In The Know: A look at grocery sales tax debate | Corp. Commissioner asks for ONG audit after 2021 winter storm | Religious charter school suit brings national attention | More

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. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

State Government News

Efforts to eliminate Oklahoma grocery tax stall despite bipartisan support: Although bipartisan support remains at the state Capitol for eliminating the state portion of the grocery tax, movement on the issue appears to have ground to a halt. Instead, the conversation has shifted to reducing personal income taxes. Legislative leaders and Gov. Stitt agree in principle about decreasing income taxes, but haven’t come to a consensus on the best path forward. [Oklahoma Voice]

Stitt hopeful for different outcome this time around on tax-cutting special session: Gov. Kevin Stitt is hoping for a better outcome for the special session he called for next month than he got in a previous one, when lawmakers left without cutting taxes. Stitt is asking lawmakers to return to the Capitol on Oct. 3 to consider reducing the state’s 4.75% personal income tax and finding a pathway to eliminate it, among other items. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma commissioner demands better audit of utility company, $1.3 billion spent in winter storm: Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony is asking Republican leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt to request a state audit of Oklahoma Natural Gas Company’s expenses related to Winter Storm Uri in 2021. Anthony also asked the trio to consider whether “any sitting Corporation Commissioners who willfully neglect to perform the duty of their public office should be investigated for having committed an impeachable offence.” Anthony made the request in a scathing, 16-page letter to Stitt, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat. Anthony said he also sent the document to each member of the Oklahoma Legislature. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma broadband board to select first high-speed internet expansion projects: State officials are starting the process to award hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to increase access to affordable, high-speed internet. Internet service providers can now apply for $374 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds through the Oklahoma Broadband Office. The initial funding will be awarded to projects that prioritize the highest number of connections, service speed, affordability and the type of internet connection. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • How tribal leaders, Oklahoma are working to bring broadband to rural areas [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Ecology Project: Eastern red cedar prompts ‘green Dust Bowl’ warning to lawmakers: State senators were told this week that Oklahoma needs to take full measure, spend more money and educate the public to reverse its losing battle against what one expert called “the green Dust Bowl.” Eastern red cedar is out of control on state lands. [Tulsa World]

Emergency Drought Commission releases remaining funds, extends completion deadline: The Emergency Drought Commission met Tuesday, Sept. 19, and voted to release all remaining funding allocated to the current Emergency Drought Cost-Share Program. The state legislature appropriated $17 million to the Emergency Drought Relief Fund in May. [CNHI]

Political notebook: Stitt says Republican presidential nomination ‘wide open’: Roundup on state-level political news, including the governor’s thoughts on the presidential race, an interim study on criminal charges against women with substance use disorders while pregnant, and more. [Tulsa World]

Capitol Insider: Attorney General questions Ethics Commission open meeting law compliance: Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond tells the Ethics Commission it may have violated the state’s Open Meeting Act during its search for a new executive director. [KGOU]

Federal Government News

D.C. Digest: Banged up Lucas returning to Washington; Mullin zings Gaetz: Third District Congressman Frank Lucas’ return to Washington, despite lingering physical limitations from his run-in with a bull several weeks ago, likely gives House leadership one more vote as it attempts to avert a shutdown of the federal government. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Opinion: Questions of tribal sovereign immunity and for-profit businesses: Last term, the Supreme Court addressed the application of tribal sovereign immunity in bankruptcy proceedings. The decision, which held that the bankruptcy code waived tribal sovereign immunity, followed passionate debate raising crucial questions about the intersection of modern business law and the rights of Native American tribes. And more debate is sure to come on when tribal business activities – as opposed to governmental activities – are entitled to sovereign immunity. [Randall J. Yates / Journal Record]

Voting and Election News

Young voters in U.S. and Oklahoma less likely to vote in 2024 or pick a political side: National polling and Oklahoma-specific data indicate young voters are more politically disengaged than older generations but also might be less polarized. About a third of young adults don’t intend to vote or participate civically in the 2024 elections, and 61% said they don’t align with either major political party, national polling of Americans age 18-24 found. [Oklahoma Voice]

Cheat sheet: Larry Bush, Johnny Jernigan face off in SD 32 Democratic primary”: Two Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination in the special primary election to succeed former GOP Sen. John Michael Montgomery in Senate District 32. [NonDoc]

Cheat sheet: Four compete in SD 32 Republican primary: Four people from a variety of backgrounds are pursuing the GOP nod in the Tuesday, Oct. 10, special primary election. With no runoff in special elections, the Republican candidate who finishes first Oct. 10 will advance to the Dec. 12 general election and face the winner of the two-person Democratic primary. [NonDoc]

Health News

Mexican abortion-pill networks reach across U.S. border to help immigrants without access: The Mexican Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling that abortion was no longer a crime — not even in places like Guanajuato, where it continues to be outlawed by the state. That same month across the border in the U.S., Texas instituted a so-called “fetal heartbeat bill” that effectively outlawed abortion. But suddenly, it was Mexico at the vanguard of abortion access. [News 21 via NonDoc]

