In The Know: Several Oklahoma agencies lose millions in funding as budget negotiations continue

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

Several Oklahoma agencies lose millions in funding as budget negotiations continue: Several Oklahoma agencies are seeing their funding decrease as lawmakers have yet to come up with a budget plan. Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a $1.50-per-pack ‘cigarette fee’ was unconstitutional after lawmakers passed the revenue raising measure in the final five days of a legislative session without a 75 percent majority vote [KFOR]. Lawmakers must use special session to fix the budget, not pass the buck [OK Policy].

Class-action suit filed against court-referred work program following national investigation: A class-action lawsuit has been filed against a controversial court-referred recovery program and an Arkansas-based company in the wake of a national news investigation that drew attention to the program’s practices and treatment of people assigned there. The lawsuit, filed in the Northern district of Oklahoma on Tuesday morning, accuses Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery and Simmons Food Inc. of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, Oklahoma Protection of Labor Act, Oklahoma Minimum Wage Act and Oklahoma’s Human Trafficking statutes [The Frontier]. Read about the investigation [Reveal].

Repeal the capital gains tax break: A tax break that benefits a small number of wealthy taxpayers and costs the state of Oklahoma around $100 million per year cannot “be credibly shown to have significant economic impact or a positive return on investment for the State,” according to a study presented to Oklahoma’s Incentive Evaluation Commission by a national consulting firm. Lawmakers should heed the advice of the experts and act quickly to repeal this expensive and inefficient tax break [OK Policy].

Frequently asked questions about Oklahoma’s special session: Although the Oklahoma Legislature has convened numerous special sessions in recent decades, none has dealt with issues as sweeping and consequential as the current one. This set of Frequently Asked Questions is intended to help Oklahomans understand the rules guiding the process and the issues being addressed. It will be updated regularly as the session continues [OK Policy].

Documents and video detail deadly gang fight at private Cushing prison; facility responded to riot by destroying records: There was terror in Terrance Lockett’s voice. The 52-year-old correctional officer had only been on the job for about eight months, and a chaotic and bloody scene was unfolding before him. The only officer on the unit, Lockett watched as members of the Irish Mob and Universal Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs warred before him. Lockett quickly yelled out on the radio for help, but incorrectly identified the unit he was stationed in [The Frontier].

Inmate’s death at Oklahoma County Jail ruled a homicide: The August death of an inmate at the Oklahoma County Jail has been ruled a homicide. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office reports that Mitchell Willis died August 18 after his spine was fractured. Contributing factors to Willis’ death are listed as acute PCP toxicity, hypertensive and heart disease. Willis reportedly resisted arrest and was combative with officers and made “homicidal and suicidal” comments which led jail staff to place him in a cell by himself on suicide watch [KOKH].

Regulations targeting payday lenders are necessary: Federal regulators rolled out a long-awaited set of new rules for payday lenders last week, including a measure designed to prevent predatory companies from trapping poor people in debt they have no hope of ever repaying. The business model of predatory lending is based on “flipping”: Low-credit borrowers in difficult straits borrow money once, pay some but not all of the debt at effective annual interests rates of up to 300 percent and then repeatedly refinance the loan at those same outrageous rates [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. If predatory lending is restricted, Oklahomans will find better alternatives [OK Policy].

Stillwater residents prefer sales tax hike: City officials were surprised when residents said they were interested in a sales tax hike instead of a general obligation bond to pay for infrastructure repairs and upgrades, Chief Financial Officer Melissa Reames said. Typically in Oklahoma towns, voters support GO bond issues because they’re functionally invisible to the public – the debt is repaid from ad valorem taxes as each new issue follows on the tail of the previous one with no change in millage levy. A sales tax, however, is obvious with every purchase [Journal Record].

Online sales still waylay OKC revenue: The city continues to lose badly needed sales tax revenue to online merchant sales, Finance Director Craig Freeman said Tuesday. The total amount has grown to $10 million to $15 million annually, he said, and it is going to keep growing as more transactions move away from traditional retail outlets to the internet. “The sales tax base is deteriorating,” he said. The only hope seems to be stronger federal efforts to secure the revenue at its source, Freeman said, “whether it’s by law or judicial action.” [Journal Record]

Oklahoma Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Challenge to DUI Law: The Oklahoma Supreme Court should soon rule on the constitutionality of another law passed during the regular legislative session. The justices heard arguments Tuesday in a challenge of a new impaired driving law set to take effect Nov. 1. Four DUI attorneys are suing the state, saying Senate Bill 643 violates the single-subject rule [Public Radio Tulsa].

GOP Candidate for Oklahoma Governor Amasses $1.6M in Quarter: A political newcomer from Tulsa who is running as a Republican for Oklahoma governor in 2018 says he’s amassed more than $1.6 million in his first quarter of fundraising, an amount that could help boost his name identification and make him more competitive in a crowded GOP field. Republican Kevin Stitt said he raised $811,000 from more than 560 donors during the most recent fundraising quarter that ended Sept. 30. The 44-year-old mortgage company founder added $800,000 of his own money to his campaign war chest [Associated Press].

Oklahoma Legislature considering restrictions on wind turbines near military bases: At a legislative hearing Tuesday that began with a congressman’s dire warnings, state lawmakers debated whether further regulation of wind turbines is necessary to prevent interference with military air space. The House Transportation Committee spent five hours listening to military officials concerned about turbines, wind energy experts who see no need for further regulation, and agricultural groups worried about their private property rights [NewsOK].

What’s being done about Superfund sites around Oklahoma: Many Oklahomans know about our most famous Superfund site, near the abandoned mine town of Picher, Oklahoma in the far northeastern corner of the state. In Ottawa County, you’ll find man-made mountains of lead-laden toxins. They are a reminder of a time when environmental disasters were born; decades when industry trumped health and safety. The town of Picher was abandoned years ago; after a federal EPA buyout all of the willing residents left [KFOR].

Osage Nation battles AG’s office over water rights: Geoffrey Standing Bear, chief of the Osage Nation, has been fighting the same battle in different arenas for three decades, carrying on a tradition of tribal sovereignty far older than himself. “We will fight — we will always fight — to defend our land,” he said Friday. Standing Bear’s latest skirmish began Sept. 29, when a New Mexico attorney, Maria O’Brien, sent him a letter on behalf of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“Under guise of a drug alcohol rehabilitation program, CAAIR and Simmons have subjected the Plaintiffs and putative class members to virtual slave labor. …We have filed the lawsuit in an effort to expose this inhumane practice, recover remedies for those wronged and hopefully put an end to these unfair and unlawful labor practices.”

– From a statement by attorneys representing Oklahomans who participated in a controversial court diversion program. Recent investigations found that workers in the program worked long hours in dangerous conditions for only room and board, received no formal drug and alcohol treatment, and had their worker’s compensation payments confiscated by the program (Source)

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s ranking for energy efficiency policies out of all 50 states. On the same scorecard, Oklahoma City ranked 50th out of the 51 largest US cities.

Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Reform in the Most Incarcerated State: Louisiana has the highest imprisonment rate in the U.S., but that may change as a result of comprehensive criminal justice reform passed this summer. Through a tremendous bipartisan effort, state leaders passed a package of bills that aims to reduce crime and incarceration through innovative, evidence-based means. That includes steering less serious offenders away from prison, strengthening alternatives to incarceration, and removing barriers to success during re-entry to society. Terry Schuster of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project speaks with host Dan LeDuc about why this change was important and what its impact could be [Pew Trusts].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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