Oklahoma's congressional delegation reacts to Biden's State of the Union Oklahoma's congressional delegation is reacting to President's Biden's State of the Union Address. Representatives Stephanie Bice and Kevin Hern told KOCO that the southern border, along with the economy and energy, are issues that they would have liked to have seen the president address in his speech last night. Bice says not enough is being done to secure the border. "We've had 4.5 million people illegally cross into the U.S. the last two years. That is more than the entire population of the state of Oklahoma," Bice said. Bice also said that she thinks more needs to be done to help families in this time of inflation. Hern and Bice also say the Biden administration needs to do more to support energy policies in the state. In a statement, Congressman Tom Cole echoed similar reaction. Business Friendly State and Tribal Nations During his state of the state Monday, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he wanted to make Oklahoma one of the best states to attract businesses. He touted Amazon, Google and American Airlines presence. However, last year a report touted another job creator: tribes. Tribal nations are a big employer in Oklahoma. A 2022 report by the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium found tribal nations employ more than 54,000 people and have a $2.6 billion dollar impact. Stitt talked about training workers for the future. But he left out examples of work done by tribes like the Cherokee Nation, which is set to open a new career readiness center this year. Kyle Dean is the director for the Center for Native American and Urban Studies at Oklahoma City University. He co-authored the tribal impact report. "Think about any company in the United States that would say, yes, we will do all of that and locate and Durant Oklahoma. There's not one. And that's essentially what I just described, is what the tribes do in communities throughout the state and have been doing for years," said Dean. Dean says tribal nations provide the infrastructure, job training, health care and dollars to local schools-without tax incentives. He said it would be a different story if you asked any business to do that without offering something in return. Stitt on Foster Care Gov. Kevin Stitt announced a new focus for his administration: protecting children in foster care. Monday marked Stitt's fifth State of the State address, but it was the first where he said foster care needed to be a major priority for the state. "Protecting Oklahomans means making sure our foster care system prioritizes kids and making families whole," Stitt said. Stitt says the number of children in "out of home" care, which includes those in foster care, has decreased from 11,300 to 6,500 over the past 8 years. That time frame includes efforts taken under Gov. Mary Fallin. Foster care was a major issue then — starting in 2012. That year, the state settled a class action lawsuit against the state, arguing its foster care system was failing to protect children from abuse and neglect. The settlement led to The Pinnacle Plan, a years-long improvement project that brought in neutral third-party monitors. That plan is ongoing. Oklahoma Tax Collections Grow Despite Rising Interest Rates Rising interest rates are concerning for Oklahoma's economy. Oklahoma's State Treasurer Todd Russ says the state's tax collections are still booming. Oklahoma's tax collections were up almost $2 billion year-over-year, more than a 12 percent increase from the previous 12-month period. Russ touted what he called "noteworthy improvement" in tax collections, but he says there are signs for concern. Interest rates doubled over the course of 2022 and that means a previously hot housing market has slowed down as fewer people are buying homes. On top of that rising inflation has also slowed some purchases, though sales tax collection remains high. Some other areas have shown significant growth during the past year, including energy and use taxes and Oklahoma's unemployment rates. Oklahoma sees slight improvements after months of harsh drought After months of worsening drought, Oklahomans saw some improvement last week. But most of the state is still exceptionally dry. The U.S. Drought Monitor releases a report every week. It classifies areas by five different stages of drought based on precipitation, soil moisture and other statistics. Last week, Oklahoma's report showed improvements in all five categories. From July to the beginning of December, 100% of the state was in some stage of drought. But even after snow and rain over the last few weeks, 95% of the state is still experiencing drought. Northern Oklahoma remains in extreme or exceptional drought, which can lead to water shortages and agricultural losses. But parts of southeast Oklahoma have escaped drought classification for now. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the AM NewsBrief.
Gov. Kevin Stitt delivers State of the State address Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt delivered the first State of the State address of his second term Monday. Stitt has taken his re-election as a mandate from conservative voters: grow school choice, cut taxes and ban gender affirming care for transgender minors. He laid out those priorities in a 32-minute speech and reflected on what he says were wins during his first term. "We said that we would put a fresh set of eyes on state government, cut red tape, and create a more transparent government - and we delivered," said Stitt. What Stitt can deliver next remains to be seen. Some of his policy priorities - like growing private school voucher programs - aren't too popular with all Republicans. But regardless, he says, he'll continue to tout them. Oklahoma Democratic leaders react to Stitt's speech Oklahoma Democratic leaders held a press briefing in response to the priorities laid out by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Democrats account for nearly 19% of the entire state legislature. The minority party leaders say they weren't surprised by Stitt's State of the State speech. They still say they're uneasy with many of his proposals like private school vouchers, restrictions to abortion access and other issues. Stillwater Democrat Trish Ranson says she's concerned the GOP is keeping too much money - almost $4 billion - in its reserves, instead of spending on government services. "We call on the Republican Party to invest in Oklahoma. All of Oklahoma," said Ranson. Democrats say investing in healthcare, education and other critical programs would be a good start. They are preparing to work across the aisle to eliminate grocery tax and advance criminal justice reform. Stitt on gender-affirming care During his State of the State address, Gov. Kevin Stitt ensured that trans rights will remain a major social issue during this year's legislative session. Hundreds of trans rights demonstrators gathered at the Capitol ahead of Stitt's speech. They were protesting a spate of bills that aim to criminalize gender-affirming treatments, including reversible hormone therapies. The messaging around these bills focuses on care for minors. But one bill affects Oklahomans as old as 21, and another, those as old as 26. Among the demonstrators was Nicole McAfee, the executive director of 2SLGBTQ+ rights organization Freedom Oklahoma. "Trans folks are here. We belong here... We're here now to make sure the governor knows we're not going anywhere," said McAfee. During the speech, Stitt joined a host of high-profile conservatives across the country criticizing gender-affirming care for young people. "Minors can't vote, can't purchase alcohol, can't purchase cigarettes... We shouldn't allow a minor to get a permanent gender altering surgery in Oklahoma," Stitt said. Gender-affirming care is the latest trans issue to catch fire in Oklahoma politics. Conservative lawmakers have already cracked down on trans athletes in girls' and women's sports and have banned gender-inclusive bathroom policies in schools. Tribal-State relations not mentioned in Stitt's State of the State While Gov. Kevin Stitt outlined his priorities for education, tax cuts and making Oklahoma one of the top ten states for business, OPMX's Allison Herrera noticed one topic wasn't there: tribal-state relations. In the last couple state of the state addresses, Stitt has highlighted the landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, saying that it was causing chaos for law enforcement and crime victims in Northeast Oklahoma. That decision says Muscogee Nation's reservation was never disestablished and that the tribe has criminal jurisdiction in its boundaries. The ruling has since grown to also apply to the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. says he appreciates the governor's new tone, even if he didn't talk about tribal nations. "Education, infrastructure and health care-I think those are opportunities to touch upon that any governor of the state of Oklahoma could touch upon the relationship between the tribes in the state and how it's positive. And I think, you know, those are the kind of opportunities I'd like to see Governor Stitt take in the future," said Hoskin Jr. Before his inauguration for a second term, Stitt reached out to a number of tribal leaders inviting them to the ceremony asking for a fresh start after nearly three years of tense relations over McGirt and tribal gaming. The Sooners and Longhorns to remain in the Big 12 through 2025 Contract negotiations "stalled" over the weekend between the universities and television networks, ESPN and FOX. ESPN college football senior writer Pete Thamel said, "the sides couldn't agree on how to create equitable value for what Fox would lose in 2024." OU and Texas were attempting to join the South-Eastern Conference, better known as the SEC, a year earlier than the 2025 date initially agreed upon. While there is no deadline for a deal to get done, Thamel reports that any transition prior to 2025 is now "unlikely". _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.
