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Top Ten Oklahoma Stories of 2023, Part 2

The Oklahoma State Capitol.
Whitney Bryen
Oklahoma Watch
The Oklahoma State Capitol.

We close out 2023 with our Capitol Insider Top Ten Oklahoma Stories of the year. This segment, Part 2, highlights stories five through one.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, where each week we take you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Today, we're going to conclude our look at the top ten Oklahoma stories of the year for 2023 as heard on Capitol Insider, starting with number five and leading up to number one. So here we go, Shawn, with number five: The Parental Choice Tax Credit Program - state income tax credits for Oklahoma parents who want to send their students to private schools or educate them at home.

Shawn Ashley: The House passed the first version of this bill at the end of February, which started a back and forth between the House and the Senate that included House Speaker Charles McCall threatening not to allow any of the Senate's bills to be heard unless the Senate passed his chamber's bill without any amendments. The Senate amended that bill anyway, and the House ditched those amendments and returned the bill to its previous form. Ultimately, Governor Stitt brought in a mediator in April who helped the two sides negotiate an agreement that became House Bill 1934. The bill established an income-based private school tax credit and a flat tax credit for homeschool families. Applications for the private school tax credit were briefly delayed in early December, but the Tax Commission and its private vendor are now accepting those applications and homeschool families will be able to claim their credit on their 2024 individual income tax returns.

Dick Pryor: Number four: Legislative Special Sessions.

Shawn Ashley: Lawmakers held two special sessions in 2023. The first special session was called by the legislature to write the fiscal year 2024 budget and then to override any vetoes Governor Stitt issued of those bills. They were able to do that successfully by the end of July. Stitt, however, was less successful in his call for a special session to reduce the individual income tax, among other things. The Senate adjourned his special session the same day it convened in early October. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said the governor had not presented a plan to deal with the potential revenue loss from reducing and potentially eliminating the individual income tax.

Dick Pryor: Number three: Controversy and legal challenges over the state charter school board's decision to support a religious charter school.

Shawn Ashley: We talked a bit about this last week in relation to Attorney General Gentner Drummond. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3 to 2 in June to approve an application for St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School. The Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, the school's sponsors, emphasized in their presentation to the board that their religious beliefs will play a prominent role in the instruction the school offers and in its administration. Charter schools, of course, are public schools funded by taxpayer money. So, you put the two of those things together and you have what would be the first state supported religious school in the nation. As we discussed, Drummond is challenging the board's action, and a group of taxpayers and other organizations have also filed a challenge in Oklahoma County District Court.

Dick Pryor: Number two: Ongoing developments involving state-tribal compacts.

Shawn Ashley: Lawmakers passed, and Governor Stitt vetoed two bills that allow tribal nations to extend their tobacco tax and motor vehicle registration compacts with the state. The legislature overrode those vetoes and a number of tribes have taken advantage of the extensions offered. But as we discussed last week, those bills are being challenged in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Now, two Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions in 2020 and 2021 really put the ball in the legislature's court in terms of being able to set the parameters of compacts and the process for their approval. And Governor Stitt followed that process earlier this year and asked the legislature’s State Tribal Relations Committee to approve two gaming compacts. But the committee refused to do so. In an unprecedented interim study hearing the top leaders of some of the state's tribes appeared before a House committee and stressed the importance of state-tribal compacts.

Dick Pryor: And the number one story of 2023: The contentious relationship between Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma's sovereign tribal nations.

Shawn Ashley: Stitt has been adamant, in his view, of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2020 McGirt decision and its subsequent related rulings in saying, “I do not believe that Oklahoma wants eastern Oklahoma to be turned into a reservation for all purposes,” which he said in a July press conference. Tribal leaders and their representatives have suggested, such as in their appearance before the House committee, that Stitt takes “a sort of take it or leave it approach in discussions with them. He makes an offer and leaves no opportunity for additional discussion or negotiations. That,” they said, “is not how state tribal compacts and state tribal relationships have been managed historically and how they ought to be managed in the future.”

“I sort of believe we are going to get a lot more done if we work together,” Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby told the House Committee in November.

Dick Pryor: And that's the top ten. Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: For more information, go to quorumcall.online and find audio and transcripts, including the full top ten stories list, at kgou.org. With Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor. Happy New Year, everyone!

KGOU produces journalism in the public interest, essential to an informed electorate. Help support informative, in-depth journalism with a donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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