In The Know: Audit finds OSDH violated constitution | Sales tax relief credit | College cost burden on students, families

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.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: Taking a longer look at grocery sales tax relief: One of the proposals referenced in Monday’s State of the State address was elimination of the sales tax on groceries. While Oklahoma is one of the few states that fully tax groceries, I encourage lawmakers to proceed carefully. Completely eliminating the tax without addressing revenue issues could create lasting harm for state services, torpedo local funding, and hurt Oklahomans who need tax relief the most. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]

New from OK Policy: Oklahoma can effectively eliminate the state and local sales tax on groceries for most low-income families by strengthening the Sales Tax Relief Credit. Doing so would represent a fiscally prudent way to deliver meaningful support to our friends and neighbors who most need tax relief.

Budget choices have dramatically shifted college costs to students, families (Capitol Update): The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have requested an $85.1 million budget increase for next year. Good for them. A portion of the funding would be allocated toward lessening the state’s workforce shortages of teachers, nurses, and physicians. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy

Oklahoma News

Pandemic spending at the Oklahoma Health Department violated the state constitution, an audit found: The Oklahoma State Department of Health violated the state constitution when it paid millions of dollars in advance for pandemic supplies, according to an investigative audit. Oklahoma State Auditor Cindy Byrd’s office released the 26-page audit Wednesday after The Frontier reported last week that Attorney General John O’Connor’s office said the document wasn’t a public record and he would keep it confidential. [The Frontier

  • Byrd releases OSDH audit, says PPE pre-payments violated Oklahoma Constitution [NonDoc
  • Audit finds Oklahoma State Department of Health misspent millions and potentially violated state laws [State Impact Oklahoma]
  • Audit: Oklahoma Health Department paid $5.4M for COVID-19 supplies that were never delivered [The Oklahoman

‘We can’t put COVID-19 in the rearview’ yet: Oklahoma COVID-19 cases hit 1 million mark: Oklahoma hit a milestone Wednesday that months ago might have been difficult to comprehend: 1 million recorded COVID-19 cases. To put it in perspective, 1 million COVID-19 cases is: One case for about every four Oklahomans, more cases than people who live in Oklahoma City, double the number of cases the state had recorded just six months ago, in August 2021. [The Oklahoman

  • Oklahoma tops one million COVID cases as deaths approach 14,000 [The Black Wall Street Times
  • Oklahoma’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are high — but two of the three are falling substantially [Tulsa World

Health News

Period Poverty: Menstruation can come as a surprise, but for many, the reality of being unable to afford hygiene products becomes a regular obstacle. Period OKC, founded and run by Jen Green and Linley Faye Smith, is a volunteer-driven nonprofit geared to collecting and providing tampons, pads, cups, and other menstrual supplies to those in need and raising awareness in the effort to eliminate period poverty and menstrual inequity in central Oklahoma. [Oklahoma Gazette

State Government News

Bill to eliminate state grocery sales tax advances through House committee: Rotisserie chicken served up the only real bone of contention Wednesday during discussion of the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ version of a proposal to phase out the state’s 4.5% sales tax on groceries. [Tulsa World

New from OK Policy: If Oklahoma lawmakers leverage the Sales Tax Relief Credit to reduce or eliminate the impact of grocery taxes, this would represent a fiscally prudent way to deliver meaningful support to our friends and neighbors who most need tax relief.

Norman banned conversion therapy. Now a Republican lawmaker wants to undo that prohibition: A Republican state lawmaker wants to prohibit Oklahoma municipalities from banning the practice of so-called conversion therapy. The legislation from Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, comes after the Norman City Council in June unanimously passed an ordinance to ban the widely discredited practice on minors. [The Oklahoman

House committee OK’s bills targeting local, federal interference: Five bills aimed at shutting down local, federal and international laws, treaties and regulations the Oklahoma Legislature doesn’t like cleared the House of Representatives’ State Powers Committee on Tuesday with only the panel’s lone Democrat voicing much concern. [Tulsa World

(Audio) Long Story Short: What Stitt’s Speech Forecasts: Oklahoma Watch executive director Ted Streuli sits down with Trevor Brown, Paul Monies, and Jennifer Palmer, who all covered Gov. Kevin Stitt’s state of the state speech this week. [Oklahoma Watch

  • Fact Check: Oklahoma Gov. says convicted drunk driver could go free [KOSU

Oklahoma proposed bill would fine teachers $10,000 for contradicting a student’s religious beliefs: Oklahoma Senator Rob Standridge has proposed the Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act, which includes an option to sue teachers $10,000 for contradicting a student’s religious beliefs. [Forbes]

