In The Know: Record-tying Oklahoma earthquake felt as far away as Arizona

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.

Today In The News

Record-tying Oklahoma earthquake felt as far away as Arizona: A record-tying earthquake in the edge of Oklahoma’s key energy-producing areas rattled the Midwest from Illinois to the southwest part of Texas on Saturday, bringing fresh attention to the practice of disposing oil and gas field wastewater deep underground. The United States Geological Survey said a 5.6 magnitude earthquake happened at 7:02 a.m. Saturday in north-central Oklahoma, on the fringe of an area where regulators had stepped in to limit wastewater disposal [Associated Press]. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission moved to shut down 37 disposal wells in the area [Fox 25] and indicated that more actions may follow [OK Energy Today]. Governor Fallin declared a state of emergency for Pawnee County [KFOR].

Oklahoma lawmakers passed numerous bills raising fines, fees: The Oklahoma Legislature passed a number of measures this year that may raise fines or fees. A one-time, $5 fee to pay for new license plates will generate an estimated $18.5 million, plus an additional $4 million through increased compliance with registration laws. Another measure increased court fees for divorce and related matters, which will raise $11.2 million for the state [NewsOK]. The revenue from the new license plate fee will be split by the state and a 3M company [NewsOK]. The 2016 legislative session began with hope of progress on fines and fees, but last-minute legislation hiked them even further [OK Policy].

Expectations Remain High As Funding Decreases For OK Schools: It’s not just elementary and secondary schools in Oklahoma that are suffering from big budget cuts. State funding per student at the state’s colleges and universities are down 22 percent since 2008, and that’s having a big impact on both the schools and young people counting on a college degree to advance in life. All across the country, it’s a struggle to fund education from kindergarten through higher education, but add in tuition hikes and cuts in campus staff, and the quality of higher education here in Oklahoma has some concerned [NewsOn6]. Oklahoma leads the nation in cuts to general state aid to schools since 2008 [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

Nine Oklahoma Senate races to watch this November: Last week’s runoff elections helped clear the picture for this November’s legislative races. With half the Senate’s 48 members up for election, it looks like there will be at least nine competitive Senate general election races — three seats currently held by Democrats and six by Republicans. In Senate District 1, Michael Bergstrom, a high school English teacher in Bluejacket Public Schools, is the Republican candidate against John Myers, a long time veterinarian from Vinita [OK Policy].

At least 31 Oklahoma public school teachers are in November’s election for legislative seats: Educators running for office in Oklahoma have drawn headlines this election season, but the often called “teachers caucus” has included not only candidates with teaching experience, but those who are related to a teacher or someone who simply claims to be pro public schools. With the general election field finally set, at least 31 candidates for state House and Senate seats appear to be current or former public school teachers who said running for office was partly inspired by a desire to improve schools, according to an analysis by The Oklahoman [NewsOK].

Voters to decide the fate of seven state questions on Nov. 8: Voters on Nov. 8 will decide the fate of seven state questions. They range from a proposed 1-cent increase in the sales tax to fund education to modernizing the state’s alcohol laws. Lawmakers placed four of the questions on the ballot through legislative referendums, while voters stuck three others on the ballot through the initiative petition process [Tulsa World]. Read more about all of the state questions [OK Policy].

Many in Oklahoma believe process for state questions unfair: After pushing for 90 days, volunteers and proponents of the latest medical marijuana initiative (State Question 788) thought their work was done. Discovering that medical marijuana would not be on the Nov. 8 ballot left many advocates angry. Many feel they were betrayed by Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who they believe is working to sabotage their efforts [Norman Transcript].

State Question 777: Proposal hot debate over Right to Farm: A hot-button issue being debated before Nov. 8 is State Question 777, the Right to Farm proposal. Passed by the Legislature last year, the measure calls for a statewide vote on whether the right to farm and ranch in Oklahoma shall be “forever guaranteed.” Supporters say the proposed constitutional amendment was prompted in part by a California proposal that placed restrictions on the size of cages housing egg-laying hens and that the measure would prevent animal rights groups from changing agriculture practices in Oklahoma [Shawnee News-Star]. The Oklahoma City Council told voters to study the effects of SQ 777 [NewsOK], and the Kirkpatrick Foundation announced its opposition [McAlester News-Capital].

