Local & Regional

Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. emphasized his commitment to achieving "complete sovereignty" in his annual State of the Nation address on Saturday.

Tuesday's top stories:

• A temporary injunction preventing Oklahoma from enforcing its ban on public school mask requirements goes into effect this week.

• Gov. Kevin Stitt this weekend removed the only two physicians from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board of directors.

Oklahoma Starts Year With Its Most Emergency Teachers On Record

Sep 7, 2021
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

There are more than 2,600 emergency certified teachers approved to work in Oklahoma public school classrooms across the state, according to state data. The state Board of Education has approved 2,673 emergency teaching certificates for the current school year — 390 in June and 2,283 since July 1. 

Emergency certified educators are required to have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. 

School Districts Report Few Students Are Opting Out Of Mask Requirements

Sep 7, 2021
Edmond Public Schools

A temporary injunction blocking a law that bans mask mandates in schools goes into effect this week.

That should pave the way for school districts across the state to put mask mandates in their hallways and classrooms in place.


But how has it been working in schools that have already taken that approach?


Photo from office of Gov. Greg Abbott

On Sep. 1, Texas banned abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. Oklahoma is already seeing an uptick in women seeking care. 


Kailey Voellinger is the clinic director at Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City. She said her facility typically helps a variety of patients. 


“We serve a wide population. People from all walks of life: the homeless to the incarcerated, young people, women who have had five children and they’re 45.”


Voellinger said it’s the poor and disenfranchised who will suffer most from the ban. 


Oklahoma Prisons Locked Down After Inmate Attacks

Sep 3, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The head of Oklahoma's prison system ordered a statewide lockdown Friday after several inmates were injured in what authorities say were gang-related attacks.

Corrections Director Scott Crow ordered the lockdown Friday afternoon and canceled all visitation. Prison system spokesman Justin Wolf said he couldn't release many details because the incidents were still under investigation.

The Department of Corrections said apparent gang-related incidents occurred at six different prisons.

Joe Ravi / CC-BY-SA 3.0

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor says he is dropping his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the first-degree murder case of death row inmate Shaun Bosse.

A filing in the appeal asked the high court to find its July 2020 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma did not apply to criminal convictions before the decision or to overturn it completely. That ruling found the state had since statehood illegally prosecuted crimes involving Natives within the boundaries of tribal nations.

Groups across the political spectrum are urging state lawmakers to let them establish a system to automatically seal Oklahomans’ court and arrest records once they’ve completed their sentences.

With Oklahoma hospitals reporting some patients dying waiting for care at over-capacity hospitals and some being transferred to facilities in farflung states like South Dakota and Idaho amid the current COVID surge, the state's top health official said Thursday he believes state hospitals have the ability to take on more patients than they are.

Friday's top stories:

• Abortion rights advocates filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block a number of strict anti-abortion laws set to take effect in Oklahoma on Nov. 1.

• The city of Stillwater declared a state of emergency Thursday, citing no hospital capacity for either COVID or non-COVID patients.

Center for Reproductive Rights

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A coalition of abortion rights advocates, clinics and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block recent Oklahoma anti-abortion legislation from taking effect.

The lawsuit filed in a state district court in Oklahoma City aims to block legislation that Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law in April and that is due to take effect Nov. 1.

Facebook / Mayor Will Joyce

The mayor of Stillwater declared a state of emergency Thursday, saying the current surge in COVID cases had pushed the local hospital system to the brink.

"Our health professionals have incessantly warned us that we may reach the point when much-needed medical attention, COVID or non-COVID related, may not be available,” Mayor Will Joyce said in a news release. “We have now reached that critical threshold where our hospital no longer has available staffed beds and without each of us making necessary health changes, the trajectory is anticipated to continue declining.”


According to the latest state epidemiology report, between August 22nd and August 28th, COVID cases rose in the state 33%. But test positivity has slumped from a recent high of around 25% to 18%.

Dr. David Kendrick, chair of medical informatics at University of Oklahoma, says the difference is because testing has increased significantly in the state.

“There’s three times as much testing happening now then was happening in July. Now we’re in a situation where we have known exposures coming in. And so people are getting tests to prove they aren’t positive.”

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Democrat who lost a U.S. Senate race in Oklahoma in 2020 said Wednesday that she will challenge the incumbent Republican for a U.S. House seat that was successfully targeted by the GOP in a hotly contested 2020 campaign.

Abby Broyles said she she will oppose first-term Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice for the 5th Congressional District seat representing central Oklahoma, including Oklahoma City.

Bice defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, winning 52% of the vote in the 2020 race that was targeted by the Republican Congressional Committee.

Oklahoma construction firms are 33% more likely than the country as a whole to say a worker shortage is making projects take longer to finish, and vaccine hesitancy appears not to be helping matters for anyone.

According to a 2021 workforce survey by Associated General Contractors of America, 81% of Oklahoma firms responding said a labor shortage is holding up projects, compared to 61% of firms nationwide.

