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Oklahoma Supreme Court tosses Gov. Stitt's new compacts with two tribes

OKLAHOMA CITY — The gaming compacts Gov. Kevin Stitt signed with two tribes are invalid, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, filed suit June 4 challenging Stitt’s ability to bind the state to provisions in the compacts that are not allowed in state law.

Stitt signed the compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes, and the compacts were deemed approved by inaction from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The court ruled that the governor must negotiate compacts within the bounds of the laws enacted.

“The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes are invalid under Oklahoma law,” the opinion states. “The State of Oklahoma is not and cannot be legally bound by those compacts until such time as the Legislature enacts laws to allow the specific Class III gaming at issue, and in turn, allowing the Governor to negotiate additional revenue.”

The vote was 7-1 with one justice recusing.

“Today’s decision confirms what the tribes have been saying since Gov. Stitt first launched his go-it-alone drive to rewrite our compacts,” said Matthew L. Morgan, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association chairman. “We believe firmly that the state-tribal relationship works best when we each act within the roles we have under the law.”

Stitt said the decision highlights an apparent conflict between state and federal law, adding that Oklahoma must address the entire gaming framework so all tribes can legally game.

Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton said the Oklahoma Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate the compacts.

“We will continue to operate under the remaining terms of our compact pursuant to the severability clause of the compact, and we will refrain from operating any game that is not authorized under state law,” Shotton said.

Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson Sr. said the compact is legal under federal law.

“We intend to continue operating under the terms of the compact outside of offering games not currently authored by state law,” he said.

Treat said the issue has always been about preserving the separation of powers.

“When one branch of government acts outside of its authority, the other branches must take steps to restore the balance of power,” Treat said.

A similar second suit filed July 14 by the two legislative leaders is also pending before the state’s high court. It concerns compacts Stitt signed July 1 with the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town.

Meanwhile, a federal judge is poised to determine if other compacts automatically renewed.

On Dec. 31, some tribes sued Stitt seeking a determination that their compacts automatically renewed. Stitt believes the compacts expired Jan. 1 and is seeking higher exclusivity fees. Tribes pay the state fees for the exclusive right to operate Class III games.

Stitt believes that Class III gaming, which includes slot machines, is no longer legal because the compacts expired.

From December 2019: Oklahoma’s gaming tribes declined Gov. Kevin Stitt’s proposed compact extension

Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about tribal gaming in Oklahoma.

Tribal gaming 101: What you need to know about Oklahoma tribal gaming

Tulsa mask mandate being received in different ways, business owners say

Small businesses that put a face on the city of Tulsa’s new mask ordinance agree on one thing: How it’s received depends on the patron.

Libby Billings owns three local restaurants — Elote, Roppongi and The Vault — and the only issues have originated at The Vault, which has a higher price point, she said.

“We have had some very upset customers there,” Billings said. “We’ve had customers who refuse to eat there (because of the ordinance). ...

“I hate to use the word ‘entitled,’ but I do think some of the guests at the more expensive restaurants are used to getting their way. We are upholding the law because we want to be as safe as possible.”

The ordinance includes an exception for people eating and drinking in restaurants, but the eateries contain common areas where social distancing can’t be maintained.

During a recent, sparsely crowded evening at The Vault, Billings said a patron refused a manager’s request to wear a mask.

“He said, ‘Why? I don’t see any people,’” Billings said. “And she said, ‘I’m a person.’ It’s like he hadn’t even considered that our staff are humans. ... I don’t think it even occurred to him that our staff are putting themselves at risk every day, and it’s not just about the customers around us.”

Billings makes $1 masks available at all her establishments.

“We’re treating people coming into the restaurants who aren’t wearing masks the same way that if someone tried to drink without having an ID,” she said. “It’s a law that we’re expected to uphold. We could get in trouble if we don’t.”

The mask ordinance, which went into effect last week, applies to people 18 years of age and older and says those “located within Public Service Areas of Places of Public Accommodation or an Educational Building are required to wear face coverings at all times when present therein. Except as otherwise provided herein, persons in any Public Setting wherein social or physical distancing cannot be maintained are required to wear face coverings.”

