In The Know: State’s anti-trans policies drawing scrutiny | Grocery sales tax cut goes to governor for signature | Ed board passes sweeping changes to administrative rules, accreditation standards, more

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

Oklahoma governor calls for transparency from police investigating death of Nex Benedict: Oklahoma’s governor on Thursday pressed investigators and school administrators to be transparent with the public about the circumstances surrounding the death of Nex Benedict as questions and speculation circulate nationwide. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma’s queer community mourns 16-year-old in state that leads the nation in anti-LGBTQ bills [NBC News]
  • Anti-trans policies draw scrutiny after 16-year-old’s death in Oklahoma [The New York Times]
  • White House comments on death of 16-year-old nonbinary Owasso High School student [KOCO]
  • Investigation into Nex Benedict’s death: All the coverage from Tulsa World, Owasso Reporter [Tulsa World]
  • Opinion: Death of Oklahoma teen Nex Benedict hits close to home for New Jersey therapist [Laura Hoge / Oklahoma Voice]
  • Opinion: The War on Transgender Kids Took the Life of Nex Benedict [The Nation]
  • Editorial: Editorial: Owasso school fight tragedy — Unraveling the facts surrounding Nex Benedict’s death [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Nonbinary student’s death prompts anger at Oklahoma state board meeting: The death of Owasso High School student Nex Benedict prompted outrage across the country and among several meeting attendees. Some speakers claimed anti-transgender policies and messaging from state officials caused the student to be attacked and bullied. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Owasso teenager’s death sparks outrage at Board of Ed. meeting [KFOR]

State Government News

Oklahoma Senate approves grocery tax cut. Measure heads to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk: The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Kevin Stitt a bill that would eliminate the state’s sales tax on groceries. In addition to eliminating the state’s 4.5% tax, it would put a moratorium on the ability of cities and counties to raise their sales taxes on groceries until July 1, 2025, [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Senate sends Stitt bill eliminating state share of sales tax on groceries [NonDoc]
  • Historic grocery sales tax cut goes to Gov. Stitt [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma’s grocery tax won’t immediately go away after Stitt signs bill into law [KOCO]
  • Oklahoma Senate approves grocery tax cut, sends bill for Stitt’s signature [Journal Record]
  • Senate vote passes Oklahoma grocery tax cut bill, state leaders react [Fox 25]
  • Gov. Stitt expected to sign state grocery tax elimination into law; passes both House and Senate [KFOR]

Medical Debt Bill Advances To House Floor: Oklahomans facing medical debt lawsuits could get some relief under a bill advanced by a House committee on Thursday. House Bill 4148 would require health-care providers or third-party debt collectors to tell the court they made the patient aware of the costs of care before a debt-collection lawsuit can proceed. [Oklahoma Watch]

Bill would let medical workers opt out of care if they object to procedure: A bill that would allow health care workers not to participate in medical procedures they find objectionable drew sharp debate before advancing Wednesday in the House Public Health Committee. [Tulsa World]

Committees pass bills on homeless encampments, opioid control, domestic violence victims: Several bills are one step closer to becoming law after the 2024 Legislature met Thursday. [Fox 25]

Could a wall be built between Texas and Oklahoma?: That’s something Governor Greg Abbott mentioned when speaking at a rally in Texas last week. “But some people say ‘Abbott, you need to build a border wall on the border with Oklahoma to stop all that stuff from coming in,’” said Governor Greg Abbott, R-Texas. [KFOR]

This Week in Oklahoma Politics: Final budget number, Edmond library books, Oklahoma County Jail and more (audio): The panel discusses new estimates from the State Board of Equalization for lawmakers to craft a state budget for the 2025 fiscal year, Edmond Schools challenging an order from the State Board of Education to remove books from its library and the State Supreme Court setting a date to hear a challenge to a Catholic charter school. [KOSU]

Editorial: Chicken litter proposal doesn’t address problems leading to water pollution: The tussle over House Bill 4118 comes down to who will be held responsible when chicken litter pollutes the water supply. The proposal from Rep. David Hardin, R-Stilwell, seeks to protect well-intentioned chicken farmers but misses the mark by creating an unfunded mandate and ignoring liability among big chicken producers. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Voting and Election News

Presidential candidates skip Oklahoma ahead of Super Tuesday: With less than two weeks before Oklahoma Republicans pick their nominee for president, where are the candidates? They’re not in the Sooner State. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Murder charge in one Innocent Man case could be dismissed: One of two Oklahoma men accused of kidnapping a woman from an Ada convenience store and killing her in 1984 is hoping to have his murder charge dismissed on Friday. [The Frontier]

Two groups are calling for OK Co. Jail Trust to be dissolved: Two groups are calling for the Oklahoma County Jail Trust to be dissolved and for the federal government to step in. Members with both The People’s Council for Justice Reform and the Oklahoma State NAACP say conditions and operations at the jail have only gotten worse since the jail trust was put in charge of operations in 2020. [KFOR]

Safety, security concerns rank high among supporters of effort to keep county jail downtown: Impacts to area schools, their students and to the safety and security of nearby residents are chief among concerns held by many who oppose moving Oklahoma County’s jail away from downtown Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

New rules, former Kingfisher coach action, Owasso, Edmond comments mark state board meeting: In a marathon Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting Thursday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters addressed the recent death of a non-binary Owasso High School student and a recent lawsuit Edmond Public Schools filed against him, the board and the State Department of Education. [NonDoc]

  • ‘Move the state forward’: State Supt. Ryan Walters highlights three new OSDE rules [Fox 25]
  • State Board of Education approves rule tying school accreditation to student test scores [Tulsa World]

Ryan Walters says voters elected him to decide which books should be in school libraries: State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters says his election in a statewide race is a primary reason why the state Board of Education has the right to decide what books should be on the shelves of libraries in school districts with locally elected school boards. [The Oklahoman]

  • ‘Rogue districts’: State superintendent weighs in on EPS court action [Fox 25]

Student who sued Ryan Walters over pronoun rule requests case be tried in state court: Attorneys for a Moore student who sued state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters and the state Board of Education over the board’s denial of the student’s request to change their pronouns in school records want the case moved back to state court. [The Oklahoman]

Once a target for online attacks, Union school librarian honored by district: A Tulsa-area librarian has been honored by her school district after being the target of online harassment less than a year ago. Kirby Mackenzie, a librarian at Ellen Ochoa Elementary, was designated Tuesday as 2023-2024 District Teacher of the Year by Union Public Schools. [Public Radio Tulsa]

HBCUs Set the Standard for Sustainability in Higher Education: A recent survey conducted across 20 Historically Black Colleges and Universities indicates a positive trend toward sustainability. The HBCU Climate Action Blueprint from the United Negro College Fund outlines current sustainable practices utilized at Black colleges and future aspirations for climate justice. Even with a lack of consistent funding, HBCUs have set a high standard for sustainability in the classroom. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Lawsuit filed against Tulsa Public Schools after student assaulted on campus: A parent of an East Central Middle School student has filed a negligence lawsuit against the school district after her child was beaten up after allegedly being asked to rat out a classmate. [Tulsa World]

Local control needed to set pay for school board members: The law states that districts with more than 15,000 average daily membership in students can pay elected board members $25 for meetings, capped at four meetings a month. That means $100 a month, tops. Among all the discussions about school reforms, including changing the date of school board elections, no effort is tackling this insulting pay. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

General News

State Supreme Court to hear oral arguments from 1921 Massacre survivors: The two remaining survivors of the 1921 Race Massacre may get another shot at a reparations lawsuit after its dismissal last year. According to court filings, the Oklahoma Supreme Court will allow oral arguments from the survivors’ legal team in April on whether to send their public nuisance case back to trial. [Public Radio Tulsa]

‘Shared humanity’ is key to social justice, says Tulsa author Hannibal Johnson in book: Hannibal Johnson knows well that wanting to make the world a better place for all can seem an overwhelming task. He describes his new book as “a primer to help people get engaged with the social justice issues that matter to them in ways that are effective without being divisive.” [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Critical disabilities services programs change lives but struggle financially: All Intermediate Care Facility for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities rely on Medicaid payments to fund their operations; in fact, it is the only source of payment. The Medicaid rate for ICF/IID services is woefully low in Oklahoma and, somewhat shockingly, is less for residential facilities than home-based services with far less staffing and infrastructure. [Phyllis Carson / Tulsa World]

Opinion: Tips for embracing DEI and creating truly inclusive environments: In a significant policy shift that has echoed through educational corridors and workplaces alike, Gov. Kevin Stitt recently implemented an executive order banning diversity, equity and inclusion programming in colleges and universities across the state. [Kuma Roberts / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • A teacher’s sexual misconduct in Salina results in $2.6M lawsuit settlement [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“It’s only gotten worse over the last two years. Before that, it still existed, of course, but you can see people that would have before been more accepting that now started harassing trans individuals, because it’s what they hear. It’s what they see all around them. So then they bring that over to the schools themselves.”

-Hali, a trans girl who is a senior at an Oklahoma high school, said the state’s bathroom law and other education policies make her feel unsafe at school. [NBC News]

Number of the Day


Percentage of eligible Oklahoma residents who participate in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. More than 171,000 women, infants, and children are eligible for WIC benefits, but only about 88,000 of them participate. [USDA]

Policy Note

WIC’s Critical Benefits Reach Only Half of Those Eligible: The federally funded WIC program — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — improves lifetime health for low-income pregnant and postpartum people, their infants, and young children, but just half of those eligible are enrolled. This underutilization has no single cause and has occurred despite adequate funding to serve all eligible applicants for more than 25 years. [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.