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AM NewsBrief: Sept. 30, 2022.

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This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

Gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth limited by Oklahoma Legislature in ARPA health funding bill

Oklahoma lawmakers held one day of votes in their special session this week. Lawmakers used one health funding bill to crack down on gender-affirming care, drawing criticism from the medical community, LGBTQ advocates and civil rights supporters.

House Bill 1007 and Senate Bill 3 did the same thing — passed American Rescue Plan funding to major health initiatives at university hospitals. That included nearly $40 million for OU Children’s to build a new behavioral health facility.

That measure had a stipulation on the funding: it can’t be used for gender-affirming care for minors. OU Health officials said the money wasn’t intended for that use, but they are still canceling several services.

The policy drew significant criticism. For one, Oklahoma City Senator George Young said, it came during a short special session. The bill was made public this week.

"Normally, during the regular session, you have time to go through committee before it comes to the floor, and you can talk about policy then. I’ve had a few days."

During the hearings, critics noted that the measures’ supporters didn’t understand basic principles of the care they were blocking for Oklahoma children. For example, supporters often focused only on gender-affirmation surgery, which is very rarely conducted on anyone under 18. They called the care irreversible, but most medications for trans youth are reversible. Many of those supporters falsely claimed children were being sexually mutilated, a talking point common on right-wing media.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association, which represents doctors, immediately issued a statement. In part, it reads: "It’s disturbing that some legislators have chosen to hijack what should be a straightforward special session focused on COVID relief funding to advance a political agenda."

Lawmakers vote to put money toward drought relief

Oklahoma lawmakers voted to spend nearly $2 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money during a special session Thursday. 

Both chambers agreed to spend $382 million toward broadband development to make sure more Oklahomans have access to reliable Internet. 

Representative Logan Phillips of Mounds is a co-author of the bill. He says the money should help bring internet connectivity to 95% of Oklahoma homes in the next five years. 

“We identified this as the highest need area for everything from economic expansion, mental health, regular health, telehealth, education…”  

If Gov. Kevin Stitt signs off on the project, the broadband money will head to the new State Broadband Office to oversee the disbursement of those funds. 

IHS receives funding for HIV, Hepatitis cases

Indian Health Services is receiving $1.3 million dollars as part of an effort to reduce or eliminate HIV and Hepatitis cases in Indian Country.

Between 2015 and 2019, American Indians and Alaska Natives were the only community to not see a decrease in the number of cases of HIV.

Rick Haverkate is IHS' National HIV and Hepatitis C consultant. He says there are many reasons it remains a significant public health issue:

"It could be that people aren't getting into care and treatment for prevention-things like HIV prep. But it could also be that were doing a good job of screening for diagnosis."

Chickasaw Nation is one of the recipients of the new grant aimed at targeting the problem. The money will go to prevention, testing, and getting people diagnosed with HIV into care.

Seattle Indian Health Board, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Southern Indian Health Council, Inc. in California are among the other grant recipients.

Oklahoma City federal court prosecutes hate crime

The Oklahoma City federal court is prosecuting a hate crime for the first time in over a decade.

The Oklahoman reports a hate crime is being prosecuted in Oklahoma City federal court for the first time since the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the existing federal hate crime law, was passed in 2009.

Two white men, Devan Johnson and Brandon Killian, are being charged with a federal hate crime for assaulting a Black man, Jarric Carolina, in Shawnee in 2019. The men repeatedly punched Carolina and shouted racial slurs at him. Carolina fell unconscious and needed to be hospitalized.

The men have already been prosecuted in state court and face an additional maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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