Voting Registration Deadline The deadline to register to vote for the upcoming state special election is quickly approaching. This election will decide State Question 820. This Friday, Feb. 10th is the last day you can register to vote ahead of the March 7th State Special Election. Voters will decide State Question 820 concerning the legalization of recreational marijuana. Voter Registration Applications must be received by your county election board or postmarked no later than midnight Friday. Applications postmarked after that time will be accepted, but will not be processed until after the March 7 election. Applications can be downloaded from the State Election Board website at elections.ok.gov. They are also available at your County Election Board, most post offices, tag agencies and public libraries. Bill Themes This Session During the latest edition of Capitol Insider, KGOU general manager Dick Pryor asks Quorum Call's Shawn Ashley about themes of the bills filed for the new session. There's something for everyone among the thousands of bills. But issues related to abortion, firearm regulations, and transgender children will be featured. And, of course, education. "As usually is the case, there are a lot of bills related to education," Ashley said. "Nearly 300. Some deal with what should and what should not be taught in classrooms. Some would modify graduation requirements. And others support raises for teachers and support personnel." You can hear the full conversation on our website, KGOU.org. Rural Schools Initiative Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are implementing a new initiative to get more counselors, social workers and behavior analysts in rural schools, which is being funded by a $5.6 million federal grant. It's called "Project Rural Innovation for Mental health Enhancement," or PRIME. Its aim is to fill the gaps in rural school districts by recruiting and training 64 future counselors, social workers and behavior analysts from rural communities and paying for their graduate tuition, fees and costs while in the program. In exchange, graduates agree to serve two years in a rural, high-need school for every year they received program funding. The project's lead researcher, Brittany Hott, says rural communities have been clamoring to be part of the program. "There's so much need that this is just the start, and we're hoping to create a ripple effect once we have this set of scholars trained," Hott said. "I want every district and every child in the state to have access to the services that they need and for the teachers and administrators to have the support that they need." Hott says the team plans to reapply for the grant when it runs out in five years and expand the PRIME program even more. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.
TSET investment in rural medicine One of Oklahoma's public health agencies will invest $4.5 million in the state's rural health care. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, otherwise known as TSET, announced a major investment in continuing education and mentorship for Oklahoma's rural health providers on Thursday. TSET is a state agency that oversees several public health initiatives, including smoking cessation. It will be investing in an Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes — or ECHO — program. That model is designed to connect medical providers in underserved areas virtually with specialists who can mentor them and help improve care. They exist across the globe, and Oklahoma State University's Center for Health Sciences manages the one here. The hub connects rural providers with specialists in obesity medicine, infectious diseases, obstetrics, and palliative care. The new TSET funding will help the project incorporate more specialities into the program, including diabetes, pediatric obesity and hypertension management. Update on OKCPD lawsuit The Oklahoma City Police Department will amend protocol for stopping people on FBI terror watchlists following a lawsuit filed last week. Saadiq Long, the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against OKCPD by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs, will withdraw his motion in exchange for the police department instructing officers not to stop anyone based solely on their appearance on FBI terror watchlists. Long is a Muslim-American Air Force veteran who has been stopped by OKCPD five times since November of last year, including a stop last month which resulted in him being handcuffed and arrested at gunpoint while his car was searched. Long sued the federal government in 2015 for placing him on a terror watchlist without explanation. He has never been charged with any terrorism-related crimes. Legislative session preview - Broadband Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to get the ball rolling on broadband internet expansion. The state's broadband office aims to bring high-speed internet to 95% of homes by June 2028. So this year, legislators are looking to open up permission for electric companies to expand broadband services and encourage internet providers to work with the state's broadband office. Republican senator Brent Howard of Altus filed a bill easing regulations for electric companies to provide broadband services to customers. And Republican Senator Lonnie Paxton of Tuttle filed a bill that would encourage internet providers to share information with the Oklahoma Broadband Office. The state's broadband office was established last year to oversee millions of dollars in broadband spending, but continues to struggle to find a permanent director. Tulsa County sheriff refuses to enforce new gun mandate The Tulsa County sheriff is openly refusing to enforce a new federal mandate concerning a gun accessory, arguing it's punishes law-abiding citizens. Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado refuses to enforce the federal government's new pistol brace rule, which requires owners of the gun accessory to register with the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives within the next four months. The DOJ argues the braces turn pistols into short-barreled rifles. The accessory was used in at least two high-profile mass shootings in recent years. "We can spend all day talking about the dynamics of a mass shooter and why we're having those and why we're seeing them, what appears to be more in recent history, but braces are not the cause of that problem," said Regalado. Regalado also said he doesn't expect his noncompliance to trigger federal enforcement or legal action against the county. He said he's worked with ATF agents, and that they're "solid individuals who care about their communities and the safety of their citizens." In response to Regalado's statement, an ATF spokesperson simply said it's his agency's job to enforce such federal mandates. Oklahoma City Receives Transportation Grant Oklahoma City will receive an $800,000 grant to improve safety on its roads. The federal grant will pay for a detailed plan to reduce roadway deaths and injuries to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. It's part of a broader Department of Transportation initiative to improve safety on roads and sidewalks across the country. OKC had 402 vehicle-involved deaths between 2016 and 2020, the fourth highest rate of deaths for any city in the nation.The city has more than 3,500 miles worth of streets. The plan will take over a year to complete and officials will invite public comment as it shapes how OKC improves infrastructure in the future. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.
Marijuana Bills Voters will head to the polls next month to give a thumbs up or down to recreational marijuana in Oklahoma. But before that lawmakers will discuss an array of bills related to the cannabis industry. Last year, lawmakers reigned in the number of Oklahoma's marijuana business licenses, and pushed through funding to bolster law enforcement around illicit grow operations. The legislature is again looking at further regulations, like bills that protect people who have medical marijuana licenses from discrimination and direct Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority employees to collect and submit samples for testing. A special election on March 7 could upend the cannabis industry - and how lawmakers regulate it. That's when voters will consider State Question 820, which would make recreational cannabis legal and provide for some cannabis convictions to be reversed and criminal records expunged. Education Budget Newly elected State Superintendent Ryan Walters is hoping the legislature will allocate about $330 million more than last year to fund his new education initiatives and address the teacher shortage. Walters presented his proposal to lawmakers Wednesday - and got some push back. Agencies present wishlists, but only the legislature can set the final budget. And Walters got a peek into how some lawmakers feel about his plans after he began the hearing with familiar talking points, denouncing what he calls CRT and indoctrination in the classroom. Tulsa Representative John Waldron: "One of the things we could do to improve teacher retention in the state is to stop talking about the profession in terms like that. Can I get your assurance that you're going to drop the campaign rhetoric and work constructively to encourage people to build long term careers in education?" Waldron asked Walters. "I absolutely will not apologize, nor will I ever apologize for speaking on behalf of Oklahoma parents. I will never stop fighting radical indoctrination in the classroom," Walters replied. The final budget will come from lawmakers later this spring. For StateImpact, I'm Beth Wallis. Teacher Arrested A Mustang Public Schools teacher has been arrested for sex crimes against a student. Mustang High School teacher Raymond Thomas Garner was arrested earlier this week following an investigation by the Mustang Police Department and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations which resulted in multiple charges including first degree rape. The investigation began after a Mustang Resource Officer notified the police department of rumors of Garner having sexual contact with a female student hundreds of times from 2014 to 2017 while he was her science teacher and National Honor Society advisor. Garner has since been suspended from Mustang Public Schools and is being held in the Mustang County Jail. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.
Governor Stitt Opposes Rule Under Clean Water Act Oklahoma's Kevin Stitt is among 25 Republican state governors who signed a letter to President Joe Biden opposing a new rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate pollution in what it calls "the waters of the United States." But how the EPA defines those waters has changed under the last three presidential administrations. The most recent update is based on a definition the EPA used before 2015. Upstream waters that "significantly affect" the integrity of Federal waters will fall under the Clean Water Act; otherwise, their regulation is up to the tribes and the states. Half of the country's governors signed the letter opposing the rule change, saying it would make the Clean Water Act's protections too broad and burden private landowners. The letter requests a delay in the implementation of the new rule until the Supreme Court makes a decision on a pending case about how to define federally regulated waters. As of right now, the rule will go into effect in March. Drummond drops GEER lawsuit Last year, an investigation revealed millions in federal funds intended for Oklahoma students and their families were distributed by a Florida tech company with little oversight. The previous state attorney general sued the company, but Oklahoma's new AG says state actors are ultimately responsible. The Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, or GEER, was a federal program giving states millions of dollars to help students' families recover from the pandemic by aiding with educational expenses. Oklahoma gave Florida-based company ClassWallet a no-bid contract to administer the program. But an investigation released in May by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found the funds went to all kinds of things: Christmas trees, smart watches, nearly 550 TVs... And even though Education Secretary and now State Superintendent Ryan Walters gave blanket approval for the purchases, former state Attorney General John O'Connor filed suit against ClassWallet in August. Now-Attorney General Gentner Drummond says he's dropping that suit and instead turning his office's focus to holding state officials accountable, saying, "It is clear that a number of state actors and other individuals are ultimately responsible." Read more about this story here. Legislation session preview - Tax Cuts Tax cuts are a major goal for Oklahoma Republicans. And with a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, they're likely to be a focus in the upcoming session. Oklahoma has a record savings account right now of almost $3 billion dollars. That means, Republicans are likely to explore many different ways to use that money. Last year, there was disagreement within the GOP on how best to do it. Gov. Kevin Stitt has touted a cut to the state's grocery tax, while House Republicans pushed for one-time rebate checks toward the end of 2022. Regardless of what comes to be, the nuts and bolts of tax cuts and general spending will mostly play out during budget negotiations – a process that's largely secretive as leaders in the House, Senate and Governor's Office craft a budget behind closed doors. IHS Diabetes Funding Indian Health Services will receive nearly $140 million dollars from the federal government to support diabetes prevention programs throughout the country. Tribal nations in Oklahoma will be big beneficiaries. The Indian Health Service began its special diabetes program in 1997 after research determined American Indians and Alaska Natives were more likely to develop the disease than non-Natives. IHS says since implementing the program, diabetes-related kidney disease rates have been cut in half. Twenty-six tribal nations and health care centers dedicated to caring for American Indians will receive funding – including the Northeast Tribal Health System and the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa. Three of the largest tribal nations in the state, the Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation and the Muscogee Nation, will receive nearly $12 million dollars IHS awards were given to 302 tribal nations in 35 states. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.
Oklahoma public utilities respond to winter weather Oklahoma City street crews are working around the clock to keep roads in good condition during this wintry weather. The city has about 100 people working to treat the roads. Drivers are advised to keep a safe distance from plows and salt trucks and be prepared with a plan in case they get in their car. Additionally, Oklahoma Gas and Electric is prepared to keep power up and running for their customers during this winter storm. The utility company says they have deployed personnel and resources to the impacted areas of the state. Customers are advised to have a plan in case of power loss. Outages can be reported through OG&E's app, website, or by texting "OUT" to 32001. Sooner Alums in Super Bowl The Super Bowl 57 matchup is all set with the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs taking care of business in their respective NFL Championship Rounds. And there will be no shortage of O-U football alumni playing in the big game. Former Sooner Quarterback Jalen Hurts now commands the Eagles offense and according to Sports Illustrated's Josh Calloway, he is the youngest QB in Philadelphia franchise history to lead his team to the Super Bowl at just 24 years old. Protecting Hurts will be 2013 first round pick Lane Johnson on the offensive line. For the AFC champion Chiefs, 4 former Sooners will participate including Lineman Orlando Brown and Creed Humphrey, TE Blake Bell, and Long Snapper James Winchester. In total, OU's 6 players are the most out of any college football program in the country. Super Bowl 57 will be played in Phoenix on February 12th with game time at 5:30 p.m. OKC County Jail inmate death The Oklahoma City County Jail has recorded its first inmate death of this year. The Oklahoman newspaper reports 26-year old Isiah Mitchell was found dead in the county jail on Monday. He was arrested Friday for riding a bicycle the wrong way on a street. Mitchell was found hanging in his cell at around midnight during a routine check and was pronounced dead at a hospital later that morning. This marks the second inmate death since the interim administrator, Maj. Brandi Garner, took over last month. Former jail administrator, Greg Williams, resigned amid criticism over the high death toll at the jail. Garner has pledged to make reducing jail deaths her main focus. Oklahoma's attorney general announces lawsuit against federal health officials Oklahoma's new attorney general is suing the Biden Administration. StateImpact's Catherine Sweeney reports the lawsuit echoes Former President Donald Trump's ire toward a global public health agency. Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced a lawsuit against federal health officials on Monday. It alleges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving too much power to the World Health Organization. It focuses on a section of federal law that explains what the department is supposed to do when there's a threat of communicable disease. It lays out what "public health emergency" means. A few of the criteria rely on the WHO declaring a threat bad enough to cause international concern. Drummond argues that means the WHO is deciding for the country, and that threatens America's sovereignty. The federal government argues that the section just gives insight into the department's decision-making process. Trump was a vocal WHO critic, and threatened to pull the country's share of the agency's funding — $400 million annually — arguing that it bungled its COVID response and it has too close of a relationship with China. Drummond makes similar statements in his press release. Cherokee Nation pushes for Congressional delegate Yesterday, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. sent a letter to House leadership on both sides requesting they seat the Cherokee Nation's Delegate to Congress following last November's House Rules Committee hearing on the matter. In the letter, Hoskin Jr. said seating the delegate is not a "Democrat or Republican" issue but something the United States promised when it ratified the treaty forcing the removal of the Cherokees from their homelands. Last year's push by the Cherokee Nation to seat their delegate gained traction, but the Congressional session ended without action on the issue. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media at KGOUnews on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief with host Nyk Daniels.
Multiple rounds of winter weather expected this week This week Oklahomans are preparing for more winter weather. Meteorologist Ryan Bunker with the National Weather Service in Norman says a mix of precipitation will be possible through early Thursday "This is going to be mainly freezing rain and sleet with this event. Northern Oklahoma may experience some snow. There may be some snow that briefly mixes in as far south as central Oklahoma. But the main types are going to be mainly freezing rain and sleet," said Bunker. The Weather Service predicts between a trace and a tenth of inch of ice accumulation will be possible around the metro—higher amounts expected for southeastern Oklahoma. OKC trash pickup schedule adjusted for weather Oklahoma City is postponing trash and recycling service for Tuesday (1/31/23) due to road conditions from this week's sleet and ice. The city says customers who have regular Tuesday trash and recycling service will have pickup on Saturday, Feb. 4th. Residents will need to set their carts out for collection no later than 6 a.m. Service should run as normal on Thursday and Friday. New Asian OKC Chamber of Commerce Last week, a group of Oklahoma City business leaders launched the new Greater Oklahoma City Asian Chamber of Commerce. The new organization had its official kick off with an event attended by city and state officials - like OKC Mayor David Holt and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. Data from the OKC Chamber of Commerce shows 55% of all people with Asian ancestry in Oklahoma live in the greater Oklahoma City area. That's nearly 50,000 people. Not only has OKC's population been growing - but there has also been an increase in the number of Asian-owned businesses. The new Greater Oklahoma City Asian Chamber of Commerce has several goals - including strengthening and advocating for Asian businesses and professionals, recruiting Asian-owned businesses and pursuing educational and cultural initiatives. ARPA funding for water projects Hundreds of Oklahoma cities, towns and rural water districts applied for competitive grants to fund water and wastewater projects. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has announced 76 communities across the state that are likely to receive that money. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, which spread almost $2 trillion across the United States in hopes of boosting the economy out of the COVID-19 slump. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board ended up with 100 million of those dollars to mete out for water infrastructure projects. There are a couple of patterns in the original applications of communities that came out on top of the grant process. Many of the smaller water systems said they needed grants to comply with consent orders from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Those are agreements between the system and the DEQ about required actions to fix environmental violations. In larger communities, prioritized applications tended to address aging infrastructure and concerns about staving off future violations. Oklahoma legislators propose bills to address Oklahoma's disproportionally high incarceration rate While efforts to address mass incarceration in previous years have included reclassifying simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and commuting the sentences of over 400 inmates, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers are shifting their focus to what happens after people leave jails and prisons. Bills seeking to aid criminal rehabilitation and reentry would increase educational opportunities to inmates and lower the barrier to entry for drug court. Additionally, bills like Senate Bill 153 filed by Sen. George Young would give a second chance to youthful offenders by preventing minors from being sentenced to life without parole. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media at KGOUnews on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief with host Nyk Daniels.
