In The Know: Pawnee Nation Sues Oklahoma Oil Companies in Tribal Court Over Earthquake Damage

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Pawnee Nation Sues Oklahoma Oil Companies in Tribal Court Over Earthquake Damage: A Native American tribe here has filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system accusing several oil companies of causing an earthquake that damaged near-century-old tribal buildings. The Pawnee Nation alleges in its lawsuit filed Friday that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September. The tribe is seeking compensation for damage to public and personal property and market value losses, as well as punitive damages. The case will be heard in the tribe’s district court, with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members [Associated Press].

District 28 voters return to polls to fill vacancy: Voters in Oklahoma’s House District 28 will head back to the polls on Tuesday just four months after re-electing Rep. Tom Newell, who resigned weeks after the election. Following Newell’s departure, a special election was called for March 7 when Democrat and Republican primaries will be held. A general election race between the highest Democrat and Republican vote recipients will take place May 9 [NewsOK]. Tuesday’s election in central Oklahoma also includes city and school bond questions [NewsOK].

Legislator requires Muslims who want to see him at Capitol to answer questions, including ‘Do you beat your wife?’ State Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, confirmed Friday that three Muslim students visiting his office on Thursday as part of Muslim Day activities were handed tracts that, among other things, asked “Do you beat your wife?” Bennett is critical of Islam and Islamic leaders, having called Islam “a cancer,” and has often clashed with the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Oklahoma, which sponsored the Muslim Day activities. The organization’s executive director, Adam Soltani, said the students went to Bennett’s office “to speak with him as Oklahoma citizens.” [Tulsa World]

Capitol deadline cuts off hundreds of bills in Oklahoma: More than 1,500 proposed laws have died in the Legislature, at least temporarily. Thursday was the deadline for House and Senate measures to leave the committee process, and the bills that did not pass can’t be heard again this year. Those bills include proposals to study the sale of the Grand River Dam Authority, a ban on abortion after the heart starts pumping and a mandate that schools stay open five days per week [NewsOK].

Physician testifies that Tulsa Jail personnel displayed a ‘culture of inhumanity’: A physician who conducts medical audits for U.S. Department of Homeland Security facilities testified Friday that he found a “culture of inhumanity” and “woefully inadequate” medical care at the Tulsa Jail when he reviewed the 2011 death of inmate Elliott Williams. Dr. Scott Allen, an internist who works at the University of California-Riverside School of Medicine, told a federal jury he found “ample evidence of a culture of indifference to serious medical needs” when he reviewed records associated with Williams’ jail stay for the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit [Tulsa World].

State auditor says proposed legislation in Oklahoma would invite corruption: A proposed new law that would allow county officials to select who audits them and what type of audit is conducted is drawing strong criticism from state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. “We had the biggest scandal in the history of the U.S., which was the county commissioners scandal, and now you’ve got a representative that doesn’t think we should be auditing the counties,” Jones said. Jones was referring to the Oklahoma public corruption scandal that erupted in the early 1980s when some 240 county commissioners and suppliers were convicted or pleaded guilty to kickback-related charges [NewsOK].

Eliminate a pending state income tax rate cut before it further damages funding to essential state services: Legislation to avoid another disastrous income tax rate cut has survived its first test in the state Senate. Senate Bill 170 would repeal a previously approved plan to reduce the state’s top income tax rate from 5 percent to 4.85 percent as soon as the state’s general revenue fund grows by $95 million. Because of the disastrous fall in general revenue fund receipts, the fund could grow by $95 million from one year to the next and still be far below where it was only a few years before. The trigger, which was meant to go into effect in times of prosperity, could hit when we’re only starting to come out of the three-year hole we’re still sinking into [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Tax hike appears inevitable in Kansas after schools ruling: A big tax increase for Kansas appears inevitable as the state wrestles with budget problems that have left even Republicans ready to roll back income tax cuts that are Gov. Sam Brownback’s biggest political legacy. A Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state isn’t spending enough money on its public schools only bolstered many lawmakers’ support for raising income taxes. The state’s highest court directed legislators to enact a new school funding law by June 30 without setting a spending target, though figures lawmakers are circulating involve hundreds of millions of new dollars [Associated Press].

War of words continues over state’s fiscal direction: Gov. Mary Fallin and her Finance Secretary, Preston Doerflinger, are in a war of words with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative free-enterprise group that has had considerable impact on state GOP fiscal policy over the past two decades. In early February, the OCPA criticized Fallin’s budget proposal because it included several tax increases and a broadening of the sales tax base. The OCPA also put out recommendations it said would net the state $413 million. The recommendations ranged from Medicaid audits to tapping the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to eliminating promotional “swag” passed out by the Department of Tourism and other state agencies [Tulsa World].

