In The Know: School voucher bill narrowly moves on | Autopsy shows botched Oct. execution | Daily COVID deaths higher than ever

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

The 2022 session brings rare opportunity for significant progress in our criminal justice system: As the state legislature begins the 2022 session, criminal justice issues should be a higher priority for Oklahoma lawmakers. This includes modernizing expungement by building a “Clean Slate” system, alleviating the burden of criminal court fines and fees, and further reducing  Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. Even after significant progress, Oklahoma still ranks third in overall incarceration, with more than 21,000 people in state custody and another 26,000 under some form of supervision. While Oklahoma’s overall incarceration rate remains alarming, the demographic composition of our prison and jail populations show a significant imbalance along both racial and gender lines. [David Gateley / OK Policy]

We are hiring! Join the team: We believe all Oklahomans deserve to live in safe communities, raise thriving families, and lead healthy lives. If you do too, join us in the fight for an equitable future. See the three open positions on our website. [Learn more and apply]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma Empowerment Act advances on close vote, charter reforms move as well: While the Senate Education Committee was advancing a controversial measure to create educational savings accounts for Oklahoma families this morning, the House Common Education Committee was moving forward three bills to reform the administration and oversight of public charter schools. The dichotomy highlighted slight differences in opinion over education priorities between the two chambers during the second week of this year’s legislative session. [NonDoc

  • Senate education voucher bill squeaks through committee, faces long path to becoming law [KGOU]  [AP News]
  • Controversial school voucher bill narrowly passes committee vote [Tulsa World
  • Bill supporting private-school, homeschool costs clears committee, advances in Senate [The Oklahoman

Autopsy shows executed Oklahoma inmate John Marion Grant breathed in vomit: The state autopsy on the first inmate executed in Oklahoma in more than six years shows he inhaled his own vomit during the lethal injection procedure. John Marion Grant, 60, was put to death Oct. 28 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. [The Oklahoman] Media observers of the execution from several news outlets across the state described seeing Grant push against his chest restraints, convulse, froth at the mouth and vomit. [Tulsa World

  • Opinion: Oklahoma case reveals the medical profession’s complicity in American executions [Opinion / The Hill]

Watch Now: Oklahoma’s daily COVID-19 deaths higher than ever as long-term patients die amid plummeting omicron wave: The omicron-variant wave is rapidly receding in Oklahoma, but the daily number of COVID-19 deaths is higher than ever this week as critically ill patients lose their lengthy battles with the disease. [Tulsa World

State Government News

Senate committee passes bill to remove state sales tax on groceries: A Senate panel on Tuesday passed a measure to eliminate the state sales tax on groceries. [Tulsa World] The Oklahoma Tax Commission has estimated the complete elimination of the state sales tax on groceries would cost the state an estimated $306 million annually once fully implemented. [AP

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.

State makes first deposit this fiscal year to Rainy Day Fund: Oklahoma has made the first fiscal year 2022 deposit to the state’s constitutional reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced. [Tulsa World]

How A State Lawmaker’s Day Job Tiptoed into Lobbying: She voted for and often co-authored legislation expanding school choice in 2021, earning her an “A+” in the grassroots lobbying group ChoiceMatters’ ranking of state lawmakers. Months later, that group’s parent organization hired State Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, for a paid position where she spent some of her time teaching parents how to advocate for school choice, including at the Legislature. [Oklahoma Watch]

Reproductive rights advocates take a stand against anti-abortion bills: In response to the latest anti-abortion bills that were proposed during last weeks’ Legislative sessions, Oklahoma reproductive rights advocates took a unified stance against the legislation in a press conference on Tuesday, February 15. She provided an overview of the 20 extreme anti-abortion bills that threaten the reproductive health rights of women in Oklahoma and surrounding states during Tuesday morning’s press conference. [The Black Wall Street Times

  • Abortion rights under attack in new session [The Journal Record
  • Watch Now: Plea to Oklahoma’s anti-abortion legislators: Pregnant women need equal rights [Tulsa World
  • Oklahoma abortion providers see huge influx of Texas women [AP

Federal Government News

Oklahoma communities may lose pandemic relief funds: Towns in Oklahoma could lose out on millions of dollars’ worth of federal pandemic aid if they don’t act soon. According to the Oklahoma Municipal League, much of the money included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act relief package passed by Congress last year was intended for municipalities across the country set back financially by COVID-19. [The Journal Record

Federal dollars to pay for economic development programs: More help is coming for small businesses and nonprofits dealing with negative economic impacts caused by COVID-19. The Oklahoma City Council approved a contract Tuesday for new economic development programs to be paid for with $12.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars. [The Journal Record

