In The Know: Supporting Oklahomans with federal relief funds | SQ 805 set for Nov. 3 election | EPIC Charter Schools fined

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: Federal relief funds help Oklahomans in need: Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt turned heads when he said Oklahoma did not need additional federal virus relief funding. His rationale was that it would be premature to ask for more money until the state distributed the $1.2 billion of the initial CARES Act funding, which is mostly under his control. So far, only about 30% of Oklahoma’s initial federal funds have been spent. Oklahoma’s needs are enormous, especially for those who have been hardest hit including our communities of color and low-wage earners. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record

Oklahoma News

Stitt adds criminal justice question to November ballot: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday added a state question on criminal justice to the Nov. 3 Election Day ballot. Stitt set the election date for State Question 805 which, if approved by voters, would prohibit prosecutors from using prior felony convictions to enhance sentences for nonviolent crimes. The initiative, spearheaded by a group of business, political and religious leaders, would also allow defendants who already had such sentence enhancements to petition the courts for relief. [AP News] Supporters of SQ 805 say they have sought criminal justice reforms through the initiative petition process because Oklahoma’s Legislature has repeatedly failed to act on the issue. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma would stand to save millions of dollars if voters choose to pass State Question 805 in November and eliminate the practice of “enhanced sentencing” in criminal cases, according to supporters of the proposal. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma County judge imposes $500,000 fine on Epic Charter Schools’ nonprofit: An Oklahoma County district judge leveled a $500,000 fine against the nonprofit overseeing Epic Charter Schools on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the judge ruled the case was an attempt to censor Sharp’s free speech. She decided the nonprofit was subject to a fine under Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act, a law that sanctions plaintiffs who file meritless lawsuits intended to silence critics. [The Oklahoman] Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee had raised questions in the summer of 2019 about the school’s student attendance and enrollment practices, and Epic sued him in December, seeking at least $75,000. In February, an Oklahoma County district judge dismissed the suit, saying Sharp’s comments and news releases about Epic didn’t meet the legal standard to prove libel and slander against a public entity. [Tulsa World]

Protesters argue against Oklahoma County resolution limiting free speech: Demonstrators occupied an Oklahoma County commissioners meeting Wednesday to protest a resolution that would regulate free speech on county property. The protest pushed the resolution’s sponsor, Court Clerk Rick Warren, to withdraw his support for the proposal. But the resolution will still be discussed by commissioners after a 2-1 vote to defer the item to a special meeting Friday. [The Oklahoman] The OKC Free Press reported that the original author of the resolution, Court Clerk Rick Warren, had withdrawn his name from the resolution. The future of the resolution is now in limbo unless some other official is willing to become the author. [OKC Free Press] When a protester jumped up and shouted “fascist!” within the first ten minutes of the Board of County Commissioners meeting it became apparent that Wednesday would not be just another routine day at the Oklahoma County Office building. [OKC Free Press]

More Oklahoma County jail inmates test positive: The COVID-19 outbreak at the Oklahoma County jail has worsened. The number of inmates who have tested positive since July 1 has climbed to 149, officials said Wednesday. That total is expected to increase. Approximately 1,400 tests have been done but results are not in on 300 of them, officials said. [The Oklahoman]

  • The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 670 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. That brings the total number of cases since the pandemic began in the state to 45,398. It also reported nine new coronavirus-related deaths. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Stitt responds to House coronavirus subcommittee, stressing ‘local control’ and abuse concerns: Gov. Kevin Stitt has responded to a letter from a Congressional subcommittee requesting an explanation for why Oklahoma was declining to implement federal recommendations regarding the coronavirus. In a Wednesday letter to Democratic Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Stitt wrote that Oklahoma’s approach to the virus has been appropriate. [Public Radio Tulsa] Full content of the letter is available. [Fox23]

Stitt encourages Oklahomans who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma: Gov. Kevin Stitt stopped by the Oklahoma Blood Institute on Wednesday to encourage people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma. Stitt recovered from the virus recently and donated plasma. A group of bipartisan lawmakers and state officials who have recovered also donated plasma. [KOCO]

State Government News

Stitt seeks another hearing in tribal gaming agreements case: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is seeking another hearing before the state Supreme Court regarding its recent ruling on tribal gaming compacts that deemed the state’s agreements with two Native American tribes invalid. [AP News

Court hearing could set procedures for criminal appeals resulting from Creek reservation case: The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday ordered a new hearing in district court for a death row inmate whose case could establish standard procedures for state prisoners challenging their convictions under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Indian reservations. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Sen. Lankford sees no quick action on additional COVID-19 relief from Congress: Don’t expect more COVID-19 help from Congress any time soon, U.S. Sen. James Lankford told a group of area businessmen Wednesday. “We’re a long way apart,” Lankford said during the meeting at Regent Bank in south Tulsa. Lankford and other Republicans say Democrats want to spend too much and use COVID relief to put through policy measures unrelated to the pandemic. Democrats say Republicans don’t really want to do anything at all. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

A former Oklahoma prisoner struggles to find his feet during the pandemic: Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is a new challenge for Oklahoma’s former state prisoners who are at higher risk of becoming homeless. But in addition to the novel health risks, the pandemic also threatens former prisoners’ access to resources they need to build stable lives. The offices that issue birth certificates, social security cards, state IDs and driver’s licenses have been closed for part or the majority of the pandemic. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma City police chief, pastor talk policing, racism in virtual town hall: Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley was invited by an Oklahoma City pastor to participate in a virtual town hall entitled “Pastors, Police & People” that was coordinated by the OK Justice Circle, a coalition of metro area faith leaders and social justice advocates. [The Oklahoman]

Eight Tulsa police officers on paid leave after Saturday’s fatal shooting: Tulsa Police Department Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen said eight of the department’s officers are on paid administrative leave while the fatal shooting of a man on Saturday is investigated. Larsen said at a meeting of the Mayor’s Police and Community Coalition on Tuesday evening that the eight officers opened fire on Jonathan Randell, 35, after he reportedly charged at them with a knife. The deputy chief was answering a question from a coalition member, the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, who said he had heard that officers fired more than 50 rounds. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

COVID-19 delays programs to help residents, poultry growers find peace: Some programs are in place to help neighbors address issues around large poultry operations, but the programs are delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. [Tulsa World] Community members who make up a grassroots organization seeking to protect the “rural way of life” enjoyed by generations from an “assault by out-of-state corporate interests” hope to “squeeze some facts” in during an interim legislative study. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Oklahoma performance venues hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic: Independent performance venues were some of the first businesses to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be among the last to fully reopen. That’s meant zero revenue for some Oklahoma venues, even as fixed costs remain. But some of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation are supporting legislation that would offer them targeted relief.  [KGOU]

Education News

School support staff forced to choose between their health or job: School support staff are preparing to return to schools during a pandemic. “If we’re not working, we’re not getting paid. We have to put food on the table, bills and if we don’t go back to work then we have to leave what we love,” said Candis Ryczkowski, Mustang Tech Support Supervisor. As a support staff employee, Ryczkowski says they don’t receive the same benefits as a teacher. [Fox25]

Tulsa Public Schools teams up with United Way, The Opportunity Project to provide relief for families during distance learning: Tulsa Public Schools has partnered with two local organizations to offer an online resource to connect families to child care services and other basic needs during distance learning. [Tulsa World] Families can use the COVID-19 Kid Care Resource Portal to find meals, school supplies and — most important for many — childcare. The website comes through a partnership with Tulsa Area United Way and the Opportunity Project and is modeled after a platform used in 2018 when schools closed during the statewide teacher walkout. [Public Radio Tulsa]

OSSAA stays the course on fall sports: Amid speculation of the future of fall prep sports, and in light of some college conferences postponing their fall sports, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s board of directors decided Wednesday to stay the course and proceed with fall sports as planned after hearing from its member schools. [Enid News & Eagle] OSSAA is providing health guidelines to schools, but most decisions will be up to school boards. Asked if there was a trigger for mid-season changes, its executive director said there wasn’t one number, but if many schools are forced to close, that might provide a push. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Universities to implement football ‘fan safety measures’ in Oklahoma: Don’t expect packed university stadiums this fall when Oklahoma’s football teams take to the field. Though Oklahoma’s governor and the commissioner of the Big 12 aren’t issuing any official crowd size policies, officials with the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa are all planning to implement “fan safety measures” that include limiting the number of people in their stands. [CNHI via McAlester News-Capital]

General News

Deadline to complete 2020 Census quickly approaching: Oklahoma is below the national average in filling out the 2020 census at 58%. The deadline to fill it out and have it turned in is September 30. Officials have been taking the time to remind Oklahomans to make sure they get it done because the count will affect congressional representation and federal funding that is allocated to the state. [News9]

State Senate candidate sues tribal leader alleging wrongful termination: A Republican candidate for state Senate alleges he was fired from his job with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation for opposing a local mask mandate in a public meeting. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“We’re a long way apart.” 

-U.S. Sen. James Lankford speaking about partisan disagreement about the size and scope of the next federal relief package. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Percentage of households with children report being behind on last month’s rent, compared with 16 percent for childless households. 

[SOURCE: CBPP Analysis of Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Expanding Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit would benefit more than 10 million rural residents, strongly help rural areas: Temporarily expanding both the Child Tax Credit for low-income families currently denied the full credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults not raising children in the home (“childless adults”) would benefit an estimated 10.4 million rural (non-metro) residents across the country (as well as tens of millions in metropolitan areas), delivering well-timed, high bang-for-the-buck stimulus when people file their taxes in early 2021. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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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