In The Know: State budget & savings updates | Plan to get 95% of Oklahomans’ broadband coverage | Fiscally responsible way to reduce grocery tax

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 fiscally responsible way to reduce taxes on groceries: Leaders of both political parties have discussed the possibility of eliminating the state sales tax on groceries this legislative session. 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. To avoid this, lawmakers should consider significantly expanding the Sales Tax Relief Credit that would provide targeted tax relief to Oklahomans who need it, cost less revenue, and give lawmakers more flexibility to raise revenue in the future. [Emma Morris / OK Policy

A look at criminal justice sentencing reclassification efforts this session (Capitol Update): It looks like the criminal justice reform effort to reorganize the Oklahoma Criminal Code by arranging various crimes into classes with an appropriate range of punishment for each class has begun to fall on hard times already. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update

Feb. 25th Approaching Deadline for Three Staff Positions: In addition to two new Fellow positions, OK Policy is accepting applications for three full-time staff positions: Manager of Organizational Advancement, Staff Accountant, and Digital Communications Associate / Storybanker. The deadline to apply for a staff position is Friday, February 25 at 5:00 PM (CST). [Learn more and apply]

Oklahoma News

State savings accounts rise, huge turnpike plan unveiled: During Tuesday’s meeting of the State Board of Equalization, Gov. Kevin Stitt smiled when a budget analyst noted that Oklahoma is estimated to start next fiscal year with $2.5 billion in savings, or a 47.1 percent reserve, which ranks fourth in the country among all states. Stitt turned over his left shoulder and winked at Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson. [NonDoc

Report from OK Policy: A Better Path Forward: Oklahoma has cut its taxes and public services too much, and this has created real harms to the health, safety, and prosperity of all Oklahomans. Each year our elected officials and policymakers have fewer dollars to answer today’s needs or to invest in our state’s future success

OSBI seeks more agents for ‘overwhelming’ online child predator problem: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is seeking an additional $3 million from the Oklahoma Legislature this session specifically to hire and equip 25 new staff positions to investigate and clear a backlog of tips about potential online child predators. “We are overloaded with the cases that are coming in the door,” OSBI director Ricky Adams. [NonDoc]

House Republicans propose plan to get 95% of Oklahomans’ broadband coverage: House Republican legislation to bring high-speed internet to 95% of Oklahomans in five years will be heard in committee this week. The creation of an Oklahoma Broadband Office via House Bill 3363 represents Oklahoma’s most aggressive step yet in broadband expansion, which has been a House Republican priority for three years. [Sapulpa Times] HB 3363, authored by McCall, creates the Oklahoma Broadband Office to distribute all funding available for broadband expansion. The nonappropriated office would be fully funded with administrative allowances from federal funds and sunset in 2028, once all funds are distributed. [The Lawton Constitution]

Previously from OK Policy: Broadband is more important than ever — here is how Oklahoma can respond (Guest Post: Dr. Brian Whitacre) 

Oklahoma weather: Freezing rain, sleet coming to central, southern Oklahoma Wednesday, Thursday: A winter storm warning was issued for central and southern Oklahoma counties for Wednesday into Thursday, with ice and freezing rain in the forecast. [The Oklahoman

  • Mostly sleet, snow expected in Tulsa metro; significant icing could hit southeastern Oklahoma [Tulsa World
  • Here’s a look at what schools are closed Wednesday due to winter weather [The Oklahoman
  • Area schools closed, in distance learning due to extreme weather threat [Tulsa World
  • (Audio) Headlines: Winter weather preparations, AG reviewing books & Focus: Black Oklahoma award [KOSU

State Government News

Oklahoma’s Attorney General is investigating whether 51 books violate state obscenity law: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor is reviewing dozens of books found in public school libraries to determine whether they violate state obscenity law. Books under review range from classics such as Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies to newer titles that cover LGBTQ and social justice issues. [The Frontier

  • Bills seek to clamp down on books in Oklahoma school libraries [The Frontier

Oklahoma lawmakers seek solutions to child care shortage: Oklahoma lawmakers tasked with helping set priorities for spending pandemic relief funds have identified lack of affordable child care as a serious threat to the state’s economic well-being. [The Journal Record

Senate Education Committee proposes sweeping change to charter school governance: Right now, charter schools are authorized by a broad range of entities — local districts, the tribes, and the Statewide Virtual School Board, among them. SB 1621 bill seeks to create a statewide authorizing board that would be responsible for all charters in the state.  [News 9

House Bill to increase Holocaust education in Oklahoma schools: If House Bill 3720 becomes law, beginning in the 22-23 school year, Oklahoma schools will begin teaching about the causes, course and effects of the Holocaust, speaking with students about the consequences of bullying, bigotry, stereotyping and discrimination, and encouraging the acceptance of diversity of all people. [KFOR

