In The Know: Amazon Expected to Collect Sales Taxes Soon in Oklahoma

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Amazon Expected to Collect Sales Taxes Soon in Oklahoma: Online retail giant Amazon could soon start charging sales taxes to Oklahoma customers – a move that would help fill a sizable state budget shortfall for next fiscal year, Oklahoma Watch has learned. An Oklahoma Tax Commission official said the agency is in discussions with online retailers to voluntarily collect sales and use taxes, and two state legislators said they expect agreements could be struck in coming weeks or months with Amazon, the country’s largest e-commerce site [Oklahoma Watch]. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that Oklahoma lost $140 million in unpaid use tax revenues from e-commerce in 2012 [OK Policy].

Oklahoma House Speaker says new oversight panel to review expenditures: Oklahoma’s new Republican House Speaker Charles McCall is setting up a special committee to review and approve House expenditures in excess of $15,000. McCall announced the creation of the new committee on Wednesday based on a recommendation from a special panel that is investigating a $44,500 wrongful-termination settlement with a former employee who alleged she was sexually harassed [NewsOK].

OPI looks to reduce burden for people who can’t pay court fines: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is calling on the state Legislature to make big changes to save citizens money and keep people who miss court fees out of jail. “Too often this leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty,” said Ryan Gentzler, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. The call aims to reduce financial burdens for people who are thrown in jail because they can’t pay court fines [KOCO].

The Cost Trap: How Excessive Fees Lock Oklahomans Into the Criminal Justice System without Boosting State Revenue: Tens of thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year and come out with thousands of dollars in legal financial obligations. For poor Oklahomans, this debt can amount to most of their family’s income, and it often leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty. The system does nothing to improve public safety but incurs high costs to law enforcement, jails, and the courts [OK Policy]. Video from the report’s press conference is available here

A way out for prisoners of debt: Justice reform could include paying fines during traffic stops: As state prisons and county jails nearly burst at the seams, a pair of state legislators have eyed eliminating debtors. Two bills would make it harder for law enforcement officers to incarcerate residents for failure to pay court fines and fees. One would get rid of the practice altogether, and one would give officers a way out [Journal Record].

Oklahoma lawmaker pushes good Samaritan law for overdose cases: Blake Bond wasn’t thinking about the police car that followed him into the Oklahoma City hospital parking lot. Instead, he dragged his friend inside, screaming that they needed help. His friend had overdosed after using heroin. Moments later, Bond, 29, realized that police officers were searching his truck [NewsOK].

Bice seeks lower liquor consumption tax rate: State Sen. Stephanie Bice wants to lower a tax rate. But she said the change would not create a larger budget deficit. The Oklahoma City-area Republican filed Senate Bill 58, which would lower the alcohol consumption tax to 10 percent from 13.5 percent. “I’m lowering the tax rate, but we’re still going to make money,” Bice said. The alcohol consumption tax is applied only to prepared drinks, not alcoholic beverages that are purchased in a package [Journal Record].

Wal-Mart spent more than $4.8 million on Oklahoma’s alcohol ballot measure: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. laid out more than $4.8 million to ensure the success of a ballot measure that allows wine sales in Oklahoma grocery stores. The group Yes on 792 Inc., which promoted State Question 792, garnered about $5.3 million in contributions in the 2016 election — nearly all of it from Wal-Mart, campaign disclosure statements filed this week show. In comparison, the opposition group No to SQ 792 raised $12,486 in cash and in-kind contributions [NewsOK].

Chamber, Energy Companies Funded Efforts to Defeat Penny Sales Tax: New campaign finance reports reveal for the first time the primary funders behind opposition to last year’s state question proposing a 1-cent sales tax for education. Those funders include the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and several prominent energy companies. The reports also show that backers of the penny tax, which was shot down by voters in November, outspent their opposition more than seven to one [Oklahoma Watch]. 

Prosperity Policy: Partial progress: Next Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin will launch the 2017 legislative session by delivering her annual State of the State address. As in past years, the state’s budget shortfall – this year approaching $750 million – is certain to be her main subject. The governor and Republican legislative leaders now recognize the state has a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and we should not slash deeper into budgets that have already been cut in ways that harm Oklahoma families and communities [David Blatt / Journal Record].

