In The Know: State Sen. Tom Woods stands behind his anti-LGBTQ+ ‘filth’ comment | Owasso students walk out over Nex Benedict’s death | Justice-involved individuals continue to die in Oklahoma jails | Cutting grocery sales tax not enough for families, seniors

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

Statement: Elimination of grocery sales tax is far too little support for low- and middle-income families: While elimination of the state portion of the grocery sales tax provides a measure of financial relief to some Oklahomans, it’s far too little support for our low – and middle-income families and seniors who need it most. [Shiloh Kantz / OK Policy]

Ignoring Oklahoma’s unmet needs today will move us further backwards tomorrow (Capitol Update): The governor and some legislators have been itching to pass a tax cut for a while now. They finally were able to scratch the itch last Tuesday when the Senate passed House Bill 1955 eliminating the state sales tax on groceries by a vote of 42-2.  Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, acknowledged that yes, the loss of revenue “eats up the vast majority of new recurring revenue going forward.” [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods: ‘I stand behind what I believe in.‘: State Sen. Tom Woods on Monday issued a statement largely standing by his now-viral comments about the LGBTQ+ community, this time without using the word “filth.” [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma senator stands by ‘filth’ comment about LGBTQ people despite rebuke [Tulsa World]
  • Republicans rebuke Oklahoma senator’s anti-LGBTQ+ ‘filth’ comments [Oklahoma Voice]
  • Does a senator’s ‘filth’ statement reflect Oklahoma? The impacts of rhetoric on state’s LGBTQ community [The Oklahoman]
  • How Oklahoma religious leaders have responded to Sen. Tom Woods’ anti-LGBTQ+ remarks [The Oklahoman]
  • As the nation reacts to Sen. Tom Woods’ ‘filth’ comment, is there controversy at home? [The Oklahoman]

Owasso students walk out over Nex Benedict’s death, while decrying bullying, political rhetoric: About 20 Owasso High School students walked out of school on Monday, regarding the death of non-binary student Nex Benedict. Students gathered just off school property at 86th Street and 129th Avenue with community members like advocate Kels Cooper. Cooper graduated from OHS in 2011 after starting an equality club that has since dissolved. [KOSU]

  • Walkout amplifies bullying discussion at Owasso after high school student’s death [Tulsa World]
  • Owasso students, activists organize walkout and rally to honor Nex Benedict [News  on 6]

Editorial: Oklahoma’s national embarrassment continues thanks to GOP lawmaker’s bigotry: Oklahoma’s national embarrassment continues as another state Republican lawmaker’s bigoted comments have, again, put our state in an unflattering position. Lawmakers represent constituents in their districts, but some seem to have forgotten their comments and actions also are a reflection of the people of this state ― even though many do not share the same views. When elected leaders speak with such blatantly offensive language about human beings, it emboldens others to do the same. Bullying becomes normalized. Sometimes people die. [Clytie Bunyan / The Oklahoman]

State Government News

By defining sex, some states are denying transgender people legal recognition: Legislation introduced around the nation this year — often labeled as “bills of rights” for women — are part of a push by conservatives who say states have a legitimate interest in restricting transgender people from competing on sports teams or using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Critics argue the proposals to legally define sex as binary are essentially erasing transgender and nonbinary people’s existences by making it as difficult as possible for them to update documents, use facilities and generally participate authentically in public life. [Tulsa World]

How will the Oklahoma grocery tax cut actually affect my bill? What to know: Tax cuts are heavy on the minds of Oklahomans and lawmakers, especially when it comes to the tax on groceries in the state. Here’s what to know about Oklahoma’s grocery tax bill, how it will impact Oklahomans and what’s next. [The Oklahoman]

  • What to know about Oklahoma’s state grocery sales tax elimination [Tulsa World]