Education Budget Newly elected State Superintendent Ryan Walters stumped legislators earlier this week when he said he planned to change the already-approved education budget proposal. Walters' first state school board meeting as superintendent Thursday began with familiar refrains. "We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT are eliminated in our state. We will make sure all of our vendors and the schools are focused on education, and not diversity, equity and inclusion," said Walters. Former Superintendent Joy Hofmeister's budget request included a $5,000 across-the-board teacher raise. But Walters' request cuts that allocation in half, and instead of across-the-board raises, he wants extra pay to be based on individual merit, like having high evaluation scores or being Nationally Board Certified. "We have to start shifting in education from a blanket socialist concept that everybody gets the same no matter what, and say, you know what, we want student results, that's what we want. We're going to incentivize that with the way that we pay things in education," Walters said. Walters may not get everything on his wish list though - final budget approval is up to the legislature. Read more about this story here. Glossip Case Review After successfully pushing back the execution dates of several death row inmates earlier this week, Attorney General Gentner Drummond is also ordering a new review of one inmate's case. Attorney General Gentner Drummond has ordered an independent council to conduct a review of death row inmate Richard Glossip's murder conviction and death sentence. Former prosecutor Rex Duncan will review the investigation, trial, sentencing, and appeals processes that have happened since Glossip was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of motel owner Barry Van Treese. An investigative report by law firm Reed Smith found letters suggesting Justin Sneed, the man who carried out the murder of Van Trese, wanted to recant his statement that Glossip had paid him to commit the crime. Glossip is currently scheduled to be executed on May 18. Oklahoma State University Grass When four teams play on Sunday for the NFL Conference Championships, they'll all be stepping onto football fields with Oklahoma roots. The NFL's final two playoff games will take place at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium and Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, both of which use turfgrass varieties developed at Oklahoma State University. OSU's Turfgrass Science Division has patented 10 varieties over the past three decades. The Chiefs will face the Bengals on a grass called NorthBridge, which OSU released in 2011. The Eagles are up against the 49ers on Tahoma 31 turfgrass, a newer variety that OSU researchers bred to be resilient to cold temperatures and drought. Half of the NFL uses natural turfgrass in their stadiums rather than artificial turf. But the NFL Players Association says it should be more, since foot, ankle and knee injuries are more common on the fake stuff. Sooner Alumni In NFL Conference Championships The University of Oklahoma will have more former players than any other NCAA program in the NFL's Conference Championship games on Sunday. The National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Games will have nine Sooner alumni on the gridiron. The NFC championship game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff and is headlined by former Oklahoma Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts as he leads the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles versus the No. 2 seed San Francisco 49ers. The now-MVP-finalist found out during his Wednesday press conference that he was named a finalist for the Most Valuable Player award. "I didn't know. I put the work in, it's a cool honor. I don't have much to say about it, I'm at a loss of words to be honest," Hurts said. He isn't the only Sooner playing in the NFC title game. San Francisco tackle Trent Williams and Philadelphia tackle Lane Johnson were teammates at OU during the 2009 season. Both former Sooners were selected fourth overall in their respective NFL drafts and also named to the 2022-2023 NFL All-Pro Team. Hurts and San Francisco's rookie quarterback Brock Purdy and are not unfamiliar with what the other can do. In 2019, Hurts and the No.7 Sooners beat the Purdy-led Iowa State Cyclones 42-41. Hurts and Purdy combined for over 675 total yards along with 11 total touchdowns. "You know obviously two different teams, two different times," Hurts said. "I remember getting out early and then had like five touchdowns in the first half. I think it was like 35-14 at halftime or something like that and then they ended up coming back." "It was a good game, I'm glad we won," Hurts said. In the AFC title game, the No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs go up against the No. 3 seed, Cincinnati Bengals, on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Former Oklahoma running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine make up Cincinnati's running back room. At Oklahoma, Perine set the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a single-game at 427 in November 2014 versus Kansas. Mixon and Perine were both chosen in the 2017 NFL draft and eventually became teammates again in Cincinnati in 2019. Kansas City has four former Sooners: offensive linemen Creed Humphrey and Orlando "Zeus" Brown, long snapper James Winchester and tight end Blake Bell. Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor and San Francisco tight end George Kittle have ties to Norman as they both graduated from Norman High School. Oklahoma's ties run deep in Sunday's conference championship games, but it's not the only state with bragging rights. The University of Michigan has the second-most players competing this weekend with seven. Among the seven is former Wolverine and now Super Bowl champion Brandon Graham. Graham made a huge impact on Super Bowl LII, where the Eagles beat the Patriots. Graham had a drive-killing sack on Tom Brady that resulted in a turnover-on-downs with just over two minutes left. The Philadelphia and San Francisco game kicks off at 2 p.m. and the Kansas City and Cincinnati game follows right after, with the winners meeting in Super Bowl LVII in Arizona. This story is a product of Gaylord News - a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For additional stories by Gaylord News go to GaylordNews.net _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.
Sports Betting Oklahoma lawmakers are set to take up a new bill to legalize sports betting. Matt Morgan chairs the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. He says the state's tribes all have varied levels of interest in sports betting. "But because of the uniqueness of their operations and their markets and you know how those proposals are set forth, the fine details are going to be really important and whether they're supportive of the idea or not," Morgan said. Governor Kevin Stitt is pushing for the legalization of sports betting. And a bill filed by Ponca City Representative Ken Luttrell would do just that. But the devil is in the details, says Muscogee Nation spokesperson Jason Salsman. "And I think right now, as it is the language in the proposals, I don't think it works for the Muscogee nation as they're not saying that we can, you know, work to build on it and get some things worked out," Luttrell said. Luttrell's bill involves a tiered fee structure for tribes where they pay more of a percentage of their revenue based on how much money they take in. That resembles the state's exclusivity payments for tribes under the model gaming compact. In 2022 Tribal nations paid more than $166 million dollars in exclusivity fees to fund education and other services. Regardless, it appears the bill will need work and tribes will need to be consulted. The online news outlet The Frontier reports Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat says he won't support a deal before Oklahoma's 39 tribes come to the negotiating table. Food Costs Another pandemic-related break for low-income earners and families is coming to an end, and food costs are going to get even harder to deal with for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP or food stamps, has been giving families a little more help for the past three years. Each month, anyone using the benefit would have about $100 more to spend on groceries. But when Congress passed its $1.7 trillion spending bill last year, lawmakers nixed the extra benefit. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which administers the federal program for the state, is telling families to prepare for the drop, which begins on March 1. In fiscal year 2022, more than 850,000 Oklahomans used the benefits. During that time, the average benefit was about $7 per person per day. That works out to about $2.36 per meal. Jobs Numbers While nearly 50,000 jobs were added to Oklahoma's economy in 2022, the unemployment rate is also up from the previous year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show a nearly 3% increase in workers from 2021 to 2022, with the largest portion of job growth in the government sector. However, seasonally adjusted unemployment was up by nearly 11,000 people, and statistics show Oklahoma has about two job openings for every one person seeking a job. _________________ For additional news throughout the day visit our website, KGOU.org and follow us on social media. We also invite you to subscribe to the KGOU AM NewsBrief.