Advocates watching as Oklahoma bills could make a difference for children: Joe Dorman, CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, helped coordinate a virtual learning lab for lawmakers and advocates this week. The four-day workshop connected Oklahomans across political lines to focus on children and their needs. [FOX 25]

Editorial: Marijuana bills aim to address concerns of booming industry: It’s no secret that the medical marijuana industry has caused a bit of chaos in Oklahoma, and it appears the Legislature is working on a number of bills to try to remedy many of the concerns. The medical marijuana industry has boomed since voters approved its legalization. There are more than 12,000 marijuana-related businesses in the state and about one in 10 people have a medical marijuana license. [Editorial / Enid News & Eagle

Tribal Nations News

Editorial: Oklahomans would be best served by state leaders accepting post-McGirt reality: Two years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma by ruling that the reservation for the Muscogee Nation was never de-established by Congress. Since then, state efforts to overturn the ruling have failed, and scare tactics have proven untrue. [Editorial / Tulsa World

Quapaw Nation building law enforcement network: Officials of the Quapaw Nation and multiple law enforcement agencies have signed agreements to cross-deputize officers so that they can work together on criminal investigations and arrests on tribal land. [CNHI via Joplin Globe]

Voting and Election News

‘Not a red city, or a blue city … We are Oklahoma City.’: Holt secures another term as mayor: The sounds of a cheering crowd echoed off the marble walls Tuesday night as Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt delivered an acceptance speech after being reelected to a second term. Holt said this idea of working together despite differences is representative of what he has stood for since first running for mayor in 2017. [The Oklahoman

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma County jail administrator under fire for saying ‘COVID is our friend’ in recording: Oklahoma County Jail Administrator Greg Williams and Communications Director Mark Opgrande are under fire after a recording made public by a local news website in which the duo refer to COVID-19 as the jail’s “friend.” [The Oklahoman]  

Mayor, police chief to visit Las Vegas to learn about surveillance system aimed at cutting crime: Mayor G.T. Bynum, Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin, and two city councilors will visit Las Vegas later this month to learn about how that city monitors for crime through cameras placed at certain spots. [Public Radio Tulsa

Education News

Education Watch: State To Consider Adding Two More Virtual Charter Schools: Does Oklahoma’s educational landscape have room for more virtual charter schools? That’s a question the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board — the only entity under state law that can authorize such schools — will be considering after hearing proposals from two new virtual school applicants. [Oklahoma Watch]

Former employee sues Ardmore Schools over racial discrimination: One former employee of Ardmore City Schools in Oklahoma is ready to speak out about the racism she experienced while employed there. Veronica Taylor recently filed a federal lawsuit against Ardmore City Schools, citing racial discrimination. [The Black Wall Street Times

Honor Black History Month by giving our children a high-quality education: Every day I see young children in my community who are filled with hope. They are eager to learn and ready to become the leaders of tomorrow. Sadly, not enough students are able to attend a school that offer high-quality education to prepare them to achieve their dreams. As a mother, this hits me particularly hard during Black History Month. [Opinion / The Black Wall Street Times

Oklahoma Local News

Tulsa City Council not taking away public’s ability to make comments, councilors assure public: The City Council is not taking away the public’s ability to make comments at meetings. It’s still unclear why, but Councilor Jeannie Cue was bombarded with emails this week accusing the council of planning to do just that. [Tulsa World

Quote of the Day

“I have concluded there is no Oklahoma statute that gives any state official the authority to withhold this information.”

– Oklahoma State Auditor Cindy Byrd speaking about her office’s release of an investigative audit noting that the Oklahoma State Department of Health violated the state constitution when it paid millions of dollars in advance for pandemic supplies. [The Frontier

Number of the Day


Percent of eligible justice-involved Oklahomans who could seek to have their records expunged but aren’t obtaining relief under the current system, which is costly and complex.

[Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]

Related Analysis: Automatic expungement will have a tremendous economic impact on Oklahoma. More than 100,000 Oklahomans would be eligible to seal criminal records when this system is fully implemented.

Policy Note

50-State Comparison: Expungement, Sealing & Other Record Relief: While most states allow people to petition for expungement or sealing of at least certain types of records, due to the cumbersome and complicated petition-based system used in most states, only a tiny fraction of people eligible for expungement or sealing ever obtain the relief they need. Navigating the complex record-clearing process can prove extremely challenging, often requiring expensive legal assistance and court fees—making it impossible for millions to move on with their lives. [Collateral Consequences Resource Center

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Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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