In The Know: Supreme Court rules much of eastern Oklahoma remains tribal land | Mask debate continues as hot topic for state

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

‘We hold the government to its word’: SCOTUS affirms Creek Nation reservation: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in favor of tribal sovereignty Thursday morning, which could see far-reaching ramifications beyond criminal law. The federal government, not the state of Oklahoma, has jurisdiction over major crimes that occur on tribal lands in the state, the court ruled. The statute interpreted by the court defines Indian Country and has been used for civil purposes in many other contexts, including taxation, environmental laws and other regulations. [NonDoc]

  • Supreme Court ruling ‘reaffirmed’ sovereignty [Indian Country Today]
  • ‘On the far end of the Trail of Tears’: Nation’s highest court holds U.S. to promise in tribal treaty [Indianz]
  • SCOTUS McGirt ruling favors Muscogee (Creek) Nation [Cherokee Phoenix]
  • Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s 1866 boundaries upheld by Supreme Court [High Country News]
  • In Landmark Decision, Supreme Court Rules that Nearly Half of Oklahoma is Indian Land [Native News Online]
  • Tribes hail Supreme Court ruling on jurisdiction; past criminal convictions in question [Tahlequah Daily Press]
  • Supreme Court rules Muscogee (Creek) Nation historic boundaries never disestablished by Congress [Tulsa World]
  • Supreme Court: Most of eastern Oklahoma is tribal land [Journal Record]
  • Justices rule swath of Oklahoma remains tribal reservation [AP News]
  • Tribal law expert calls Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling ‘most important’ in state history [Tulsa World]
  • The Supreme Court affirmed Native American rights in Oklahoma. Here’s what that could mean [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Tribes, lawmakers, oil industry respond to Creek Nation ruling [The Oklahoman]
  • Tribes hail Supreme Court ruling on jurisdiction; past criminal convictions in question [Tahlequah Daily Press]
  • 5 THINGS TO KNOW: Choctaw Nation answers questions regarding Supreme Court decision [McAlester News-Capital via CNHI]
  • Q&A: What does McGirt ruling mean? [Indian Country Today]
  • Opinion: Oklahoma tribes, state collaborate on way forward after Supreme Court ruling [The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

State officials unveil color-coded COVID alert system: Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s top health official on Thursday unveiled a color-coded alert system designed to give a county-by-county breakdown of the severity of COVID-19. Stitt and Health Commissioner Lance Frye said the heat map will help Oklahomans make safe choices as they go about their daily lives. [The Oklahoman] Video: Stitt, health officials provide COVID-19 update [The Oklahoman] Health officials said the four-tiered system has corresponding color categories to identify the current risk level. Green represents the “new normal.” Yellow is “low” risk. Orange is “moderate” and red is “high.” No Oklahoma counties were classified as red, but four — McClain, McCurtain, Tulsa, Ottawa — were classified as orange. They are each recording more than 14.39 cases per 100,000. [Stillwater News Press via CNHI]

Gov. Stitt says Oklahoma won’t be a ‘mask-shamer’ as he touts robust hospital capacity amid COVID-19 surge: Gov. Kevin Stitt stood steadfast by his stance Thursday that he won’t mandate masks as a COVID-19 preventive measure, saying he will protect personal freedoms and not shame people who don’t wear face coverings. Face mask orders are a hot topic as both Norman and Stillwater have implemented them and Tulsa officials are contemplating a similar action. Stitt told reporters at a news conference that he believes in local control and isn’t comfortable requiring masks. The first question would be how to enforce such an order, he said. [Tulsa World]

  • Gov. says he remains opposed to mask mandate [AP News]
  • Stitt will support local mask regulations [Journal Record]
  • Masks shouldn’t be a mandate, mayor says, but an order is coming if Tulsa cases keep skyrocketing [Tulsa World]
  • In potential mask mandate, city of Tulsa is weighing exemptions and enforcement elsewhere to determine best practices [Tulsa World]
  • Hospitalizations on rise in Tulsa County as state reports 603 new cases [Tulsa World]
  • White House says data unavailable that indicates claim Trump rally sparked Tulsa coronavirus case surge [Tulsa World]
  • No plans to institute mandatory mask policy in Moore, mayor says [Norman Transcript]
  • Stillwater City Council passes face-covering ordinance [Stillwater News Press]
  • Op-Ed: I grew up in Tulsa and live in Japan. Masks have been keeping me safe for years, and they can do the same for Oklahoma [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

State Government News

Initial unemployment claims in state drop close to 60%, latest figures show: Initial unemployment claims for the state dropped nearly 60% last week, according to the latest figures by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC). For the week ending July 4, the advance number of initial claims, unadjusted, totaled 7,562, a decrease of 10,843 (58.9%) from the previous week’s revised level of 18,405. [Tulsa World] Since March, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) has paid out over $2.1 billion in unemployment benefits. Over the last week, OESC has been working to serve Oklahomans at the Reed Event Center in Midwest City. At in-person, socially distanced events on July 1-2 and July 6-9, OESC has helped more than 3,000 Oklahomans to receive their unemployment benefits. [Woodward News via CNHI] For the file week ending July 4, the advance number of initial claims, unadjusted, totaled 7,562, a decrease of 10,843 from the previous week’s revised level of 18,405. [Journal Record]

