In The Know: Bill in Congress includes millions to address McGirt | Tax credit for parents who pay their children’s teacher extra | Improving state EITC | 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.

New from OK Policy

All Oklahomans pay taxes, but not all of us can reap the rewards: Every year, working families file to claim state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), which are a refundable tax credit that can put hundreds of dollars back in the pockets of low-income workers. State tax policy keeps Oklahoma residents who file taxes using the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) — foreign nationals, international students, undocumented immigrants, and other noncitizens who report earned income here — from receiving the state’s EITC. Allowing these workers the opportunity to receive the tax credit can put money back into our state and local economies. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy

Policy Matters: Why state revenue matters: This is shaping up to be a boom year for state revenue, which has lawmakers discussing measures that would reduce taxes and, in turn, cut state revenue. It’s important to take a step back and realize that revenue cuts jeopardize vital services for everyday Oklahomans. This session, there are about 10 major tax-cutting bills still pending in the Legislature that – if they were all enacted – would cut nearly $1 billion annually from the state budget in future years. While it’s unlikely that lawmakers would adopt all of them, these discussions are consistent with the 20-plus years of disinvestment Oklahoma has made in state programs and services. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Massive spending bill includes more than $62 million to help tribes address McGirt ruling: The massive spending bill unveiled in Congress on Wednesday includes $62 million to help six Oklahoma tribes ramp up their criminal justice systems and more money for U.S. attorneys and federal agencies flooded with new cases because of the McGirt decision. The bill falls well short of what Oklahomans in Congress requested to handle the criminal cases now under federal and tribal jurisdiction. The congressional appropriations committees made clear, in reports accompanying the spending bill, that they need more information about specific needs. [The Oklahoman

State House bill would give parents tax credits for personally paying their children’s teachers extra: Public school parents would get a tax credit for giving their kids’ teachers a little extra money under legislation passed Wednesday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. [Tulsa World

  • Poll finds Oklahoma voters oppose public funds going to private school scholarships [KOSU]

IRS investigating Epic Charter Schools finances: Epic Charter Schools is facing another investigation of its finances and governance, this one by the Internal Revenue Service, Oklahoma Watch has learned. The online charter school’s board chairman was notified of the inquiry in a letter dated Jan. 14, records show. [Oklahoma Watch

  • Epic Charter Schools board moves to consolidate administration to save millions annually [Tulsa World
  • Epic Charter Schools prepares major merger, awaits approval from Oklahoma [The Oklahoman]
  • Epic Charter Schools to end appeal of $500k legal judgment for former state senator [Tulsa World]

Tulsa experts: Ukraine war is heading toward an ‘unpleasant compromise’: Ending the war in Ukraine will likely require “an unpleasant compromise” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, local experts suggested during a panel discussion Wednesday at the University of Tulsa. [Tulsa World

State Government News

Grocery sales tax cut more likely now with Speaker, Pro Tempore support: As of late last week, Oklahoma lawmakers now have a third option on legislation that would reduce the state’s portion of sales tax on groceries. Last Thursday House Speaker Charles McCall pulled a legislative hat trick, steering House Bill 3349 out of the House Rules Committee just prior to the deadline. McCall’s bill, which is being marketed as relief from inflation, would suspend the state’s portion of the grocery sales tax – about 4.5 percent – for two years. A companion piece of legislation, House Bill 3353, would increase the current sales tax credit for low-income Oklahomans up to $180 per year. [Southwest Ledger]

Recently from OK Policy: While the sales tax on groceries is regressive and should ultimately be addressed through comprehensive tax reform in Oklahoma, the state is not in a position to implement a permanent change this year. These cuts would harm the ability of both our state and local governments to deliver the shared public services all Oklahomans use.

Oklahoma’s expungement process is long and expensive. The Legislature could change that: Expungement can help people with arrests or aging convictions pass background checks and secure stable housing and employment. Most don’t take advantage of the relief it offers. The Oklahoma Policy Institute estimates that 93.5% of expungement eligible records remain unsealed. [The Oklahoman

  • (Audio) Long Story Short: OK Legislature considers reform to expungement process for nonviolent felony and misdemeanor convictions [Oklahoma Watch

Previously from OK Policy: If Oklahomans could expunge their criminal records through automatic expungements, it would be much easier for them to access employment and become productive citizens, but the current expungement system is too expensive and complicated for most eligible Oklahomans to access the benefits of an expungement.

Oklahoma House passes election bills spurring debate over 2020 election, trust in results: The Oklahoma House on Tuesday passed two election bills despite claims from Democrats that Republicans are fueling distrust in state elections. Republican lawmakers said bills to block private dollars from helping pay for elections and changes to the personal information required to request an absentee ballot are key to ensuring Oklahomans have faith in the state’s election system. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma researchers could soon study psychedelic mushrooms’ effect on mental health. The lawmakers behind the push hope it will help veterans: Psilocybin research has gained momentum around the globe, as the compound begins to lose some of its stigma. After other conservative states passed laws allowing trials, Oklahoma lawmakers began working to adopt the policies here. [State Impact Oklahoma

Senate passes changes to anti-bullying laws: A proposed measure to modify Oklahoma’s anti-bullying laws would require boards of education to update their discipline policy, accept anonymous reports and require a report on prevention activities and bullying incidents at least once a semester. [Southwest Ledger]

Oklahoma Senate bill updating newborn screenings to match federal standards advances: Oklahoma is one step closer to bringing infant screenings in line with federal standards thanks to a bill that was approved by the Senate on Wednesday. [KFOR]

The inside story of an Oklahoma drug bust that seized 150,000 marijuana plants worth $500M: It was clear to 1st Sgt. Aaron Bender that he found the marijuana farm he was looking for. The Oklahoma Army National Guard maintenance platoon sergeant and about two dozen of his people had rolled up to a farm near Ratliff City, a tiny town in rural southwestern Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Indian Health Service head nominated amid tough challenges: President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he is nominating veteran health administrator Roselyn Tso to oversee the federal agency that delivers health care to more than 2.5 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. [Public Radio Tulsa

Native Americans fret as report card released on 2020 census: Plans for the 2020 census were set well in advance to ensure Native Americans living on reservations were counted more accurately than during the 2010 census, when almost 5% of the population was missed. COVID-19, politics and an ever-changing deadline that cut the decennial count short weren’t in those plans. [AP News]

An anniversary of displacement: In Shawnee, Oklahoma, the Potawatomi Nation is remembering its 155th anniversary of moving to Indian Territory from Kansas. Kelli Mosteller has served as the director for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center since 2010. She joins the show to talk about the history and how the tribe is remembering this. [Indian Country Today]

Voting and Election News

Can a candidate for Congress also run the Oklahoma GOP?: John Bennett, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, announced his bid Friday for the 2nd Congressional District after Markwayne Mullin vacated the seat to run for U.S. Senate. Bennett will continue to campaign against fellow Republicans while he also runs the state party, his chief of staff Leslie NesSmith told The Frontier. [The Frontier

Former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon expected to announce U.S. Senate candidacy: Former Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon is expected to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate at a 1 p.m. Thursday press conference at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. [Tulsa World]

State Supreme Court to hear arguments March 23 in Jones’ election lawsuit: The Oklahoma Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 23 in Enid attorney Stephen Jones’ attempt to stop the special election this year to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. [Enid News & Eagle]

Health News

Report: Future of many nursing homes in doubt: Skilled nursing facilities in Oklahoma and across the nation are facing a financial cliff that threatens their continued operation and ability to serve an aging population. [The Journal Record

Economy & Business News

4 things to know about the global tech company bringing its headquarters to Oklahoma: Northern Data, a Germany-based data center company with sites in Europe and North America, will build a new operation in Oklahoma as its headquarters on the continent. Corporate and state officials announced the plan at a news conference Wednesday. [The Oklahoman

Stocks rally as oil prices retreat after runup: Stocks had their biggest jump since June 2020 Wednesday as a sharp drop in oil prices eased fears that inflation was about to get worse around the globe. The S&P 500 rose 2.6%. The rally broke a four-day losing streak for stocks but wasn’t enough to erase their losses for the week. [The Journal Record

Employers are still scrambling to fill vacancies, a new U.S. report shows: Job openings in the United States and the number of workers quitting their jobs remained near record highs in January, an indicator of demand for labor and of worker leverage. [New York Times]

Education News

Ruth Veales, longtime equity advocate, finishes Oklahoma City school board service: There’s one thing Oklahoma City Public Schools could count on for the past 12 years: Ruth Veales would always speak her mind. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

Two county commissioners from southwest Oklahoma face embezzlement, conspiracy charges: Oklahoma’s new multicounty grand jury has accused two county commissioners of misusing more than $2 million in public funds on an asphalt emulsion plant in Clinton. Tim Binghom, a Kiowa County commissioner, and Joe Don Dickey, a Tillman County commissioner, are charged with embezzlement and conspiracy. [The Oklahoman

Altus lets ousted councilwoman fill her vacant seat: In a surprise move, the city council appointed ousted Ward 2 Councilwoman Patricia Blackman to fill her former seat during the March 1 meeting. [Southwest Ledger]

Quote of the Day

“Wouldn’t you agree this might end up increasing the inequities we already see between (schools) whose parents can already do something like this and parents who don’t have the means to increase their child’s teacher’s salary?”

– Minority Floor Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, asking a question about a bill that would allow a tax credit for parents on donations of up to $1,000 per child to what amounts to bonuses for specified teachers [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

$1.5 million

Estimated amount of tax dollars that would be put back into Oklahoma’s state and local economies if Oklahoma expanded its state EITC to ITIN filers

[Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

New from OK Policy: All Oklahomans pay taxes, but not all of us can reap the rewards: State tax policy keeps Oklahoma residents who file taxes using the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) — foreign nationals, international students, undocumented immigrants, and other noncitizens who report earned income here — from receiving the state’s EITC. Allowing these workers the opportunity to receive the tax credit can put money back into our state and local economies.

Policy Note

Building a more immigrant inclusive tax code: Expanding the EITC to ITIN filers: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a proven tool for addressing racial disparities in pay and supporting the economic security of low- and moderate-income adults and their families. Claimed when people file income tax returns, this refundable credit increases households’ after-tax income. New Jersey, along with 28 other states (including Oklahoma), offers a state version of the EITC. Expanding the state EITC to ITIN filers will boost the take home pay of thousands of workers and strengthen the state’s economy. [New Jersey Policy Perspective]

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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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