The measure contains several exceptions, but there is no specific fine or penalty for violators. People who refuse to wear a face covering, though, can be subject to prosecution under criminal trespassing, disturbing the peace or a similar offense.

Tulsa Police still are waiting on a legal opinion on enforcing the mask ordinance, or for punitive measures to be added to it, before responding to solely mask-related calls, TPD spokeswoman Jeanne Pierce said.

The department will continue to respond to trespassing complaints by business or property owners about unmasked individuals refusing to leave, she said Tuesday. But because the ordinance lacks any defined punishments like a citation or sentence, the department will not respond to complaints about individuals reportedly not wearing masks.

“They (police) are enforcing it,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “It’s just a unique situation because it’s not an ordinance that proscribes a new penalty. What it does is establish that it is the law for people to be complying with it. Then it empowers a property owner to call the police if someone won’t put their mask on or leave the property. Then the police can enforce the trespass ordinance. It utilizes other existing penalties under existing law.”

The public’s reception to the measure has been “really positive,” the mayor said.

“I think businesses appreciate an ordinance that makes very clear what their customers need to be doing,” Bynum said. “We’ve seen a lot of compliance there. I think everyday Tulsans appreciate having that expectation established.

“Over the weekend we saw a much broader utilization of masks and heard from business owners who appreciated it. And (I) also heard from Tulsans who said they felt safe to go out of their homes for the first time in months because they knew people would be wearing masks in the stores they went into.”

Clay Bird owns Bird’s Liquor and Wines, a Tulsa business that has been in the family about 40 years. He said that without detailed punitive measures, the ordinance places the enforcement onus on proprietors.

“If customers are coming in and they don’t want to wear a mask, what am I supposed to do as a business owner?” said Bird, a former economic development director for the city. “Somebody’s been shopping at this store for 40 years, and they are a great customer and they walk in without a mask, and I’m going to call the police and say 'I have a trespasser'? That’s going to be good for business.”

Bird said he wears a mask while in the store and that the majority of his customers do. But if he sees patrons without face coverings, he doesn’t ask them to don one.

“We have places like Costco and Walmart,” he said. “They are big enough entities that they can mandate to their customers that you don’t come in without a mask. It’s not like it’s going to devastate their business in any form or fashion.”

Bird said the mandate could provoke a confrontation between the masked and unmasked.

“If I get two of those in here at the same time, and one is like, ‘You need to call the police on him. He’s not wearing a mask,’ I’m not going to do that. Then they say, ‘I’m not shopping here anymore.’ Either way, I’ve lost one of those customers forever.”

QuikTrip has communicated the mask mandate to all of its employees, QT spokeswoman Aisha Jefferson-Smith said.

“All our City of Tulsa stores have big red posters in A Frames, and decals that are placed at eye level at all entry points to inform our customers of the Tulsa mandate for wearing facial coverings,” she said in a statement. “In addition, we have signage of the mandate at our check-stands that asks our customers for their cooperation, which is appreciated.”

Eric Marshall, co-founder and brew master of Marshall Brewing Co., said his Tulsa brewery implemented a mask policy several weeks before the city set guidelines. For a minimal charge, customers without a face covering can buy one.

“We had a few people get a little chippy about it,” he said. “More than anything, once the ordinance passed, it was kind of, ‘Hey, this is everywhere.’ It gives our staff that was taking verbal abuse a little bit more to go on than before.

“The safety aspect is the most important to us. If some people choose not to come to our place because of that, then so be it. But now we’re in a position of hey, everybody has to do this. That certainly helps.”

Tom Bennett Jr. is co-CEO and chairman of the board for First Oklahoma Bank, which has a Tulsa branch.

“I think it’s a good ordinance. I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “To me, it’s not unlike asking people to not smoke in our building, which we also ask. It could negatively affect other people’s health, and that’s just courteous.”

The bank has given away thousands of masks and keeps them on hand for customers.

“We’re going to get through this COVID time and return to a new normal,” Bennett said. “But in the interim, we need to be helpful to each other to the extent we’re able to protect each other’s health.”

World staff writers Randy Krehbiel and Stetson Payne contributed to this story.


COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

Discovery Tuesday creates some excitement among Oaklawn researchers searching for Race Massacre graves

A pair of shoes recovered more than 10 feet below ground has caused some excitement among researchers at Oaklawn Cemetery, State Archeologist Kary Stackelbeck said Tuesday.

“We encountered some shoes that were actually different than we had found elsewhere in the excavation process,” said Stackelbeck. “We found a pair of shoes that appeared to have been laid on this surface. That was quite different than what we were seeing elsewhere. Context is everything, so that was a really good find.”

The “surface” to which Stackelbeck referred is the top of a strata the archeologists believe may have existed at the time of Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre. After seven days of excavating, the crew thinks it may have established a baseline for its search for unmarked burials from the most violent episode in the city’s history.

This particular discovery attracted attention because shoes placed on top of graves or coffin lids is a practice sometimes associated with African American burials.

The shoes and a decorative pail found with them have been kept from public view but a glimpse of them suggests something of indeterminate age and manufacture. Stacklebeck said the shoes will be examined by an expert in the field in the next few days.

In any event, Stackelbeck and her crew interpreted the artifacts and a change in soil as a sign they had likely reached what would have been ground level 100 years ago.

So, at the south end of the long, narrow and deep “Trench B,” a wide ramplike “Trench C” was dug on Tuesday.

This allowed workers to drive a backhoe into the hole and further excavate the junction of the two trenches where the shoes and pail were found.

By Tuesday evening, the backhoe had reached 15 feet or more and struck bedrock, Stackelbeck said in her daily summary.

The digging produced several artifacts, including what appeared to be vintage bottles, glassware and at least one vase, as well as at least one more shoe. But there were no human remains.

Over the next few days, Stackelbeck said, the plan is to extend Trench C eastward a short distance to the vicinity of some known grave sites. The objective is to either find burials from 1921 in this section on the west edge of Oaklawn or definitively exclude it.

Stories of unmarked burials of people killed May 31-June 1, 1921, have circulated since the very day of the event. Many locations for these burials have been suggested but none has ever been found.

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Gallery: Digging continues Tuesday for Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery

Gallery: Digging continues Tuesday for Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery

COVID-19: State announces 894 new cases Tuesday, another 820 from past two days' backlog

Interim Commissioner of Health Lance Frye announced 894 new cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Frye also revealed an 820-case backlog from Sunday and Monday’s totals.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said in a news release Monday that the totals reported those days, 168 and 209, were low because of “technical data entry issues” and “do not reflect real-time data.”

The state’s total number of cases is now 27,147, Frye said, and 461 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the state.

Frye said the system the state uses to track case data “was never really designed for a pandemic” and that a replacement system was in the works.

However, he said he didn’t know how long that would take.

“It’s hard to predict whether (case reporting delays) are going to be ongoing,” he said. “(The system) crashed several times this week.

“They do have it back up and running today, and hopefully it will stay that way.”

Frye also said he believed the state will be caught up on the actual number of cases and that there’s “no question” about the accuracy of the numbers.

“We go in and reverify every one of those cases to make sure they are not counted more than once,” he said.

Frye made the comments during a Zoom news conference with Gov. Kevin Stitt and state hospital officials.

Stitt, who tested positive for the virus last week and remains in home quarantine, gave a brief update on his health — saying he felt good with “just a little bit of stuffiness.”

But Stitt did not take questions.

“Governor Stitt had to run to another meeting and will not be available for questions this afternoon,” the Governor’s Office wrote in the chat window of Tuesday’s Zoom meeting.

Frye and health officials from several hospital systems said the state’s hospital infrastructure remains capable of handling the current spike.

“Oklahoma’s hospital infrastructure remains in a strong position,” he said.

Stitt said: “Should Oklahoma experience a worst-case scenario, we always have the levers to pull nonemergency surgeries.

“We do not want to get to this point. We want to practice measures … so we never have to flip these switches.”

Stitt also said the state’s stockpile of personal protective equipment remains strong.

“We really feel like we’re in a great position on the PPE side,” he said.

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Interactive graphic: See number of active COVID-19 cases by county

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COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues