In The Know: Bill to remove grocery sales tax advances | Bill making it easier to evict advances | Court fees criminalize poverty, new study from Oklahoma finds

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: The power of advocacy: Growing up in a household that prioritized the importance of community, I learned early how to raise my own voice and leverage my personal power by connecting with others who also are seeking change. I deeply appreciate my parents and my extended family for helping me develop these skills. But once I traveled away from home, I quickly learned that not everyone was taught these lessons. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Bill to remove state sales tax on groceries advances through second committee: A second legislative committee has passed a bill that would eliminate the state sales tax on groceries, moving it closer to becoming law. Senate Bill 1495, by Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 19-2. The bill had passed the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 15 by a vote of 12-0 and had to go through the Appropriations Committee before consideration by the full Senate and going on to the House of Representatives. [Tulsa World]

New 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 this 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.

A bill making it easier for Oklahoma landlords to evict renters is moving forward. What we know: An Oklahoma House of Representatives committee narrowly advanced legislation Wednesday that could make it easier for landlords to evict tenants who haven’t paid their rent. The bill would bring stability back to the rental industry, said its author, state Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola. Tenant advocates, however, say the proposed law would remove key protections that kept people in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman] The measure would grant landlords immediate possession of their property, even if renters fall just a few days behind. [The Journal Record]

Previously from OK Policy (2021): Much-needed reforms to landlord-tenant law should aim to stop the flood of eviction filings by big, corporate landlords and a handful of attorneys, and instead implement mediation and other alternate methods of dispute resolution that can level the playing field between landlords and tenants. 

Court fees can criminalize poverty, major study finds: The results of a new, first-of-its-kind study show that the policies don’t accomplish their stated goals even if fairly applied, and that, more often, court fees simply “create a pure criminalization of poverty,” according to researchers. In a randomized experiment, researchers selected more than 600 people who were convicted of criminal misdemeanors in Oklahoma County. Researchers paid off all current and prior court fees for half of the group. Misdemeanors can include low-level offenses like drug possession, trespass and disorderly conduct. [Reuters]

Previously from OK Policy (2017): The Cost Trap: How Excessive Fees Lock Oklahomans Into the Criminal Justice System without Boosting State Revenue: Lawmakers should reduce the financial burdens of the criminal justice system for poor defendants, and they can do that without jeopardizing critical sources of revenue for state agencies.

Oklahoma school voucher bill: Homeschool funds cut out, income cap added: A controversial bill that would spend taxpayer funds to cover private-school costs advanced in the Oklahoma Senate after undergoing significant changes. Senate Bill 1647, called the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, would no longer offer funds to homeschool students under a new amendment. The amendment also added an income cap to limit the program to families with household earnings of 300% of the federal poverty line and below. [The Oklahoman] Senate Bill 1647, by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, passed by vote of 12-8 and heads to the Senate floor. [Tulsa World] An Oklahoma State Department of Education analysis estimates the program would cost between $118 and $161 million. Treat said the figure could be reduced because of the revisions to the bill. [KOSU]

State Government News

Oklahomans with disabilities may face identity theft after DHS data jeopardized: A “spoofed email” led to a possible DHS data breach for over 5,500 Oklahomans with disabilities on a waitlist for home services. A company contracted with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services said a data breach compromised personal information–including social security numbers– of thousands of Oklahomans on a list that helps connect people with developmental disabilities and their families with resources to help make life easier. [KXII] OKDHS, along with its partner Liberty of Oklahoma Corporation, says thousands of people’s personal information might have been stolen or compromised in the breach if they were on the Oklahoma Waitlist Program. [KJRH]

Julius Jones supporters criticize GOP-backed bill to change Pardon and Parole Board powers: A bill that would limit the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s ability to recommend clemency for death-row inmates is political retribution after the board recommended and Gov. Kevin Stitt granted mercy for Julius Jones, House Democrats said Wednesday. [The Oklahoman] House Bill 3903, by Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, would expressly forbid the state Pardon and Parole Board from recommending clemency for death-row inmates except for “leniency and mercy,” and then only to the extent that a death sentence may be commuted to life without parole. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma governor offers record $15M to electric car maker: Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt is planning to award a state-record $15 million to electric vehicle manufacturer Canoo to help support the company’s planned investment of more than $560 million in new facilities in Oklahoma. [AP News] The Frontier obtained copies of two contracts the company has signed with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce for the Quick Action money through an open records request. [The Frontier]

Lawmaker’s plan would use tax revenue to fund free menstrual products: Rather than eliminating the sales tax on menstrual products like many other states, a Duncan lawmaker is proposing a first-of-its-kind approach to tackle period poverty. [CNHI via McAlester News-Capital]

(Audio) Long Story Short: On State Question Reform, Government Secrecy and School Vouchers: Oklahoma Watch reporters discuss their recent and upcoming stories: Trevor Brown on proposed changes to the state question process, Paul Monies on keeping bids for $1.87 billion in federal funds a secret, Jennifer Palmer on a school voucher bill gaining momentum. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma legislative committee advances school library book ban bill: A Senate committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would force school libraries to remove “controversial” books if a parent complains, even as one senator who supported the bill acknowledged it created a “slippery slope.” [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma panel passes Texas-style anti-abortion measure: A House committee in Oklahoma on Wednesday approved an abortion ban that would implement an enforcement mechanism similar to a new Texas law considered to be the nation’s most restrictive abortion law in decades. [AP News] Also on Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee advanced a bill that would allow Oklahoma voters to decide a “personhood” measure. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma, 15 other states challenge EPA vehicle emissions rules: Texas and 15 other states — including Oklahoma — have challenged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s tougher vehicle emissions rules that seek to reverse a rollback issued under President Donald Trump. [Reuters]

