Reflecting on the top ten Oklahoma stories of the year in 2022
Dick Pryor and Shawn Ashley look back at the top stories of the year in Oklahoma politics, policy and government to close out 2022. In this week's segment, they unveil stories ten through six.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government as we close out 2022 with the top ten stories of the year in Oklahoma, as heard on Capitol Insider. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, today we'll discuss stories ten through six and in the final week of 2022, we'll announce our top five. You ready?
Shawn Ashley: I'm ready.
Dick Pryor: All right. So here we go with number ten, the effort to get a statewide vote on recreational marijuana.
Shawn Ashley: Proponents of an initiative petition to put a recreational marijuana plan to a vote of the people collected enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot, and they were hoping it would be on November's general election. But there were delays in the new signature verification process approved by the legislature, and it did not make the deadline to be on the November ballot. As a result, voters will decide the fate of State Question 820 in a March 7th election ordered by Governor Kevin Stitt.
Dick Pryor: Number nine This was unusual. No tax cuts in an election year.
Shawn Ashley: It is very unusual. Tax cuts being one of the favorite things that lawmakers like to approve in an election year and in some ways, they did that. Just before the end of the 2022 regular session, Governor Stitt announced he was calling lawmakers into a special session to consider reducing the individual income tax and eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. Proposals, he said, would provide relief to Oklahomans from inflation. Now, the House responded by passing a series of bills in June that reduced the individual income tax and eliminated the state sales tax on groceries. But the Senate did not take up those measures. Instead, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat appointed a task force made up of Senate Republicans to study Oklahoma's tax code and come up with recommendations for consideration in the 2023 session. We've yet to see that plan, but Treat said in October it likely will not include elimination of the grocery sales tax. So, you did have one chamber pass tax relief and the other never take it up.
Dick Pryor: Number eight is one that wasn't talked about a lot, but it is significant: fiscal health of the state’s retirement systems.
Shawn Ashley: This is one of those stories that hasn't gotten a lot of attention. The fiscal health of the state’s seven retirement systems continues to improve, thanks in large part to outgoing state treasurer Randy McDaniel. According to a report earlier this year, the actuarial value of five of Oklahoma's seven pension systems improved in fiscal year 2022. The two that declined declined less than 1% each. McDaniel made the retirement systems a focus of his 12 years in the state legislature, and he continued that work during his four years as treasurer, even when it sometimes put him at odds with fellow Republicans. And as we now see, the results have been positive.
Dick Pryor: Now number seven - acceleration of executions.
Shawn Ashley: Oklahoma executed two offenders in 2021. Resuming executions for the first time since 2015. The state executed five inmates in 2022 and is scheduled to double that number in 2023. The acceleration comes after a federal district court rejected claims by death row inmates that Oklahoma's execution process, particularly its use of the drug midazolam, was cruel and unusual. And those executions are scheduled to continue on into 2024, with almost one scheduled each month.
Dick Pryor: And the number of six story of the year - legal battles over ACCESS Oklahoma and turnpike expansion.
Shawn Ashley: Seminole County District Judge Timothy Olson ruled in early December that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority violated the state's Open Meeting Act twice in its posting of agenda items related to its ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike expansion plan. The agenda for its January and February meetings contained nothing referencing the plan, ACCESS Oklahoma or the proposed routes as required by the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, Olson wrote, adding later, “the OTA's violations meet the definition of willful.” The decision has brought a halt to the authority's work on the turnpike expansion plan and it has indicated that it will restart the approval process sometime in 2023.
Dick Pryor: So that's the start of our top ten. Thank, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: On December 30th, we’ll count down from number five to number one. And that's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.