7% jump from the same month a year ago. For the year, the number is 2,447, a 21% jump from 2019, according to the tracking service New Orders Weekly. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma cotton farmers lose fields to drought, experts still expect good harvest: Oklahoma farmers are close to stripping cotton, but some are losing crops from dry weather in August. Seth Byrd, an Oklahoma State University Extension cotton specialist, said this year’s crop had a lot of potential. With unexpected dry weather in August, he’s slightly adjusting expectations. [KOSU]

Education News

State breaks commitment to Class of 2021 in order to save $1.9 million: Oklahoma broke a promise to the class of 2021 so it could save $1.9 million. The cost to those students — in academic opportunities and scholarship dollars — cannot be calculated. The state made a commitment to provide a college admissions test for free during school hours to all public-school juniors beginning with the 2017 graduating class. [Oklahoma Watch]

New initiative aims to make a dent in degree attainment gap by keeping students in Tulsa: A new program will seek to encourage area college students to choose Tulsa and start their lives in the region after graduation. [Public Radio Tulsa]

This week in coveducation: Cancellations, parent protests, AG opinion request: Decisions being made by some Oklahoma school administrations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted student and parent protests. Catch up on the week’s #coveducation headlines with this recap of reporting from Oklahoma news outlets. [NonDoc]

General News

Less than 2 weeks remain to respond to 2020 U.S. Census: You can still respond online to the 2020 Census even if you did not receive a letter or paper questionnaire. Go to and select the link that says, “If you do not have a Census ID, click here.” [Ponca Post]

  • Since numbers are reportedly low from citizens in Purcell, the City of Purcell will be hosting a Census Event September 23 from 3-6 p.m. at City Hall located at 230 W. Main. [The Purcell Register]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“Among cases associated with high-risk settings, schools had the most (COVID-19) cases followed by long-term care settings. We also identified a notable number of cases within food service workers.”

-Dr. Bruce Dart, Tulsa Health Department executive director discussing local virus data [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma adults who reported that children in their household weren’t eating enough because they couldn’t afford enough food sometime during the past seven days. This represents about 17% of Oklahoma adults who live with children.

[Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey public use files for survey weeks 11 – 12]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships: The impacts of the pandemic and the economic fallout have been widespread, but are particularly prevalent among Black, Latino,[1] Indigenous, and immigrant households. These disproportionate impacts reflect harsh, longstanding inequities — often stemming from structural racism — in education, employment, housing, and health care that the current crisis is exacerbating. Relief measures have mitigated hardship, but there are significant gaps — including, for example, leaving out the poorest households from any increase in SNAP benefits — and implementation challenges that have delayed aid to some households. The measures are also temporary. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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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