In The Know: Budget debates ahead on addressing infrastructure, state needs | Watchdog agency: Supt. slow to comply with open records | Owasso School Board hears bullying concerns | Expanded child tax credit

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.

Oklahoma News

How should the state spend billions in one-time expenses? Stormy debates are ahead: Over the next two months, Oklahoma lawmakers will spend the vast majority of their time wrestling with the state’s budget. And, just like the spring tornado season, the Legislature’s annual budget process is filled with loud storms, frightened people, and lots and lots of wreckage. [The Oklahoman]

Owasso school board hears concerns about bullying, response to Nex Benedict’s death: The Owasso Public Schools Board of Education on Monday heard from several attendees who voiced their concerns about the district’s handling of and response to student Nex Benedict’s death. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma House sends elimination of corporate income tax to disinterested Senate: Legislation that would phase out most state corporate income taxes passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday through use of an unusual maneuver available only to House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said his caucus would not “entertain” any more revenue-reducing legislation this session. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma lawmakers again take aim at ballot initiatives: House Joint Resolution 1054 by David Hardin, R-Stilwell, proposes a constitutional amendment to require initiative petition organizers to collect a percentage of signatures in all 77 of Oklahoma’s counties. Another measure cracking down on initiative petitions, House Bill 1105 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would mandate a $1,000 petition filing fee and increase the statutory protest period from 10 to 90 days. It would also require signature collectors to complete an OSBI background check. [Oklahoma Watch]

House passes bill to eliminate DA supervision fees: A bill that proposes to eliminate supervision fees collected by local district attorneys from people who have been placed on probation passed through the Oklahoma House on Monday. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma lawmakers attempt to strengthen gun rights: Oklahoma’s Second Amendment protections could soon become stronger by way of a constitutional amendment. Legislation that passed the state house is headed to the Senate for consideration. It would add more specific, protective language to Oklahoma’s Constitution. [KJRH]

Oklahoma Senate OKs bill to make daylight saving time permanent: On Sunday, Oklahomans moved their clocks forward an hour to daylight saving time. On Monday, the Oklahoma Senate moved a bill forward to “lock the clock” where it is. Whether the measure to adopt daylight saving time permanently — doing away with the twice-yearly need to either “spring forward” or “fall back” an hour — becomes law remains to be seen. [Tulsa World]

Overview of bills moving through the Oklahoma Capitol Monday: Lawmakers discussed maternity leave, public health and safety, and changing state law to protect Oklahoma minors. A big point since before the beginning of the session has been taxes. A bill from House Speaker Charles McCall would phase out the corporate income tax over the next five years. That bill passed out of the House 78-19, but does not yet have a Senate author to support it. [News on 6]

‘Nationwide issue’: Childcare bills reflect little-discussed aspect of education, workforce: In 2023, Oklahoma ranked 46th in overall child wellbeing, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book national report. The report specifically examined “how the country’s lack of affordable and accessible child care negatively affects children, families and U.S. businesses.” [NonDoc]

Why AG Drummond and schools Supt. Walters received opposite awards for open public records: Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has received the annual Sunshine Award from Freedom of Information Oklahoma for his efforts to promote open government in the state. State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters, is this year’s recipient of the group’s Black Hole Award, given to the individual, agency or organization that has most thwarted the free flow of information. [The Oklahoman]

  • State Superintendent Ryan Walters receives Black Hole Award from FOI Oklahoma [KOSU]

Federal Government News

Biden calls for expanded child tax credit, taxes on wealthy in $7.3 trillion budget plan: The budget calls on Congress to expand the child tax credit to the levels that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, “which helped cut child poverty nearly in half in 2021 to its lowest level in history,” the proposal says. “The Budget would expand the credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child for children six years old and above, and to $3,600 per child for children under six,” the request says. [Oklahoma Voice]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma court recognizes Wyandotte Reservation, criminal jurisdiction: The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has recognized that the Wyandotte Reservation was never disestablished. The Wyandotte Reservation was founded in Northeast Oklahoma in 1867, after the tribe’s members were forcibly removed from the upper Midwest. [KOSU]

Oklahoma task force looks to resolve tribal reservation safety issues without tribal nations: A task force launched by Gov. Kevin Stitt will attempt to create a standard working agreement for state and tribal public safety agencies, but without any say from tribal leaders, at least for now. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

OK House anti-abortion bill makes changes; eliminates database, banning IUDs: The bill at the Oklahoma State Capitol known as the “Oklahoma right to Human Life Act” got a refresh Monday. Two amendments were added to House Bill 3216 on verbiage that caused some concern for some Oklahomans about the potential for a statewide abortion database and banning certain contraceptives. [KFOR]