Daylight saving time bill would ‘lock the clock’ in Oklahoma: On March 10, Oklahomans will “spring forward” to daylight saving time. If Sen. Blake Stephens has his way, it will be the last time. For the last several years, Stephens, a Republican from Tahlequah, has championed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent in Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma lawmakers rush to get bills through committee as deadline approaches: Thursday, Feb. 29 marks the last day state lawmakers can have their bills heard and passed through committees in their chamber of origin to then be considered on the floor. Any bills that don’t get a committee hearing by then essentially fail, unless lawmakers go out of their way to bring them back into the fold. [KOSU]

Oklahoma senator wants to help police learn to detect high drivers: An Oklahoma lawmaker has set out to get more small-town police officers trained to detect when people are driving while high. Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R Tuttle introduced a bill this year, Senate Bill 1279, to establish a pilot program to help police departments with training. [KOSU

Would cellphone bans in Oklahoma schools work? Lawmakers may offer incentives to find out: Multiple cellphone-related bills are moving through the Oklahoma Legislature. Companion bills in the state Senate and House of Representatives, authored by Sen. Ally Seifried, R-Claremore, and Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, would authorize the Oklahoma State Department of Education to create a one-year pilot program for the 2024-25 academic year.  [The Oklahoman]

$35 million rebate for Vinita RV park advances in House: A $35 million rebate connected to a planned 320-acre RV park near Vinita took its first legislative steps on Monday with approval from an Oklahoma House of Representatives subcommittee. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Cherokee Nation says tentative tobacco agreement reached with state: The Cherokee Nation announced Monday that the tribe has reached a tentative agreement on a new tobacco compact with the state. If approved by the tribal council, the compact will last 10 years. [Tulsa World]

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby Shares Tribe’s Health Care Transformation with Harvard Audience:  Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby spoke at Harvard Medical School Jan. 18, detailing the connection between leadership and health care in medically underserved communities. [Native News Online]

Voting and Election News

Presidential primary voting begins Thursday at Expo Square: Early in-person voting for Oklahoma’s March 5 presidential primary election begins Thursday at a new location for Tulsa County — Expo Square’s Fair Meadows Building. Those registered outside Tulsa County but wishing to cast early in-person ballots should check with their county election board. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Opinion: Help rural entrepreneurs combat food insecurity in Oklahoma: The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers food security to mean that “all people at all times have enough food for an active, healthy life.” This is far from the economic reality for much of rural America. Communities like mine in rural northwest Oklahoma have long been considered food deserts. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Why Oklahoma prisons are seeing a spike in overdose deaths: At least 18 people died from drug overdoses in Oklahoma prisons in 2023, a sharp increase over the previous year. The number of fatal overdoses is expected to grow. Another 29 deaths at Oklahoma prisons last year remain under investigation and toxicology test results are still pending. [The Frontier]

Grading Oklahoma: How do our state’s jail system policies and programs stack up?: A recent governor’s task force study of Oklahoma’s jail system evaluated current policies and programs across the state. This week’s Grading Oklahoma shows key findings and policy recommendations to address city and county jail populations, recidivism, cost-effectiveness and public safety across Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma County jail inmate dies Monday, two months after arrest in fatal collision: Oklahoma County has had its first jail death of 2024. Murder defendant Derek Raymond Strother, 31, was found unresponsive in his cell about 8:20 a.m. Monday, the jail said in a news release.  A yearlong investigation by The Oklahoman found the jail had become one of the deadliest in the United States. The state’s multicounty grand jury in March called for the trust to be dissolved, saying many of the deaths were preventable. [The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma Evicted: Thousands of Civil Filings Linger in Records Forever: In Oklahoma, most eviction records remain publicly available indefinitely unless they are sealed or expunged by a judge. In Oklahoma, more than 48,200 eviction cases were filed in 2023, 17,868 of which were in Oklahoma County, Shelterwell data shows. Evictions hurt the country’s poorest citizens by adding obstacles to finding new housing, especially during the current nationwide affordable housing crisis. [Oklahoma Watch]

