Local & Regional

Tulsa Area United Way and YWCA Tulsa have joined in a Buy Black Tulsa campaign launched last month.

Fulton Street Books owner Onikah Asamoa-Ceasar originally planned it as a month-long campaign, but it’s now grown and Tulsa Area United Way is distributing a printed directory of Black-owned businesses. The nonprofit has nearly 1,000 business partners and more than 25,000 regional donors.

River Parks Authority

Plans are coming together for prescribed burns at Turkey Mountain.

The master plan for the wilderness area River Parks Authority adopted last year calls for burning to clear out overgrowth and promote a healthier forest. River Parks Event Coordinator Ryan Howell said Oklahoma Forestry Services is working on what he calls the "prescription" for the prescribed burns. a plan that takes into account weather conditions and the state of the urban wilderness.

Social media posts making claims about COVID-19 vaccines affecting life insurance policies have been making the rounds.

They say things like policies are invalidated if you get vaccinated or they won’t pay out if you die within a year of getting vaccinated. Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready has seen some posts and responded to a few himself.

"No, when you get a vaccine — the COVID-19 vaccine — it does not void your life insurance policy, or your health insurance policy for that matter, too," Mulready said.

File photo

The state unemployment agency is working on implementing two new federal relief programs.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission expects to start distributing $300 weekly benefits from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan by the end of next week.

The agency is also working on Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation, a new but optional program included in the COVID relief package signed by then-President Donald Trump in December. That program offers an additional $100 per week.

ORU men's basketball

Junior forward Kevin Obanor recorded a double-double Friday as the No. 15 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles knocked off the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes in overtime, 75–72.

Obanor scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in ORU’s first NCAA tournament win since 1974. With ORU trailing 64–62 with 15 seconds left in the second half, Obanor hit two free throws to tie the game.

Ohio State junior guard Duane Washington Jr. missed the game-winning jumper with three seconds left in regulation.

Oklahoma State Department of Health

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Friday 416 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 434,491.

Tulsa County had 54 of Friday's cases. Its total now stands at 72,223.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, fell from 447 to 446. The record of 4,256 was set Jan. 13. It has remained under 1,000 since Feb. 19.

Tulsa County's seven-day average held at 55 for a second day. The record is 647, set Jan. 9. It has remained below 100 since March 4.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health announced Friday any Oklahoman 18 or older is welcome at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Tulsa next weekend.

The 4,000-dose, drive-thru clinic will be March 26 and 27 at the fairgrounds’ River Spirit Expo Center. When it was announced earlier this week, eligibility was limited to Native Americans and their non-Native family members and caregivers.

Courtesy Cherokee Nation

Following in the footsteps of some other Oklahoma tribes, the Cherokee Nation announced Thursday it will now schedule vaccination appointments for anyone who wants one, regardless of their Tribal citizenship status or even what state they live in.

“Our Cherokee Nation health team was extremely successful in ensuring we reached our most vulnerable populations, including Cherokee elders and first responders, when our first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in December,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement.

Friday's top stories:

• OU Health held a remembrance ceremony Thursday night for the 7,644 Oklahomans reported killed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the year since the first confirmed death was reported on March 18, 2020.

• Cherokee Nation held its own remembrance ceremony in Tahlequah at the same time. Merle Dry, 55, of Tulsa, was both the first Oklahoman and first Cherokee citizen known to have been killed by the virus. 106 Cherokees are known to have died since.

OU Health

OU Health officials, health care providers, members of the clergy and musicians from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic gathered at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City Thursday night for a ceremony marking one year since the first reported COVID-19 death in the state.

On the hospital campus, a candle was lit for each of the 7,644 Oklahomans reported killed by the virus since March 18, 2020, when 55-year-old Tulsa pastor Merle Dry became Oklahoma's first known fatality of the pandemic.

Cherokee Nation

The first confirmed COVID-19 death in Oklahoma -- that of 55-year-old Tulsa pastor Merle Dry -- was reported on March 18, 2020. 

A Cherokee citizen, Dry was remembered along with 106 other Cherokees known to have been killed by the virus at a Thursday ceremony in Tahlequah exactly one year after he became the first fatality.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan includes $130 billion in COVID relief for local governments, and some details about how that breaks down are starting to come out.

Tulsa County District 1 Chief Deputy Commissioner Mike Craddock said during a Thursday River Parks Authority meeting they expect $127 million. 

An executive at the Southwest Power Pool told state regulators on Thursday they are conducting a comprehensive review of their response to Feburary’s winter storms, which included rolling blackouts for thousands of Oklahomans during subzero temperatures.

Tulsa County Sheriff's Office

This story was updated at 2:37 p.m. to include comment from the Tulsa County District Attorney's office received after initial publication.

Tulsa County must pay $175,000, the maximum allowed under statute, to a Tulsa man who suffered injuries during a 2016 incident in which Tulsa County Jail detention officers violently handled him, a jury has found.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

This story was updated at 6:18 a.m. on Friday, March 19th, to include a statement from Rep. Markwayne Mullin received after initial publication.

