In The Know: Veterans Commission fires director | Gov. blocks toxic waste shipment to state | Reforming Open Records Act? | More

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.

State Government News

After lengthy drama, Veterans Commission cans Kintsel: After a 40-minute executive session, the Oklahoma Veterans Commission voted 5-1 to terminate the employment of controversial Department of Veterans Affairs director Joel Kintsel, who had refused to attend meetings of his agency’s governing body in 2023. [NonDoc]

  • Oklahoma Veterans Commission fires embattled ODVA Director Joel Kintsel [Tulsa World]

Stitt blocks toxic waste shipment from Ohio train derailment to Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Sunday he blocked toxic waste, from the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, from entering Oklahoma. Stitt tweeted he was made aware Saturday that a shipment of the toxic waste was coming to the state. His team worked with U.S. Senators James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin, as well as Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, to stop the shipment, Stitt tweeted. [The Oklahoman]

  • Stitt blocks shipment of toxic waste from Ohio train derailment headed for Oklahoma [The Frontier

Oklahoma education department ‘toxic’ under Ryan Walters, some current and former employees say: Two days after the state Teacher of the Year ceremony in which the state superintendent arrived an hour late, the Education Department employee who planned the event was fired. Stormie Honeysuckle had worked at the agency for 15 years under four state superintendents. She is the latest of several employees who left the agency, voluntarily and involuntarily, during Walters’ administration who report a strained work environment where staff were constantly fearful of losing their jobs. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Lawmakers Consider Reforms to State’s Open Records Act: Proposals affecting your right to access public records and government meetings are moving through the Oklahoma Legislature. Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, told me last week that it can be difficult to strike a balance between records requestors and custodians. While the public may become irritated with unresponsive agencies or prolonged delays, records holders are often inundated with overly broad and complex requests. [Oklahoma Watch]

‘They wouldn’t dare censure a white man’: Oklahoma House Republican leadership censured Rep. Turner, accusing them of “harboring a fugitive” after the spouse of a protester who threw water on a state lawmaker sought shelter in their office. Turner says the censure motion has put a target on their back; they’ve received hate mail laced with racist and homophobic expletives. [Politico]

  • Turner receives threatening calls, emails following censure by House GOP [Public Radio Tulsa]

Muslim Day takes place nearly a week after chaos at Oklahoma State Capitol: The Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR Oklahoma] is hosting its 9th Annual Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol on Monday. This also comes almost a week after the chaos at the Capitol between trans-rights activists, a Muslim lawmaker, and state troopers. [KFOR Oklahoma City]

Transgender drag performers sound off on proposed laws in Oklahoma: A number of measures aimed at drag shows and at gender-affirming care are moving through the Legislature this session. House Bill 2186 would make it illegal to organize or authorize on public property a story hour for minors that is hosted by a drag performer whose performance is harmful to minors. [Tulsa World]

  • RuPaul Drag Race in Tulsa faces controversy [KTUL]

Column: Giving birth and needing postpartum leave is not a vacation: When it comes to health care needs of women after childbirth, the men in the Legislature need to listen more and talk less.  Also — and I hope those in the back of the room can hear — just because your wife or partner gave birth does not make you an expert, and maternity leave is no vacation. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Editorial: Tax cut fever shortsighted on needs in state government: The legislative race to cut state revenue through tax cuts ignores the current underfunding of the Oklahoma government. Bills advancing in the House would reduce taxes by about $1 billion. The Senate hasn’t passed its proposals yet, but tax cuts are likely to be part of it. [The Oklahoman]

Voting and Election News

Column: Oklahomans say they want open primaries: Oklahomans are freethinkers; most of us pay attention to what is happening in Oklahoma and in our communities. We weigh the facts, consider the options, make a decision and take action. Whether we are deciding where to shop or what car to buy, we like having the opportunity to choose. So why is it that when it comes to voting in Oklahoma primaries, we don’t have a choice? Only in municipal and school board elections do we get that opportunity. [Julie J. Knutson / Tulsa World]

Poll worker shortage did not hinder recreational marijuana election, Tulsa County official says: The Tulsa County Election Board conducted last week’s vote on recreational marijuana 57 poll workers short of full staffing, according to Election Board Secretary Gwen Freeman. Leading up to election day, 301 poll workers were unavailable or could not be reached, she said. In addition, three poll workers dropped out the night before the election, and 10 did on election day. [Tulsa World]

Stitt after voters reject recreational marijuana: Oklahomans ‘so tired of a dispensary on every single corner’: Oklahomans are tired of seeing a medical marijuana dispensary on every corner, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Friday. Stitt’s comments were in response to a reporter inquiring whether Tuesday’s resounding defeat of a state question seeking to legalize recreational marijuana was an indication more regulation of medical marijuana was needed. [Tulsa World]

  • Interactive: Precinct Map Shows Rural, Suburban Opposition to Recreational Marijuana [Oklahoma Watch]

