Local & Regional

U.S. Department of Justice

While the majority of Senate Republicans voted Wednesday against the confirmation of Merrick Garland to serve as President Joe Biden's attorney general, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe and James Lankford broke ranks and joined Democrats to vote in favor.

Lankford's office declined comment and Inhofe's office did not return a request for comment on the 70-30 vote. In a Facebook Live video posted Wednesday evening, though, Lankford discussed nominations, generally.

Gov. Kevin Stitt plans not to renew statewide COVID restrictions expiring tomorrow.

Stitt said during a Thursday news conference with good progress on vaccination and new cases and hospitalizations down to early summer levels, he believes a mask requirement in state buildings and 50% capacity limits on certain events are no longer needed.

Oklahoma House of Representatives

In a late vote in the early morning hours Wednesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill that would grant protections to drivers who use their cars to injure or kill protestors, if they were "fleeing a riot" and claimed "a reasonable belief [that] their actions were necessary to protect them from serious injury or death."

Thursday's top stories:

• After a similar day in the House, the Oklahoma Senate passed a number of bills meant to significantly restrict abortion care.

• The City of Tulsa unveiled a new initiative meant to close the pay gap between men and women in Tulsa County.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Five Oklahoma City police officers were charged Wednesday with first-degree manslaughter in last November’s fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy.

Officers responding to reports of an attempted armed robbery at an Oklahoma City convenience store shot Stavian Rodriguez on Nov. 23. TV news video appears to show Rodriguez outside a gas station, dropping a gun. The boy raises his hands, then lowers them before being shot.

FBI affidavit

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two more Oklahomans face charges in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, according to federal court documents in the District of Columbia.

An affidavit filed last week alleges Anthony Griffith, 56, and Jerry Ryals, 26, entered the Capitol illegally and disrupted congressional business. Both also face charges of disorderly conduct and Ryals faces a count of obstructing an official proceeding.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tuesday it was the state House, Wednesday it was the Senate passing a slate of bills to effectively ban abortion in Oklahoma.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum is challenging local businesses to help close the city’s gender pay gap by signing a pay equity pledge.

The Tulsa Pay Equity Pledge was proposed by the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women after the city audited its employee pay and found disparities.

Tulsa County women earn 84 cents to every dollar earned by men. Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women Vice Chair Dr. Meg Morgan said employers taking the pledge promise to tackle a variety of contributing issues.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Ellen Niemitalo, clinical services manager for the Tulsa Health Department, spoke with Public Radio Tulsa's Chris Polansky by phone on Tuesday about the department's new COVID-19 outreach initiatives to minority communities in partnership with the Oklahoma Caring Foundation / Oklahoma Caring Van.

Tuesday's top stories:

• Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday continued their attempts to implement sweeping new restrictions on abortion, passing multiple new bills meant to reduce access to the procedure.

Google Maps

The Cherokee Nation announced Tuesday it has opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to individuals who live within their reservation boundaries, including non-Natives.

Oklahoma House of Representatives

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Republican Oklahoma House member apologized to his colleagues on Tuesday for using a racist term to describe Black babies during a debate on the House floor.

Rep. Brad Boles, 37, a Republican from Marlow, used the term “colored” to describe Black babies during debate on an anti-abortion bill, while suggesting that abortion affects people of all races.

The top item on criminal justice reform advocates’ agenda has stalled as the Oklahoma legislature passed its first major deadline.

Senate Bill 704 would have greatly limited the practice of lengthening prison sentences because of someone’s previous, nonviolent felony convictions. According to Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, enhancements mean Oklahomans end up serving prison sentences 70% longer than the national average for property crimes and 79% longer for drug crimes. 

Serge Melki

Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday continued their attempts to implement sweeping new restrictions on abortion.

House Bill 1102 would add providing an abortion to a list of "unprofessional conduct" for doctors and require their license be suspended for at least one year. The bill allows an exception for abortions to save a mother’s life or prevent "irreversible physical impairment."

State officials say with a sharp decline in COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents and vaccinations happening at a good clip, in-person visits can resume.

Visitation to long-term care facilities was closed in mid-March 2020 because of the risk the disease posed to older Oklahomans.