Criminal Justice News

After 48 years behind bars, Glynn Simmons celebrates freedom from 1974 murder case: Glynn R. Simmons is ready to get on with living his life. Once sentenced to death, Simmons is finally free from a 1974 murder case after an Oklahoma County judge on Tuesday dismissed charges against him at the request of prosecutors. [Tulsa World]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Opinion: Poverty is a foe that can undermine children’s growth, lifelong well-being: Two recent studies show Oklahomans are struggling with poverty levels above the national average. A report released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau validated another report released earlier this year, the Kids Count Data Report, issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. [Joe Dorman / The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma ranked among top states for job resignation rates: Oklahoma has been ranked as the fifth-highest state in the country in job resignation rates, according to a national personal finance company. The state had 3.4% of workers leave their jobs last month and 3.06% of workers leave their jobs in the last year, according to WalletHub. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Legal fight over Oklahoma Catholic charter school draws help from national groups: The two sides squaring off over public funding for a Catholic charter school in Oklahoma have lawyered up. Already, 27 attorneys from six states and Washington, D.C., have signed on for the battle, which is in Oklahoma County now but may ultimately head to the U.S. Supreme Court. Several of the attorneys represent national groups that have been fighting in courts for decades over church-state issues. The Oklahoma case offers them a chance to test the question of whether a publicly funded Christian school would be an arm of the state — a “state actor,” in the legal parlance. The answer could have impacts well beyond Oklahoma’s borders. [The Oklahoman]

Lack of Rules Let Elite School Ignore Sexual Harassment and Bullying of Students: Following an Oklahoma Watch investigation into how the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics ignored female employees’ reports of sexual harassment and discrimination, former students of the school came forward with stories of how the misogynistic and toxic culture permeated their experiences, too. The school has operated for three decades without an employee handbook or agency rules prohibiting sexual harassment or abuse. [Oklahoma Watch]

Opinion: Oklahoma’s missed opportunity to strengthen Langston and higher education: After Oklahoma statehood in 1907, the racist tradition of providing less funding to Langston University (Oklahoma’s only Historically Black College and University) continued in an effort to ensure the continued subordination of Black students to white students in higher education. Oklahoma was no outlier in this respect. With the exception of Ohio and Delaware, every state that created institutions for racially segregated higher education underfunded their HBCUs compared to their public institutions for whites only. [Carla D. Pratt / The Oklahoman

General News

In 10 years serving Tulsa’s homeless, City Lights finds ‘everybody has something to give’: From the start of City Lights’ Night Light Tulsa program, which serves homeless people, the goal has been to create a community not of clients but of “friends and neighbors.” With City Lights marking its 10th anniversary Sept. 19, staff and supporters have been reflecting on all the opportunities they’ve had to give and to serve — and the many more that no doubt lie ahead. [Tulsa World]

North Tulsa grocery store owner says he’s “learned a lot”: Owner and CEO Aaron “AJ” Johnson has gained national recognition and support for his leadership at Oasis Fresh Market, but allegations of financial misconduct and a hostile work environment have embroiled majority-Black North Tulsa’s only grocery store in controversy. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Opinion: Fiestas de las Americas and more to anticipate: Every year between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, Americans celebrate this country’s varied Latin American cultures, histories and contributions during National Hispanic Heritage Month, and Oklahoma City and Tulsa have fun festivals and parades still to come. [Lillie-Beth Brinkman / Journal Record]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma City receives more than $50 million for wastewater projects [KOSU]
  • ‘A force for good in OKC’: How Debby Hampton has transformed United Way, Red Cross [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Theoretically, if we’re going to exempt groceries from the sales tax, we’re not really going to be providing a ton of relief to folks who really, genuinely need it. This would be an across-the-board tax cut that, unfortunately, wouldn’t have much effect at the lowest levels of our income spectrum in Oklahoma.”

-Emma Morris, OK Policy’s Health Care and Fiscal Policy Analyst, speaking about the negligible effects of cutting the grocery sales tax for low-income residents who don’t already pay sales taxes on groceries that are purchased with food stamps or funds from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). [Oklahoma Voice]

Number of the Day

4 in 5

81% of Latinos living in the country are U.S. citizens as of 2021, up from 74% in 2010. [Pew Research]

NOTE: National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Policy Note

Characteristics of Hispanic and Latino Workers in Oklahoma: Persons of Hispanic and Latino origin comprise 19% of the total U.S. population. That number is projected to increase for the foreseeable future. In Oklahoma, the Hispanic and Latino population makes up 11.7% of the entire state population. They are an integral and essential part of the Oklahoma workforce. The labor force participation rate among Hispanic and Latino workers has consistently been higher than the state and national rates for labor force participation. [Oklahoma Employment Security Commission]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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