‘It is critical we all work together’: Stitt, lawmakers visit Otoe-Missouria to talk gaming: Gov. Kevin Stitt and four Republican legislators on Thursday morning visited the headquarters of one of the tribes that signed a gaming compact with him this spring. According to a statement from the tribe, the various parties discussed gaming, but the exact nature of those discussions at the Otoe-Missouria compound near Red Rock was unclear. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Another low-drama Oklahoma election: After much hue and cry about voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, last week’s primary election in Oklahoma went as most elections do here — smoothly and without major incidents. [The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

Op-Ed: Sobering fiscal news – state tax structure needs overhaul: There’s an old adage in politics: “Never let a big crisis go to waste.” This is clearly a time of crisis. A big crisis. Will Oklahoma’s legislative leaders squander it? You might think I’m referring to the state’s muddled COVID-19 response. Nope. What actually requires policymakers’ focus in the last half of 2020 is a top-to-bottom overhaul – long overdue – of Oklahoma’s out-of-whack tax structure. [Arnold Hamilton Op-Ed / Journal Record]

Editorial: Oklahoma legislators who voted against police funding say they’re against defunding police: “We defy anyone to read the criminal history of the man accused of shooting the Tulsa police officers … and come to the conclusion that events in the past few weeks are to blame. The lawmakers’ language plays on emotions of the public in a cheap, political fashion. The people who said they don’t want to defund the police voted against police funding.” [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

More Black Lives Matter protesters released after $1.4 million bond paid: Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City posted $1.4 million more in cash bonds Thursday to get four more protesters out of jail while their criminal cases are pending. Earlier this month, it posted $2.1 million in cash bonds to secure the release of eight protesters it described as political prisoners. [The Oklahoman]

Property to be transferred to faith-based organization for prison reentry facility: Work is progressing on a long-planned conversion of a Tulsa property into a faith-based reentry center for people getting out of prison. The Tulsa Development Authority on Thursday agreed to transfer property at 1410 N. Utica Ave. to Prison Discipleship, an Oklahoma-based ministry with which the TDA will negotiate a redevelopment agreement. [Tulsa World]

Services for fallen Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson draw thousands: Lines of cars led to lines of people waiting to fill Victory Church’s 4,500-seat worship center in south Tulsa on Thursday to celebrate and honor the life of slain Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson. Attendees clad in uniforms and deep shades of blue and black began gathering hours before the afternoon service began, and emergency vehicles were packed into the parking lot near 81st Street and Lewis Avenue bumper-to-bumper. [Tulsa World]

Why It Happens: Expungement can clear embarrassing records: To remove arrests or convictions from the records of wrongdoers, it requires an expungement. That court-ordered process can prevent potential employers and institutions from seeing past run-ins with the law if they conduct a public records inspections or background check. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Economic Opportunity

Nonprofits serving families with infants see needs during pandemic: As families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic struggle to pay utility bills and find gainful employment, organizations across the Oklahoma City metropolitan area are stepping up to provide assistance to families with young children. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma City sales tax surprises: Reopening appears to have gone better than some expected. While Oklahoma City’s latest sales tax figures reported Thursday declined 7.8% from the same time last year, results were better than the 12% decline that had been projected. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

OU, OSU respond to ICE proposal to bar some international students: The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are reviewing proposed federal guidance that would require international students to take classes in-person this fall in order to remain in the country. [The Oklahoman]

Muskogee schools make plans for return to class: Muskogee Public Schools students will have masks and more online learning options when classes resume Aug. 12. MPS Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall discussed district reopening plans during an online town hall Thursday afternoon. [Muskogee Phoenix via CNHI]

General News

Recall petititions circulating against leaders of two Oklahoma tribes: Members of the Comanche Nation and Kiowa Tribe have launched recall petitions against tribal leaders amid growing controversies over distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds, tribal gaming compacts and casino revenues. [The Oklahoman]

Public records website has found a new way to monetize access to court documents: Selling ads: A privately-owned website that holds Oklahoma court documents behind a paywall has found a new way to monetize public records: Selling advertisements. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma law professors, grads express concerns over July bar exam: Money, job prospects, getting sick, getting family members sick. These are some of the concerns on recent law school graduates’ minds as they prepare to take the July 2020 Oklahoma Bar Exam. [The Oklahoman]

Group seeks to recall Norman mayor, council members: An effort to recall Norman Mayor Breea Clark and four city council members for cutting police funding and other actions is picking up momentum, with hundreds of volunteers set to begin collecting signatures this weekend. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma group wants to recall city council following mask mandate, cut to police budget [KFOR]

Quote of the Day

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. … Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in the majority opinion for a Supreme Court ruling that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation [AP News]

Number of the Day


Four-week moving average for the number of Oklahomans filing continuing claims for unemployment benefits, week ending July 4. This represents a 4.9% drop from numbers reported the previous week, which was 169,411.

[Source: OESC via Tulsa World]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A tale of two recessions: Some Americans thrive as others suffer: That recessions often hit vulnerable populations hardest isn’t new. But this crisis is unique, experts said. For one, there’s a divide even among those who are employed. Lower earners, who are more likely to be on the front lines, are at higher risk of Covid-19 infection and its resulting health and financial consequences. [CNBC]

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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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