Periscope: A math lesson for legislative leaders: The Legislature’s senior Republican leaders need a math lesson. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services director Terri White was at the Capitol Monday and Downtown Rotary Tuesday. I was absent for the former but present for the latter and her message is the same as it’s been going back to the Henry administration: We need more money for mental health. But that apathetic response hurts fellow Oklahomans who need help – a lot of help [Ted Streuli / Journal Record]. Oklahoma’s midyear revenue failures prompted nearly $23 million in cuts by ODMHSAS [OK Policy].

Muslim advocacy group’s leader is plaintiff in suit against immigration ban: The leader of an Oklahoma Muslim advocacy group is one of the plaintiffs named in a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration’s recent immigration ban imposed on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., challenging Trump’s executive order. The lawsuit characterizes the ban as a first step in fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to impose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until the government “can figure out what is going on.” [NewsOK

Lankford bill would allow political speech from the pulpit: U.S. Sen. James Lankford introduced a bill Wednesday that would allow preachers and nonprofit leaders to speak openly about government and electoral matters without fear of jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. Lankford said his bill would counteract an amendment inserted into the tax code at the behest of then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson. The Johnson amendment prohibits leaders of nonprofits and churches from engaging in any activity that might be interpreted as participating or intervening in a campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice advocates for women’s, family health care rights: Women’s reproductive rights have been under scrutiny in Oklahoma for years. While no bills restricting abortion services were signed into state law in 2016, pro-abortion rights advocates faced a fight as a group sought a public vote to outlaw abortion and state lawmakers pushed legislation for sending abortion doctors to prison. However, before the year’s end, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a law that would have required physicians who performed the procedure to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals [Oklahoma Gazette].

Marsy’s Law proposed to guarantee rights of ‘raw, vulnerable and wounded’: From age 11 until age 16, Virginia Lewis was sexually abused by her father, a high-profile Tulsa attorney. Thanks to his legal connections and a system that Lewis believes inadequately supports victims, the man who traumatized her received a deferred prosecution, kept his job and retained his license to practice law. …Lewis appeared at a press conference today at the Oklahoma State Capitol in support of Marsy’s Law, a victim’s bill of rights that could be codified in the Oklahoma Constitution by a vote of the people if placed on the ballot by the Legislature [NonDoc].

Sheriff John Whetsel to retire: Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is retiring, a decision that avoids the possibility of being forced out anyway once an investigation of his office is complete. His last day is March 1. Whetsel, a Democrat, has been sheriff 20 years and was last re-elected in a close vote in November. He announced his retirement Wednesday [NewsOK].

Rare national fire advisory issued for drought-hit Oklahoma: Oklahoma has been placed under a national fire advisory as much of the state struggles with unrelenting drought and tinder-dry vegetation capable of igniting and quickly spreading out of control, state forestry officials said Wednesday. The rare advisory — and the first for Oklahoma — issued by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, is in effect for two weeks and warns residents and fire departments to prepare for potentially severe wildfires [NewsOK]. Skiatook and Tulsa lead state in January rainfall, but drought still persists across area [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“It costs about $23,000 per year to house an inmate with SMI, severe mental illness. That’s about $4,000 per year more than other inmates. But it costs only $5,000 per year to treat someone with a brain disease, a few hundred dollars more if they’re in an intensive program through a drug court or mental health court. The first problem is that the alternative court systems are full; new people get in only when someone graduates. And if there’s no opening, they go from being a client of White’s to an inmate of Allbaugh’s at four- to five-times the price, and with a much less desirable outcome. Prisons just don’t make good hospitals.”

– Ted Streuli, editor of the Journal Record, arguing the legislature should invest in treatment for addiction and mental illness rather than incarceration (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma Medicare beneficiaries who benefited from provisions of the Affordable Care Act closing the Medicare Part D “donut hole” in 2015

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Do high-deductible plans make the health care system better? Congressman Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, faced his first Senate confirmation hearing today. While he was light on the specifics of what the incoming Trump administration wants to replace Obamacare with, he did say, “I think health savings accounts and high-deductible catastrophic coverage are things that make a whole lot of sense for many individuals, and we ought not force anybody to do anything. It ought to be a voluntary choice, but they ought to have the choice to be able to select them.” Those high-deductible or “catastrophic” plans work like this: you pay most of your own medical bills up to a specific amount — usually thousands of dollars — before your insurance kicks in [Marketplace].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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