SQ 776 would add execution language to state constitution: When Oklahomans carry their ballots behind the dividers this Nov. 8, some may be surprised by how many decisions they will be asked to make. In addition to federal, state and local races, voters will be asked to approve or reject a hay trailer of state questions – seven in all. One of those ballot measures is State Question 776 [Tahlequah Daily Press].

State Question 779 is an investment in a future we won’t live to see: This August around 680,000 Oklahoma students returned to school, 90 percent of whom returned to a public school. While they are in our care, school needs to be the safest, most uplifting, and most positively stimulating place in their lives — just the way we would want it to be for our own children or grandchildren. However, I have serious concerns about how our public schools will be able to financially maintain and staff the educational programs, services, and supports critical for student success [Kirt Hartzler / Tulsa World]. Read our statement on SQ 779 here.

Paradox of teacher hiring in Oklahoma seen in layoffs, emergency certifications: Months after cutting over 200 teacher positions due to state budget cuts, Oklahoma City Public Schools requested nearly as many emergency teacher certificates to fill vacancies across the district. Schools in Tulsa, Midwest City and Norman have also cut teacher positions while seeking noncertified teachers to fill vacancies the following school year [NewsOK].

Oklahoma officials release breakdown of how $140 million will be spent: After millions of dollars were mistakenly cut from state agencies last fiscal year, those agencies are getting a partial refund. Last fiscal year, state agencies were forced to make drastic cuts to cover a $1.3 billion budget shortfall. Many of those cuts resulted in the loss of jobs, programs and assistance for Oklahoma families [KFOR]. After two revenue failures, Oklahoma ended the year with surplus. What? [OK Policy]

State agencies’ budgets stretched thin despite surplus return: Millions of dollars in surplus funds will be returned to state agencies, after excessive cuts were made during the state’s revenue failures. Gov. Mary Fallin had previously talked about going into a special session and putting this money toward teacher raises. On Thursday, however, she announced the money will go back to the various agencies [KOCO].

New ethics rules have Oklahoma legislators repaying campaigns for football tickets, other expenditures: Some state legislators misused their campaign donations this year to make purchases forbidden by tougher new ethics rule, records show. Among the banned items are University of Oklahoma football tickets. Also banned are Oklahoma State University tickets, home mortgage payments, vacation costs, concert tickets, country club dues and even gas bought for the campaign trail [NewsOK].

Plans To Kick Auditor Out Of Oklahoma Capitol Derailed: The $245 million renovation of Oklahoma’s state Capitol has led to allegations of a space grab. Officials planned to boot Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and about two dozen of his employees out of the building, but that was derailed after Jones refused to go along. The Cache Republican, who’s been a frequent and vocal critic of the Legislature, accused it and state officials of a space grab [Associated Press].

Cherokee Nation to purchase Sequoyah’s Cabin historic site from the state: The onetime home of Sequoyah, legendary Cherokee statesman and inventor of the Cherokee syllabary, will soon be in Cherokee Nation hands. As first reported in the Sequoyah County Times, the tribe has announced it has agreed to buy Sequoyah’s Cabin — a National Historic Landmark and popular area tourist attraction — from the Oklahoma Historical Society. The society, which has owned and operated the property for 80 years, had been looking at options for the cabin, needing to divest itself of the property due to state budget cuts, officials said [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“These types of investments are not easy. They require us all to be courageous, disciplined, focused, and faithful to ensuring that Oklahoma is highly desired for its quality of life and economic viability. Today, more than ever, we must start investing in a future we may never see.”

-Union Public Schools Superintendent Kirt Hartzler, urging voters to pass SQ 779, the penny sales tax for education (Source). Read our statement on SQ 779 here.

Number of the Day


Number of families receiving TANF cash assistance in Oklahoma in 2014, out of 101,956 families living in poverty

Source: Marketplace

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Even violent crime victims say our prisons are making crime worse: A first-of-its-kind national survey finds that victims of crime say they want to see shorter prison sentences, less spending on prisons and a greater focus on the rehabilitation of criminals. The survey, conducted in April and released Thursday by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform group, polled the attitudes and beliefs of more 800 crime victims pooled from a nationally representative sample of over 3,000 respondents [Wonkblog].

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.