Do ‘sin taxes’ really work? Here in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed to boost state revenues by increasing the cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack. Last Month, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee voted to advance the bill, which is projected to generate additional annual revenues of more than $250 million. “A tax on tobacco is probably the easiest revenue-raising proposal that you can pass,” said House Speaker Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka. That’s because such taxes are also seen to serve a second purpose: curbing the behavior that they tax [Dr. Stephen Prescott / The Oklahoman]. The Oklahoman Editorial Board voiced its support for increasing the cigarette tax [NewsOK]

Officials: Cuts impact Oklahoma’s future: Printer paper, writing utensils, computers, quality employees — all these things are essential for running a school, but with several years of state budget shortfalls, districts are finding new ways to do with little or without. Last fiscal year the state had a $1.3 billion budget shortfall. This year the state faces a $878 million budget shortfall, leaving several districts in the lurch. School districts figure their fiscal year budgets several months before the state releases their appropriation allocations. Karl White, Enid Public Schools chief financial officer, said that means most school districts have to review several scenarios, like budget cuts of 2, 4 and 6 percent [Enid News & Eagle].

Bills propose prosperity districts: Oklahoma could be the first state to take on an experimental district system that would allow participating residents and businesses to live under a totally separate – and significantly more lax – regulatory framework. A national free-market political organization, Compact for America, is pushing the experiment in a handful of conservative states, including Mississippi and North Dakota. Within “prosperity districts,” most state and local regulations get replaced by more lenient and business-friendly rules. Governing boards would, for the most part, replace nearby governments, creating what proponents call another governmental layer. A few services, such as criminal law enforcement, would continue to fall on counties and municipalities [Journal Record].

Bills would increase sources for rural road funding: When rural residents inside city limits need their roads improved, it can put county officials in a precarious place. They’re tasked with helping anyone living outside of the cities, but their money is limited to unincorporated areas. They can provide labor, said Cleveland County Commissioner Rod Cleveland. If they dole out their own road money, they can face charges for misappropriated funds [Journal Record].

House Joint Resolution 1015 could end Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and replace with Rural Health Care Infrastructure Fund: Since 2000, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust or TSET has given grants to schools, communities, state agencies and partner organizations for projects and research that improve the health of Oklahoma residents, primarily focusing on preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, Oklahoma’s leading cause of death. Two proposed measures in the state Congress — Joint House Resolution 1015 and House Bill 1245 — put the program at risk of being abolished. Joint House Resolution 1015, authored by state Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha) proposes amending the state Constitution so that future annual settlement payments will be allocated to the Oklahoma Rural Health Care Infrastructure Fund [Altus Times].

Needed DHS funding would save families, costs: Historically, the state through the Department of Human Services Aging Services Division has helped families access home and community-based services during the later stages of caregiving, giving the additional support to continue caring for loved ones at home. These services can include nutrition programs, home health, companion services, respite and adult day health services among others. Hundreds of caregivers in the Tulsa area rely on adult day health services to care for their loved ones while they are working. Utilizing adult day health enables them to focus on work and not worry about the safety of their loved ones [LIFE Senior Services CEO Laura Kenny / Tulsa World].

DHS gaps keep Laura Dester children’s shelter open years after closure announcement: Two years ago, state officials announced Tulsa’s Laura Dester shelter would eventually close. It’s still open, but plans haven’t changed. Since the announcement, the population at the shelter for abused and neglected children has drastically changed, from cottages filled with kids of all ages to a smaller and older group struggling with developmental, medical and behavioral needs. Two issues face the Oklahoma Department of Human Services with the closure of the shelter: finding specialized care and placement for these children and securing a community agreement on the next use for the 20-acre campus [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World].

“It would put us in a big bind,” Oklahoma City group fighting to keep pensions: Their meetings started out with only about a dozen people attending, but has grown to include over 100. The Oklahoma City Committee to Protect Pensions says they’re fighting for the pensions of more than 6,400 Oklahomans. The federal government took over the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund back in the 1980’s and commissioned Wall Street to manage it. But it has been slowly crumbling. Many believe poor management of the funds is to blame and they want the government to step in and do something before it’s too late [KFOR].

Quote of the Day

“It’s really just a matter of common sense. Family caregivers save the state money. If they weren’t available and willing to take on these responsibilities, thousands more Oklahoma seniors would be in nursing homes at the state’s expense. . . . We urge the Oklahoma Legislature to fully fund DHS’ supplemental budget request of $42 million in support of our elders and family caregivers that rely on home and community based services such as adult day health. If the state doesn’t support them on the front end, it will likely be paying four times more to care for our elders on the back end.”

-LIFE Senior Services CEO Laura Kenny (Source)

Number of the Day


Change in collections of court costs on felony cases in a sample of 9 Oklahoma district courts between 2003 and 2015. Collections of costs on civil cases rose 87.3% during the same period.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Are gains in black homeownership history? Black History Month celebrates the progress toward racial equality the United States has achieved and reminds us of the work that remains. Gains in black homeownership have been hard won, which amplifies our concern that in the last 15 years, black homeownership rates have declined to levels not seen since the 1960s, when private race-based discrimination was legal. Unless this setback to black homeownership is addressed, black families will rent for more years before homeownership than they did a few years ago. This will shrink the landscape of housing choice available to black families, increase their exposure to displacement, and delay or close off a key wealth-building mechanism [Urban Institute].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

One thought on “In The Know: Pawnee Nation Sues Oklahoma Oil Companies in Tribal Court Over Earthquake Damage

  1. All I can say is Colorado has so much extra revenue after fully finding education including new programs, the tax payers do not want the money freeing it up to help in other areas. Once we as a state can get passed Teffer Madness mentality and remember Genesis 1:12 and Genesis 1:26, we can turn out states economic woes relatively quickly.

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