Oklahoma delegation pans Biden’s State of the Union speech: President Joe Biden drew mixed reviews from both sides of the aisle regarding his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, but the Oklahoma delegation made clear its disappointment. Biden’s speech focused on energy, infrastructure, inflation and a message of unity during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. [Gaylord News / NonDoc]

GOP wants to end Russian oil imports to US, boost production: Republican elected officials across the U.S. are criticizing President Joe Biden over his energy policies and urging his administration to do more to ramp up domestic production as a way to help wean the nation and its allies off oil from Russia. Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and Ohio’s GOP U.S. Sen. Rob Portman urged Biden this week to take steps to stop oil imports from Russia to the U.S., where drilling for oil and gas actually increased during Biden’s first year in office. [AP News

Tribal Nations News

How do you vote in Oklahoma? Tribal leaders launch new site to explain registration steps: Oklahoma tribal leaders want to increase voter turnout as part of a joint effort launching Thursday. Vote Your Values will focus on getting more people to cast ballots in a state with a large Native American population and a small voter turnout. [The Oklahoman]

Quapaw Nation asserts jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases: The Quapaw Nation is asserting jurisdiction over all domestic violence cases against Native Americans that occur within its reservation, whether the offenders are Native American or not, the nation announced Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

Voting and Election News

New dark money group critical of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says it has $10M to spend: A new dark money group critical of Gov. Kevin Stitt says it has raised $10 million to spend on television commercials, mailers and digital advertising. The Sooner State Leadership Fund launched its first television commercials Tuesday with a 30-second spot that says violent crime is skyrocketing in Oklahoma and suggests Stitt is to blame. [The Oklahoman]

OK Sen. Marty Quinn running for congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Markwayne Mullin: A Republican state senator who has fought wind energy subsidies and wanted to name a stretch of highway after Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will run for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Markwayne Mullin. [The Oklahoman] U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., who holds that seat now, has announced he is running for the U.S. Senate post held by Jim Inhofe, who is retiring in January. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Oklahoma’s COVID hospitalizations nearing the low after delta surge, but delayed care a concern: COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oklahoma are approaching the relative low period experienced after the delta variant surge and before omicron took off like wildfire. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Expert testifies executed Oklahoma inmates experienced severe pain and suffering: An expert who witnessed Oklahoma’s most recent execution testified Wednesday that inmate Gilbert Ray Postelle tried to make a fist after being declared unconscious. “It was a purposeful movement,” Dr. Gail Van Norman testified in Oklahoma City federal court. [The Oklahoman] The federal trial for Oklahoma’s execution protocol began this week with U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot overseeing the case. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Economic Opportunity

New transitional living program to benefit young people in need: An innovative public-private funding approach has been adopted to support a new 24-hour on-site transitional living program for young people in need in Oklahoma City. [The Journal Record]

Progress continues on a $170 million transformation of a west Tulsa neighborhood: After he became president of the Tulsa Housing Authority in 2017, one of the first conversations Aaron Darden had was about a dilapidated neighborhood across the river from downtown. Steven Dow, then head of the Community Action Project, told Darden about the failed effort to win federal “Choice Neighborhood” grants to rebuild public housing and transform the impoverished area. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

War, inflation take heavy toll on business confidence in region: Confidence of business and industry leaders in Oklahoma and eight other Midwestern states took a nosedive in February, according to results of a Creighton University survey. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma wind farm sanctioned for safety violations is sold to new ownership: NextEra Energy Resources plans to build 57 new wind turbines across part of Oklahoma’s Panhandle as part of a project that will replace one owned by Olympia Renewable Platform LLC that was sanctioned by regulators for safety violations. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

What’s the price tag on school vouchers? One of the biggest lingering questions about State Sen. Greg Treat’s Senate Bill 1647, which proposes to use state funds on private school tuition and other educational expenses, is what would it cost? The bill was approved Wednesday by the Senate appropriations committee and is eligible to be heard by the full Senate. [Oklahoma Watch]

General News

Researchers seek new search for Tulsa Massacre victims: The discovery of human remains that could possibly be victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma shows that the search for mass graves should continue, researchers said. [AP News] Researchers think DNA is the best chance for the case known for now as “burial 27” to be the first conclusively identified victim of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. [Tulsa World]

  • Bynum responds to apparent misunderstanding over 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre graves investigation [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

Some OKC MAPS 4 programs will receive annual operating funds. Here’s how that will work: A transfer of $80 million is the first to be made to a trust that will invest and manage money to support several MAPS 4 projects for decades to come. [The Oklahoman

Okmulgee Mayor resigns amid criminal investigation: Okmulgee Mayor Richard Larabee has submitted his resignation. It comes as he is at the center of a criminal investigation. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Quote of the Day

“Tax cuts while federal money is flowing in scares me to death. We have done it before and had a hard time after.”

– Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso), speaking about a bill that would eliminate the state sales tax on groceries and reduce state revenue [Tulsa World]

New 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 this 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.

Number of the Day


Percentage of U.S. parents with lower incomes who say their child may face digital obstacles in schoolwork

[Source: Pew Research Center]

Policy Note

How communities are investing American Rescue Plan funds with the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker: Communities have until 2024 to fully plan for and commit their funds, and until 2026 to spend them. Local governments’ initial SLFRF expenditure reports contain useful roadmaps on where they are heading with ARPA funds; large cities and counties (those with populations of at least 250,000) have also delivered the first in a series of annual plans that outline their intended and actual uses of SLFRF dollars. Together, these reports detail thousands of projects across dozens of eligible expenditure categories and form the data behind the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker. [Brookings]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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