Oklahoma Senate panel passes 5 anti-abortion measures: An Oklahoma Senate committee approved five anti-abortion bills, including one that would ban abortions 30 days after conception, before many women know they’re pregnant. [Tulsa World

Federal Government News

USDA head: US farmers to help if Ukraine exports threatened: American wheat farmers will boost production and prevent supply chain problems in the event that a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine chokes off agricultural exports from the global grains powerhouse, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. [The Journal Record

Tribal Nations News

DOJ FOIA filed on training given to local law enforcement officers in the Muscogee Creek Nation Reservation: On Feb. 9 the Hughes County Sheriff posted a letter to the Sheriff’s office Facebook page. This letter announced that the sheriff will no longer be honoring the cross commission with the MCN Lighthorse, citing the sheriff’s belief that the Tribe either refused or was unable to assist on tribal calls in Hughes County. [Mvskoke Media

Cherokee Nation seeks input on Mankiller-Soap Water Act: Many residents living within the 14 counties that make up the Cherokee Nation still lack access to clean drinking water. In 2021, Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed the Mankiller-Soap Water Act to try to eliminate barriers to a safe water supply within the reservation. The tribal nation is now seeking citizen input on how to deliver it. [KOSU]  Under the Mankiller/Soap Water Act, at least $2 million in additional funding is being invested annually into improving access to clean water across the reservation, effectively doubling the amount Cherokee Nation spends from the tribe’s own revenues. [Indian Country Today]

McGirt increases tribal resources: McGirt has brought on many changes for the tribe in all sectors. During the later part of 2021, the tribe’s administration decided to develop a Motor Vehicle Department separate from the Tax Commission, which Deputy Tax Commissioner Mary Mashunkashey claimed is in large part due to the major Supreme Court ruling and the need for expansion and specialization. [Mvskoke Media

Tribe grapples with missing women crisis: The problem is more acute in rural regions like the one where Emmilee Risling disappeared, said Abigail Echo-Hawk, citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and director of the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle. [Indian Country Today]

Health News

Editorial: Save Oklahomans dying from preventable brain health disorders: Oklahoma’s poor outcomes in brain health disorders got significantly worse during the pandemic, with at least a 12% uptick in deaths to suicide, drug overdoses and alcoholism. This information comes just after state advocates called youth deaths by suicide “a true epidemic.” [Editorial / Tulsa World

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma legislators, law firm moving forward with death row review: The case of a twice-convicted Oklahoma death row inmate is being reviewed by an independent law firm at the request of state legislators concerned that justice is yet to served. Former hotel manager Richard Glossip, 58, was found guilty of orchestrating the 1997 murder of his boss, Barry Alan Van Treese, at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman

Officials propose multi-million expansion for overcrowded county jail: Garfield County residents could consider a sales tax increase to expand and renovate the county jail, which has become increasingly overcrowded over the last decade, officials said Tuesday. [Enid News & Eagle

Recently from OK Policy: Recent history has shown that Oklahoma voters want to see our state make more investments in treatment and restoration, rather than incarceration, to make our communities stronger and safer. 

Oklahoma Local News

Former Ward 4 candidate files petitions to impact location of, funding for city-run homeless shelters: Former Ward 4 Norman City Council candidate Teresa Borum filed two petitions on Feb. 7 that, if successful, would impact the way Norman leaders make location and funding decisions for city-run shelters. [OU Daily

OK County Commissioner Blumert to host virtual town hall, discuss ongoing county concerns: Oklahoma County District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert will host a virtual town hall Thursday to discuss COVID-19 relief funding, the county jail and more with constituents. The town hall is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and will take place via zoom. [The Oklahoman

Quote of the Day

“Oklahoma has continued to benefit from federal dollars related to the pandemic, which helped these numbers. Knowing that will change, and that energy prices will not always remain as high as they are now, we must be cautious in our approach to the budget. We need to continue to boost our emergency savings and make careful decisions now while the economy is strong, so that we are prepared for what may come the next few years.”

— Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, in a statement released after the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization (BOE) met on February 22nd to certify revenues available for appropriation for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. [Oklahoma Senate]

Number of the Day

$306 million

Estimated revenue that will be lost if Oklahoma repeals the state sales tax on groceries

[Source: Oklahoma Tax Commission, reported by News on 6]

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.

Policy Note

The New Trend: Short-Sighted Tax Cuts for the Rich Will Not Grow State Economies: Most state budgets are flush with cash due to billions in federal aid and a rebounding economy, positioning state policymakers to make transformative investments in programs, e.g. healthcare, education and infrastructure, that will help communities rebound from the ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, most state legislatures are instead opting for premature, myopic tax cuts that will inevitably widen racial inequities and erode public services that are still reeling from cuts due to the Great Recession [ITEP]

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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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