"We know isolation has taken a toll on our nursing home residents, many of whom are suffering long-term impacts to their mental and physical health related to the separation from their loved ones, family caregivers, clergy and friends," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

Facebook / Jackson Lahmeyer

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A 29-year-old pastor from Tulsa confirmed Tuesday he plans to launch a Republican primary challenge to U.S. Sen. James Lankford in 2022.

OU Health

Oklahoma public health experts and officials weighed in Tuesday with their thoughts on the new COVID-19 guidance for fully vaccinated people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

"I have to tell you that I looked at social media and a lot of the news outlets that came out and said, 'Okay, you're fully vaccinated: You can get together without a mask.' That's not exactly what CDC said," said Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU Health chief COVID officer, on a virtual press briefing hosted by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition.

Food and Drug Administration

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Tuesday 270 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 429,432.

Tulsa County had 60 of Tuesday's cases. Its total now stands at 71,641, second to Oklahoma County's 81,815.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, rose from 611 to 633. The record of 4,256 was set Jan. 13. It has remained under 1,000 since Feb. 19.

Tulsa County's seven-day average rose from 83 to 91. The record is 647, set Jan. 9. It has remained below 100 since March 4.

Oklahoma State Department of Health

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility now expanded to the vast majority of Oklahoma adults, the state health department is urging everyone who qualifies -- including community and government leaders -- to seek out their shots as soon as possible. 

Tuesday's top stories:

• Oklahoma has opened to phase three of its vaccine distribution plan, making vaccine appointments available to more than two million Oklahomans. 

• The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted Monday to advance the commutation request of death row inmate Julius Jones, a Black man convicted of a 2002 Edmond murder and whose case has become high-profile on the national stage after a documentary and involvement of celebrities including Kim Kardashian

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3–1 on Monday to hold a second, in-depth hearing on Julius Jones’ commutation application. 

Commutation is a two-stage process in Oklahoma. Jones' application, the first in the state being considered from an inmate on death row, was on Monday's docket for its stage one hearing. Board members Kelly Doyle, Adam Luck and Larry Morris voted for it. Board member Allen McCall voted against it.

Mike Simons / Tulsa World pool photo

Many more Oklahomans can get COVID-19 vaccines starting Tuesday as the state opens eligibility to people in phase three.

Phase three includes college students; teachers at universities, technical schools and daycares; and people deemed essential workers under an executive order by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

U.S. Department of Defense

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Monday 165 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 429,162.

Tulsa County had 40 of Monday's cases. Its total now stands at 71,581, second to Oklahoma County's 81,751.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, fell from 641 to 611. The record of 4,256 was set Jan. 13. It has remained under 1,000 since Feb. 19.

Tulsa County's seven-day average fell from 85 to 83. The record is 647, set Jan. 9.

The White House

Cherokee Nation's nominee to represent the tribe as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives says President Joe Biden's early actions since taking office in January are encouraging signs for how Indian Country will fare under his administration. 

Monday's top stories:

• Monday marks the expansion of vaccine eligibility in Oklahoma to all individuals in the state's Phase 2 tier, with Phase 3 possible to open by early next month.

• Oklahoma Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe slammed Senate Democrats for approving President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Sen. Jim Inhofe

In separate statements over the weekend, Oklahoma's two Republican senators slammed the Saturday Senate passage of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill. 

Tulsa Airport

Next week is spring break, and Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart has some advice for families who may be considering getting out of town.

Oklahoma’s top transportation official is hoping lawmakers make progress soon on policies to generate highway funding from hybrid and electric vehicles.

The concern is those types of vehicles use less gasoline, meaning less gas tax revenue for road and bridge work. State Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz said last week there are many potential solutions, including registration fees or coming up with road user charges — essentially, a gallons of gasoline equivalent tax on electric miles traveled.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Oklahoma hits another pandemic milestone Saturday: 1 year since the state's first case of COVID-19 was publicly announced.

On March 6, 2020, Gov. Kevin Stitt joined then-State Health Commissioner Gary Cox, Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum to announce a man in his 50s who had recently traveled to Italy was the first Oklahoman with a confirmed case of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. 

Oklahoma State Department of Health

State health officials shared more good news Friday on the COVID-19 vaccination front.

"Now that there are three vaccines available and our overall supply is steadily increasing, we are ready to open up vaccine appointments for the remaining priority groups outlined in phase two of our state’s vaccination plan," Deputy State Health Commissioner Keith Reed said during a virtual media.