Nationally and in Oklahoma, more than 80% of companies said they are having a hard time finding laborers, truck drivers and a variety of trades.

Philbrook Museum of Art will host an exhibition next year featuring works of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her partner, Diego Rivera. 

"Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism" is made up of pieces from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. Philbrook President and CEO Scott Stulen said the exhibit’s 150-plus items have recently been on an international tour.

Thursday's top stories:

• A judge in Oklahoma County issued an injunction Wednesday, temporarily halting the state from enforcing a ban on public school mask mandates.

• The Tulsa City Council voted Wednesday to approve an incentive program that provides for cash payments to vaccinated municipal employees.

Oklahoma's Ban On School Mask Mandates Is On Hold. Here's What You Need To Know

Sep 1, 2021
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma’s law preventing schools from mandating masks is temporarily on hold due to a judge’s ruling Wednesday morning. 

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has set tentative dates for clemency hearings for high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones and five others who have exhausted their legal appeals.

The clemency hearings for the inmates would take place 21 days before their scheduled executions, according to The Oklahoman.

Formal approval of the hearing dates will not be made until the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals weighs whether the capital punishments may move forward.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Updated Sept. 1, 6:15 p.m.

Tulsa City Councilors on Wednesday approved a proposal to spend almost $1.8 million in federal virus relief program on a campaign encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

The city’s American Rescue Plan Working group pitched giving employees who are or who get fully vaccinated $250. They must do so by Oct. 15 to receive the stipend

Workers in departments that hit a 70% vaccination rate can receive another $250 beginning Nov. 1.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has not touched $164 million lawmakers appropriated to pay for the state’s 10% share of the program’s costs.

OHCA CEO Kevin Corbett told lawmakers this week federal virus relief funds and savings from shifting thousands of people from fully state-funded coverage to the expanded Medicaid program are enough to cover costs right now. Around 65,000 people with health coverage through entirely state-funded programs qualified for insurance under Medicaid expansion.

Roland Leach / U.S. Air Force

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma judge on Wednesday said she will temporarily block a state law banning public school mask mandates, but students or their parents can opt out of the requirement if they choose.

Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she issues a written order detailing her ruling. Mai said she is blocking the law because it applies only to public, not private, schools and that schools adopting a mask mandate must provide an option for parents or students to opt out of the requirement.

A law in Texas banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy went into effect today after a federal appeals court cancelled a hearing, and the U.S. Supreme Court failed to act on an emergency petition.


Tamya Cox-Touré is the executive director of Oklahoma’s American Civil Liberties Union branch and co-chair of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice. She said what’s historically been different in Oklahoma is that anti-abortion laws here have been struck down at the state level.


Wednesday's top stories:

• A judge in Oklahoma City will consider a lawsuit that alleges the state's ban on public school mask requirements is discriminatory against students who can't safely attend classes without universal masking.

• Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) allegedly threatened the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan during one of two attempts to reach Afghanistan with a large amount of cash. He claims to have been attempting to help evacuate an American family. 

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Oklahoma Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin's whereabouts were unknown Tuesday evening after reportedly threatening embassy staff in Tajikistan while attempting to reach Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post.

Oxygen Supplies Grow Precarious Amid COVID Surge

Aug 31, 2021

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The COVID-19 surge is stretching oxygen supplies and sending hospitals scrambling for more ventilators, even as there are signs of hope that the spread of the virus is slowing down in pockets of the U.S.

OKC Council Rejects Proposed Mask Mandate

Aug 31, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Council rejected a proposal Tuesday that would have reinstituted a mask mandate.

The council voted after hearing from dozens of residents in a packed room, most of whom opposed the mandate. One compared a mask requirement to Jim Crow laws.

“You couldn’t eat at a restaurant because you’re Black. You’re taking somebody’s individual freedom away” by mandating that people wear masks, James Rainey said.

Oklahoma Court Reverses McGirt Rulings In 4 Death Cases

Aug 31, 2021
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma appeals court on Tuesday reversed four of its previous rulings that overturned death penalty cases based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting state jurisdiction for crimes committed on tribal reservations.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals vacated rulings in the cases of death row inmates Shaun Bosse, James Ryder, Miles Bench and Benjamin Cole Sr.

Earlier this month the court ruled in a separate case that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in what is know as the McGirt case does not apply retroactively.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa Transit is studying a policy to encourage employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

General Manager Ted Rieck told the transit board of trustees on Tuesday they’ve hit a plateau at around 50% vaccinated. 

"In order to protect the employees as well as the riders, we want to get to a higher percentage compliance. So, we are going to study — we're certainly not ready to make a decision yet — whether to require either a vaccination or weekly testing of employees," Rieck said.

St. Francis Health System Supports City Mask Mandate

Aug 31, 2021

Mayor G.T. Bynum has said he isn’t able to support a mask mandate for the city of Tulsa without encouragement from the medical community. 


During a Monday press conference, St. Francis Health System CEO Dr. Cliff Robertson spoke in favor of masks for everyone.