In The Know: Ed. budget hearing | AG exonerates former cabinet secretary | Lawmakers should focus on Oklahoma’s pressing needs

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: Lawmakers should focus on Oklahoma’s pressing needs: The upcoming legislative session can be a time when Oklahoma lawmakers come together for thoughtful examination of the issues that can move our state forward. To achieve this, however, we need statesmanship that brings us together, not promoting wedge issues that divide our communities. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

‘Structural changes:’ Walters peppered with questions at two-hour budget hearing: Legislators from both chambers grilled State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters on his budget request Wednesday after a weeklong saga in which Walters first presented a budget request he actually hoped to change, succeeded in changing it, and finally offered it to lawmakers. [NonDoc]

  • Investigation into misspent education funds clouds hearing on budget requests from Walters [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma lawmakers question State Supt. Walters about teacher pay raises in budget request [Fox25]
  • Oklahoma lawmakers grill state superintendent on his new education budget [Tulsa World]

Drummond: Mike Hunter ‘compromised the integrity’ of AG’s Office with David Ostrowe case: As former Secretary of Digital Transformation David Ostrowe determines whether to serve his lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, new Attorney General Gentner Drummond sent Ostrowe a letter today apologizing for how former Attorney General Mike Hunter’s administration handled Ostrowe’s controversial 2020 grand jury indictment, which Hunter dismissed when he suddenly resigned from office in May 2021. [NonDoc]

  • Gentner Drummond apologizes to former Cabinet secretary David Ostrowe over 2020 indictment [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘No wrongdoing’: AG Drummond exonerates former Cabinet Secretary David Ostrowe [Tulsa World]

Despite huge cash reserves, agency tells Oklahoma lawmakers to save even more money: Even though it has a record amount of money in the bank, Oklahoma should boost its state savings account even more and focus on tax incentives rather than tax cuts, according to a report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. In a 90-page tax modernization report issued this week, the agency gave lawmakers a roadmap for how to update Oklahoma’s tax code. A key recommendation was to make sure that any new tax incentives approved are targeted toward industries that provide substantial benefits to the state’s economy. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

In contentious meeting, corporation commissioner presses for ongoing audits of utility companies: In an Oklahoma Corporation Commission meeting held Wednesday, Commissioner Bob Anthony said utility companies collecting money from customers for February 2021’s winter storm that saw the price of gas spike to record levels should be continually scrutinized. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • ‘This is not sustainable’: Oklahomans share frustrations with utility bills [KTUL]

Legislation seeks to expand gun rights in Oklahoma: Oklahoma lawmakers have filed nearly 50 bills this session that aim to expand gun rights, including where Oklahomans can carry firearms. If every bill makes it through the legislative process, Oklahomans would be able to carry loaded guns into county or municipal buildings, onto college campuses, onto the Oklahoma and Tulsa fairgrounds, into nonprofits, onto public school parking lots and inside the state Capitol. [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]

Oklahoma Jewish leaders meet with Gov. Kevin Stitt about his claiming state for Jesus: In mid-November, Stitt came under fire locally and nationally for saying that he claimed “every square inch” of Oklahoma for Jesus. Rachel Johnson, Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City executive director, said a group of people representing her organization and the Jewish Federation of Tulsa requested the meeting with the governor and were pleased when Stitt met with them in January. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Senate author defends education bill phasing out federal funding: A controversial education bill that would phase out federal funds is creating shockwaves among educators. The bill has been getting a lot of attention from teachers, parents and educators across social media. [Fox25]

Editorial: Secrecy in Goverment: Oklahoma lawmakers have exempted themselves from the state’s open records act for almost 40 years. It’s a shame, because politicians campaign a lot on transparency in government, having financial clarity and auditing this bunch and that bunch. Apparently, just not themselves. It’s very much against the spirit of the law. [Editorial / Stillwater News Press]