Education News

Oklahoma bill would link school security cameras to law enforcement: School safety-related legislation often deals with locking mechanisms, heavier doors, or more security guards. House Bill 3860, The School Safety Interoperability Fund, is taking a different approach, emphasizing the information aspect. The act would work as sort of a middleman. It would provide money to link schools’ walkie-talkies and surveillance videos directly to law enforcement. [KJRH]

Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent to resign over ‘irreconcilable’ differences with board member: Sean McDaniel, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, will resign at the end of this school year, creating a future vacancy at the top of the state’s second-largest school district. McDaniel’s resignation letter states he is departing over “irreconcilable” differences with an unnamed school board member. In recent months, some school board members declined to follow his recommendations when voting in favor of approving new charter schools in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel resignation letter cites ‘irreconcilable’ board issues [NonDoc]
  • Superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools plans to resign [KOSU]

Union Superintendent Kirt Hartzler to retire in June: After almost 40 years with Union Public Schools, Superintendent Kirt Hartzler is stepping down. In an email sent to district leaders Monday morning, Hartzler announced his plans to retire effective June 30. [Tulsa World]

OU planned DEI changes months before Stitt’s order: Within hours of a Dec. 13 executive order from the governor, the University of Oklahoma announced it was left with no choice but to eliminate its diversity, equity and inclusion office. The announcement sent shockwaves through a campus that had worked for years with these programs to move beyond incidents of racism. [Oklahoma Voice]

OUPD rules  suspicious package consisting of bricks, rocks, raw meat, hair and ripped clothing as First Amendment-protected ‘protest art’: OU Police Chief Nate Tarver said the individual responsible for placing objects outside of Gaylord College Friday, signaling a suspicious package alert that lasted around two hours, won’t be charged due to a lack of evidence of a crime being committed coupled with the person’s First Amendment rights. [OU Daily]

Ryan Walters’ battle with Edmond schools over library books: What we know: The Oklahoma State Department of Education threatened to lower Edmond Public Schools accreditation if it did not remove two books, “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, from the libraries of the district’s three high schools. Walters said the fact he was elected to his office in a statewide election essentially gives him authority to force districts to bend to his will over the issue. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa Public Schools takes action on support staff retirement contributions issue: Citing missing opt-out forms, Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education voted 5-0 Monday to approve a memorandum of understanding with the district’s support staff bargaining unit regarding retirement contributions. [Tulsa World]

General News

Several wildfires reported across Oklahoma amid red flag warning, fire weather watch issued: A handful of wildfires were reported across Oklahoma over the past 24 hours amid red flag warnings and fire weather watches in areas of the state. Here’s what to know about ongoing fires and which have been put out. [The Oklahoman]

How long does it take to receive your Oklahoma tax refund? Here’s what to know: How long you wait to receive your tax refund will vary depending on how you filed your Oklahoma taxes, according to estimates from the Oklahoma Tax Commission. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • ‘Almost $1 billion in investment’: Jenks poised for explosive growth [Tulsa World]
  • OKC’s Will Rogers Airport may soon be approved for international flights [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“In these small towns, if you’re any type of minority, you get picked on. It’s like hate is kind of, I don’t want to say normalized, but it is, and bullying.”

-Owasso High School Freshman Layaha Alexander, one of the 20 OHS students participating in a walk out yesterday over the death of non-binary student Nex Benedict. [KOSU]

Number of the Day


Middle income Oklahomans (between $38,400 to $67,500) on average pay 5.5% of their family income towards sales and use taxes. This means they pay between $2,100 and $3,700 per year in sales taxes, of which about $440 is for grocery sales taxes (both state and local). Sales taxes are highly regressive and place larger financial costs on everyday Oklahomans than the wealthy, which is why the state’s Sales Tax Relief Credit is so vital to delivering targeted relief to low- and middle-income families. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

Policy Note

The ‘Low-Tax’ Lie: States Hyped for Low Taxes Usually Only Low-Tax for the Rich: It’s hard to go a week without seeing a politician or a news article hype up a state as the place that everyone is moving to – or should move to – because of low taxes. However, there’s a big problem with these proclamations: they aren’t true. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

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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.