Criminal Justice News

Ex-Oklahoma police officer first to be found guilty under updated Violence Against Women Act: A federal jury found Jeffrey Scott Smith Jr. guilty of violating the civil rights of a woman by sexually assaulting her in 2022 during a traffic stop in Savanna, a rural town about nine miles southwest of McAlester in East-Central Oklahoma. Smith is also facing up to 20 years for two counts of obstruction of justice for turning off his body cam and dash cam prior to the assault. [KOSU]

Oklahoma death penalty moratorium bill faces legislative deadline: A Republican-backed bill that would pause executions in Oklahoma faces an uncertain future as it awaits a vote on the House floor ahead of a legislative deadline. House Bill 3138, dubbed the Criminal Justice Reform Act and authored by conservative Rep. Kevin McDugle, would stop all currently scheduled executions. [Black Wall Street Times]

Education News

Bill to raise teacher salaries hits dead end, but Oklahoma lawmakers mull other ways to increase school employee pay: A bill to raise Oklahoma teachers’ salaries for a second year in a row is dead, but other wage-boosting measures are still advancing at the state Capitol. [Oklahoma Voice]

Former Epic CFO waives preliminary hearing; attorney says plea deal in works: A plea deal with prosecutors is in the works for Epic Charter Schools’ former chief financial officer in a case described as the “largest abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of this state.” [Tulsa World]

House advances bill to give Oklahoma park rangers a 15% raise: House members on Monday advanced a measure that would give the state’s lowest paid law enforcement officers a raise. Under House Bill 3787, authored by Rep. John George, R-Newalla, Oklahoma’s park rangers would receive a 15% raise beginning July 1. [Oklahoma Voice]

‘In lieu of flowers’: Cathy Cummings remembered through eliminating school lunch debt: In the wake of the recent passing of Oklahoma City restaurant owner Cathy Cummings, her husband Sean Cummings has crafted a careful legacy with a profound impact in a matter of weeks with the help of hundreds of donors in her name. A GoFundMe was started to allow donations to be made in Cathy’s name for the purpose of eliminating student lunch debt at schools throughout Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

Stitt appoints Arcadia businessman, OSU alum to fill open position on OSU/A&M regents’ board: Gov. Kevin Stitt has named Arcadia businessman Chris Franklin to the OSU/A&M Board of Regents, which oversees Oklahoma State University and four other state higher education institutions. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Beyond the Brackets: The Real March Madness Impacting Diversity and Justice: In a month dedicated to celebrating the achievements of young athletes, many of whom hail from diverse backgrounds, there is an alarming silence about the simultaneous erosion of policies and programs designed to support and uplift the diversity that enriches these campuses. It’s a dichotomy that lays bare the complexities and contradictions inherent in our society’s relationship with race, education, and sports. [Haley Taylor Schlitz / Black Wall Street Times]

Opinion: Public education in chaos could be a deal breaker for businesses: Oklahoma‘s potential to create a 21st-century economy is being undermined by a failure of our state leaders to prioritize education and workforce initiatives. The radical policies of the state schools superintendent don’t go unnoticed nationally. The state’s public education system is in chaos. This has a chilling effect on economic development. [Phil G. Busey Sr. / The Oklahoman]

Local Headlines

  • Tulsa-OKC passenger rail a possibility as Amtrak studies long-distance routes [Tulsa World]
  • U.S. 412/Cimarron Turnpike speed limit increases to 80 mph [Tulsa World]
  • Is funding secured for OKC skyscraper project? Is it actually viable? What we know [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“Anyone who has ever owned a home or a car or a pet knows there are expenses that come with doing that. Some of them are small and regular and some are: ‘I took my car in for an oil change, and it needs new brakes.”

-Carly Putnam, Policy Director for OK Policy, explaining why new tax cuts shouldn’t happen until the state has funded all its existing needs and maintenance. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Federal pandemic relief funds for education — known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) — would represent more than 10% of the state’s pre-pandemic (2018-19) education budget. States with a higher percentage of ESSER funds relative to pre-pandemic education budgets are expected to feel the expiration of these federal funds most deeply. Oklahoma ranked 13th highest by this metric. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

Policy Note

Expiration of Federal K-12 Emergency Funds Could Pose Challenges for States: The final round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds is set to end soon: states must commit the funds by September 2024. ESSER funds account for a significant share of current education dollars, which puts schools at risk of shortfalls when these funds lapse. The financial impact of the expiration of ESSER funds for states and school districts will be exacerbated by several factors: costly state tax cuts, the diversion of resources to school vouchers, inadequate school funding formulas, elevated costs, and an uncertain revenue outlook. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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Kandis West is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, she served as the Communications Director for the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus. She spent nine years in the Olympia/Tacoma area of Washington organizing compensation campaigns for teachers for the Washington Education Association. Kandis has a proven track record of increasing community engagement, public awareness and media exposure around the most pressing issues that impact citizens. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.