Health News

Debt, finances leave Legislature ‘concerned’ about OU Health problems: A massive $1 billion debt load and another bond downgrade have combined with pandemic-related revenue loss and higher staff salaries to create a precarious financial position for OU Health, the state-supported hospital enterprise that partners with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the OU College of Medicine to operate a fully integrated academic health system. [NonDoc]

Abortion remains a concern for faith-based anti-abortion centers in a post-Roe Oklahoma: When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, leaders at Hope Pregnancy Centers were prepared in case an influx of women began coming to them for help and support. The faith-based network already had brought in more medical personnel to perform ultrasounds at its centers across the state and had begun trainings to help staff members counsel younger generations. The launch of a pilot program to pair expectant fathers with mentors was imminent. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

What we know about properties offered to become new home of Oklahoma County jail: Oklahoma County is getting options for where it might build a new county jail/health center to serve its residents in coming years. This week, five landowners submitted sale offers to commissioners ranging from just over $1 million to nearly $38 million for rural, suburban and urban properties in the county. [The Oklahoman]

Former OU regent Phil Albert pleads guilty, faces up to 5 years in federal prison: Phil Albert, the former University of Oklahoma regent and former Tulsa Regional Chamber chairman who once was a top political donor in the state, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to evading more than $1 million in income taxes. [NonDoc]

  • Former OU regent, Claremore businessman pleads guilty to tax evasion [Tulsa World]

Column: Oklahoma cockfighters need to be prosecuted, not given a free pass from crime: Despite more than 20 years of this purposeless blood sport’s being illegal, a legislative measure supported by a political action committee seeks to downplay the penalties. Evidence is mounting that Oklahoma, including some in law enforcement, are ignoring this underground criminal network. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Could Volkswagen plant come to Oklahoma? Stitt looks to Biden’s Inflation Act on Project Connect: Gov. Kevin Stitt is pushing President Joe Biden’s administration to help lure “Project Connect” to Oklahoma, using the code name for an initiative widely believed to be a new Volkswagen electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

How is OKC turning around low-performing schools? More data, training and accountability: OKC Public schools in 2019 chose four elementary schools — Britton, Martin Luther King, Thelma Parks and Rockwood — for the “Innovative Transformation Schools” initiative after they scored in the bottom 5% of all public schools in the state for multiple years. In the program, these sites were designated for more intense data tracking of student performance, an extra three hours of teacher professional development each week and leadership training for principals. [The Oklahoman]

Column: Don’t forget about early childhood teachers when discussing educator raises, benefits: CAP Tulsa is one of many child care providers in Oklahoma to receive stabilization grants from the Department of Human Services over the past two years. These grants have helped provide stipends to early care educators, promoting staff retention in a fiercely competitive labor market. [Karen Kiely / Tulsa World]

General News

OKC’s first city-funded non-police homeless crisis response team to hit the streets soon: Right now, this team operated by the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma is the only one that covers all of Oklahoma City and is specifically tailored to street outreach for the unhoused. But the nonprofit soon will have two more similar teams up and running, thanks to $572,000 in funding from the city. [The Oklahoman]

Railroad deaths and injuries in Oklahoma City prompt police study: Citing recent deaths and injuries near railroads, the Oklahoma City Police Department is set to embark on a study to improve safety near railways throughout the city. The department is seeking a $120,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration — expected to be authorized Tuesday by the City Council — to identify vulnerable rail locations and pedestrian behaviors that lead to injury or death. [The Oklahoman]

For Sunshine Week, support journalists in the fight for open government: Sunshine Week, a nationwide observance that began Sunday, was created to promote open government at all levels, from tiny village councils to massive federal agencies. NonDoc Media is pleased to participate in Sunshine Week, and we are excited to announce that the first $3,000 we raise this month will be matched dollar for dollar. The Oklahoma Bankers Association and family members of the late Congressman Bill K. Brewster have made pledges to support our work — if we can hit our $3,000 goal. [NonDoc]

Quote of the Day

“Before cutting state income, we prefer to invest it into agencies still recovering from five budget failures since 2016. Those shortfalls, in part, were from former lawmakers cutting too many taxes when times were plentiful.”

-Tulsa World Editorial, noting that Oklahoma lawmakers proposing cutting state revenue are ignoring the state’s need for investments in shared public services [Editorial / Tulsa World

Number of the Day


Rate of Oklahomans living in poverty (2021), which was the 10th highest rate in the nation. [U.S. Census Bureau via OK Policy]

Policy Note

Why Poverty Persists in America: In the past 50 years, scientists have mapped the entire human genome and eradicated smallpox. Here in the United States, infant-mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by roughly 70 percent, and the average American has gained almost a decade of life. Climate change was recognized as an existential threat. The internet was invented. On the problem of poverty, though, there has been no real improvement — just a long stasis. [Matthew Desmond / NY Times Magazine]

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Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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