Health News

OKC hospital tightens security, locks down ICU after ‘online attacks’ over COVID-19 patient: Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City has tightened security and locked down its intensive care unit in response to what it called social media attacks and said the hospital has taken legal action against a local religious leader. [The Oklahoman] In a letter to employees sent Monday, Mercy leaders told staff “you deserve to know what is going on. We are committed to transparency and sharing as many details as possible.” [The Black Wall Street Times

State program will provide free HIV self-test kits: Oklahoma is joining just six other states in providing free self tests for HIV. The program’s aim is to reduce HIV infections in the state. Oklahoma is one of seven states with high HIV rates among rural residents. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Criminal Justice News

10 bills could drastically reform criminal justice in Oklahoma if approved: The State of Oklahoma is introducing bills that could radically reshape the Sooner state. According to Oklahoma Watch, among the proposals are House Bill 3316, which would authorize the state to automatically expunge certain criminal records, and Senate Bill 1458, which would eliminate several court fines and fees for the convicted. [The Black Wall Street Times

Anti-death penalty groups plan vigil ahead of Gilbert Postelle’s execution: A state that refuses to reveal the source of its lethal injection drugs continues to move forward with executions. On Wednesday, February 16, the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) and Death Penalty Action (DPA) are holding a vigil to protest the scheduled execution of death row prisoner Gilbert Ray Postelle. [The Black Wall Street Times

Why a church is hosting a job fair for the OK County jail: The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority will partner with Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Rev. Derrick Scobey to host a job fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the church, 3600 N Kelley. The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority operates the Oklahoma County Detention Center and the organization is seeking to hire detention officers, clerical workers and pod monitors. [The Oklahoman

Economy & Business News

Americans are betting more money as gaming industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic: Commercial casinos, sports books and online gaming sites brought in more money than ever in the U.S. last year as casinos rebounded from pandemic shutdowns, the industry’s main trade group said Tuesday. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

7 local schools to benefit from state grants: Oklahoma School for the Blind and six Muskogee Public School sites received grants through the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s High-Quality After-school and Summer Learning Programs initiative. OSB Superintendent Rita Echelle said the grant will “be a great benefit for our students.” [Muskogee Phoenix

Higher Education Day brings together Oklahoma students and legislators: Students and Oklahoma state legislators gathered in Oklahoma City Tuesday highlight the importance of higher education in the state. Gov. Kevin Stitt and several state lawmakers greeted students at the State Capitol. [FOX 23]

Previously from OK Policy: Even before COVID-19 brought new challenges to state education systems, a report from 2021 shows that Oklahoma was one of 6 states that cut higher education funding by more than 30 percent between 2008 and 2019.

General News

Man paralyzed at 2020 BLM rally sues city of Tulsa, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and pickup driver: A man who fell from an overpass and was paralyzed during a 2020 Black Lives Matter march in Tulsa is suing the city of Tulsa, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and others in a federal lawsuit. Knight was participating in a Black Lives Matter march on May 31, 2020, when he fell about 20 feet from an Interstate 244 overpass near downtown. Knight broke multiple spinal bones and is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to the lawsuit. [Tulsa World

Quote of the Day

“Obviously, I’m not for SB 1647 because I don’t believe that public taxpayer dollars should be used for private schools. Never have. Taxpayers have never agreed to using their public school dollars for private schools.”

– Senate Education Committee Vice Chairman Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee), speaking about a bill that would allow parents to use public dollars on things like private school tuition or other educational expense. To be eligible, students could not enroll in a public school, but eligible students would not be required to enroll in any school or online program at all. [NonDoc]

Number of the Day


Black Oklahomans are more than 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white Oklahomans

[Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]

New from OK Policy: The 2022 session brings rare opportunity for significant progress in our criminal justice system.

Policy Note

The Steep Costs of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines: The past decade has seen a troub­ling and well-docu­mented increase in fees and fines imposed on defend­ants by crim­inal courts. Today, many states and local­it­ies rely on these fees and fines to fund their court systems or even basic govern­ment oper­a­tions. A wealth of evid­ence has already shown that this system works against the goal of rehab­il­it­a­tion and creates a major barrier to people reen­ter­ing soci­ety after a convic­tion. They are often unable to pay hundreds or thou­sands of dollars in accu­mu­lated court debt. When debt leads to incar­cer­a­tion or license suspen­sion, it becomes even harder to find a job or hous­ing or to pay child support. There’s also little evid­ence that impos­ing oner­ous fees and fines improves public safety. [Brennan Center for Justice]

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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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