The often-united, all-G.O.P. Oklahoma delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives diverged on Wednesday, with three of five representatives breaking ranks to join Democrats in voting to renew the Violence Against Women Act. 

Reps. Stephanie Bice, Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole were among just 29 House Republicans to vote for the reauthorization of the 1994 law.

Whitney Bryen-Oklahoma Watch

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday ruled the state did not have jurisdiction to prosecute a former Tulsa police officer who was convicted of manslaughter in 2017 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Former Tulsa officer Shannon James Kepler, 60, is a member of Creek Nation who was convicted of killing his daughter’s boyfriend in Tulsa on land within the historic reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Attorneys general from 21 states on Wednesday sued to to overturn President Joe Biden’s cancellation of the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. 

Led by Ken Paxton of Texas and Austin Knudsen of Montana, the states said Biden had overstepped his authority when he revoked the permit for the Keystone pipeline on his first day in office.

Thursday's top stories:

• Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate want Congress to pass a resolution recognizing the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the ongoing legacy of white supremacy and racist violence. None of Oklahoma's all-Republican federal delegation answered whether or not they would support it.

• Civil rights groups and activists are watching closely to see whether proposed anti-protest legislation will be signed into law in Oklahoma.

As the Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the Equality Act, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford laid out his case for opposing it on religious grounds.

The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity while expanding the definition of public accommodations. Lankford said the new definition will cover churches in some cases and expose them to liability.

Civil rights groups and activists say Oklahoma is not alone in considering a flurry of anti-protest legislation after protests last year over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

"However, Oklahoma has the most anti-protest, anti-speech, anti-freedom bills — has one of the most anti-protest bills across the country," ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Tamya Cox-Touré said during a virtual town hall hosted by the Black Wall Street Times.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Wednesday it is changing how it reports COVID-19 data going forward.

"After a year of reporting daily numbers in many categories, with cases, deaths and hospitalizations all trending downward, and vaccination continuing to trend upward, we believe now is a good time to switch to weekly reporting. Data transparency has been and will continue to be important to OSDH, no matter the cadence of reporting," Deputy State Epidemiologist Joli Stone said in a statement.

Food and Drug Administration

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Indian Health Service will hold a 4,000 dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Tulsa next weekend.

Shots will be given March 26 and 27 in a four-lane drive-thru at the fairgrounds’ River Spirit Expo Center.

"So, we’re taking all Native Americans 18 years and older, non-Native American family members and caregivers of the Native household," said Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health Director of Environment of Care and Emergency Management Kami Willis.

Roe Fund / Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

The Roe Fund, an arm of the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, is a Tulsa-based nonprofit that provides direct financial assistance to Oklahomans seeking abortions. Board member Kurt Gwartney spoke with Public Radio Tulsa's Chris Polansky about what they do, the state of reproductive rights in Oklahoma, and how those intersect.

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PUBLIC RADIO TULSA: I was hoping you could start by just giving us a sort of overview of the Roe Fund and what it is you do.

Color of Change

Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced a resolution in each chamber that would recognize the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and condemn historic and ongoing systemic racism. 

Wednesday's top stories:

• Oklahoma's Mike Hunter joined with 21 other state attorneys general to request clarification from the Biden administration on what he sees as a potentially "unconstitutional" stipulation in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package regarding state tax cuts.

• Tulsa Public Schools officials say they will benefit from the federal relief package and plan to use the funds for support programming and services to help students overcome pandemic-associated "learning loss."

Tulsa Public Schools

Tulsa Public Schools is making plans for funding expected under President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, a top official told NPR Tuesday.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation will be installing 400 new Route 66 signs along highways and interstates ahead of the Mother Road’s 2026 centennial.

"These signs will ensure motorists have an easier way to spot the Mother Road in Oklahoma and bring awareness to this incredible treasure we have in the state. Oklahoma has more drivable miles of Route 66 than any other state, with over 400 miles stretching from Quapaw in northeast," said a statement from the office of Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who is also the state secretary of tourism and branding.

KWGS News File Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State prison inmates in Oklahoma will again be allowed visitors, more than six months after visitations were suspended due to the coronavirus, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced Tuesday.

“Staff and inmate vaccinations offer protection to our facilities and communities and make it possible to resume visitation” starting April 1, according to a statement from DOC director Scott Crow.

Inmate visitation was suspended Sept. 30 in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

Oklahoma Watch

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A provision of the latest federal stimulus package could threaten a series of state tax cut bills moving through the Legislature, Attorney General Mike Hunter said Tuesday.

Hunter, a Republican, said a provision in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed by Congress by party-line votes prohibits states from cutting taxes until 2024 if they get funds from the $1.9 trillion package.

Oklahoma builders are more likely than the rest of the country to have projects delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a new survey from the Associated General Contractors of America, 71% of firms nationwide are seeing project delays or disruptions. Here in Oklahoma, 82% of firms surveyed said that’s the case.

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