Tribal Nations News

Tribes, Oklahoma must work out ‘fine details’ for legal sports betting: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is pushing for the legalization of sports betting. And a bill filed by Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, would do just that. House Bill 1027 involves a tiered fee structure for tribes, where they pay more of a percentage of their revenue based on how much money they take in. That resembles the state’s exclusivity payments for tribes under the model gaming compact. [KOSU]

Voting and Election News

Group in favor of SQ 820 works to mobilize voters ahead of election: In just over a month, Oklahomans will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana. The Yes on 820 initiative was given a special election in March after missing the November ballot deadline. Since 2019, YesOn820 has been working to get recreational marijuana on the ballot. The group told News 9’s Feliz Romero they’re making the most of their time leading up to the election. [News9]

  • Feb. 10 is the deadline to register for the March 7 special election on SQ 82; Feb. 20 is the deadline to request an absentee ballot. [Oklahoma Election Board]

Health News

20 attorneys general warn Walgreens, CVS over abortion pills: Attorneys general in 20 conservative-led states, including Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, warned CVS and Walgreens on Wednesday that they could face legal consequences if they sell abortion pills by mail in those states. [Journal Record]

TSET dedicates $4.5M to youth health initiative: The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust board of directors awarded the Oklahoma Association of Youth Services up to $4.5 million over four and a half years. Funding provided under the TSET Successful Futures Program will advance programming to equip Oklahoma youth with skills and tools needed to make healthy life choices. [Journal Record]

Criminal Justice News

The Death Penalty’s Problems Are Forcing One of America’s Execution Capitals to Reform: As capital punishment’s problems mount up, governors in states like Alabama, Arizona, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee have commuted death sentences, stopped executions entirely, and/or launched investigations into the death penalty system. Last week, even Oklahoma—which has conducted more executions per capita than any other state over the past half century—had its own reckoning with the death penalty’s deficiencies and injustices. [Slate]

Education News

Column: Regents seek higher budget for workforce pipeline: Our state faces sizable employment gaps in high-demand occupations – including health care, teaching, engineering, and computer science – and our educational attainment levels do not support current and future workforce demands. That’s why the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s FY24 budget request is designed to strengthen the pipeline from higher education to the workforce. [Allison D. Garrett Column / Journal Record]

General News

Groups plan large food, furnishings giveaway to kick off Black History Month: A local church will host a food and furnishings giveaway to kick off Black History Month. The Rev. Derrick Scobey said the Mega Community Distribution set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 3600 N Kelley in Oklahoma City, may well be the largest such effort the church has ever had in partnership with the humanitarian aid organization World Vision. [The Oklahoman]

Reported death threats helped spark pro-turnpike lobbying in Oklahoma: A transportation lobbyist is organizing a campaign to support the $5 billion ACCESS Oklahoma toll road expansion plan and says the move is partly in response to death threats against state turnpike officials. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa city councilor pushes for working group to examine medical marijuana policies for city employees [Tulsa World]
  • Who’s running in Oklahoma City Council elections? Check OKC ward map, where to vote and more [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“We have, as a legislative body, voted on the science of reading. We’ve been very supportive of that, and we have made sure that there has been funding for that, so none of that is new. What is challenging, though, … is that we are not keeping teachers.”

Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, Chair of the House Common Education Committee, in a budget hearing Wednesday about the proposed State Department of Education budget. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma adults struggling to pay household expenses, which is the nation’s third highest rate [U.S. Census Bureau via Experian]

Policy Note

States Can Adopt or Expand Earned Income Tax Credits to Build Equitable, Inclusive Communities and Economies: State EITCs build on the success of the federal credit by helping families afford the basics, reducing poverty, and helping families thrive in the long run through improved child and maternal health, school achievement, and other benefits. Because people of color, women, and immigrants are overrepresented in low-wage work, state EITCs are an important tool for advancing equity. With high numbers of families facing food insecurity, eviction, and other hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, state EITCs are more important than ever. And as they bolster families’ incomes, EITCs also boost local communities and state economies. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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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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