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AM NewsBrief: Dec. 2, 2022

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Judge: Oklahoma Turnpike Authority violated Open Meeting Act, ACCESS project contracts rendered invalid

Opponents of the 15-year, $5 billion ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike project were handed a big win Thursday. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority lost the first of several impending court decisions regarding the ACCESS program.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of over 200 central Oklahoma residents alleged the OTA willfully violated the state’s Open Meeting Act by using vague language in its agendas and public documents leading up to the announcement of the ACCESS project.

The decision invalidates the actions taken during the meetings in question, which amounts to about $69 million in engineering contracts for the project. Here’s Norman City Councilor Rarchar Tortorello, whose ward would be significantly impacted by the project:

"This will force them to go back and redo those meetings. And guess what? We will show up and we will provide comment," said Tortorello.

There are two other court decisions that are expected to come out this month — one from a lawsuit challenging the OTA’s interpretation of the law that authorizes some of the project’s routes, and another in which the state Supreme Court will decide whether to validate bonds for the project.

Oklahoma lawmaker files bill to criminalize gender-affirming care

Conservative Oklahoma lawmakers are continuing their fight against gender-affirming care. This new bill focuses on medical providers.

The fight against gender-affirming care started during a special legislative session this year to budget COVID relief money. Lawmakers granted millions of dollars to OU Health for a new child behavioral health center, but said none of the money could go to gender-affirming care for trans minors. Conservative lawmakers said they wanted to limit that care even further.

Thursday, Representative Jim Olsen announced he’d filed a bill to do just that. It designates the care as a felony punishable by up to a decade in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Although critics during the special session argued no one under 18 should undergo gender-affirming procedures, this bill bans care for anyone under 21.

The legislative session begins in February.

State lawmakers call for investigation into Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Three former state lawmakers are calling on the legislature to investigate the Oklahoma Corporation Commission over its handling of utility rate hikes related to February 2021 winter’s storm.

Former Oklahoma City Representative Mike Reynolds said gas companies are gouging utilities, which are complacent since by law they can pass prices on to customers.

"The utilities get to pass along the cost of their fuel, whether it’s gas or electricity or whatever, but since they can pass it along, apparently they don’t care what they pay for it," said Reynolds. "That’s not right, and if they don’t care what they pay for it ,then energy companies know they can gouge the utilities and they don’t care, they make a huge profit."

Along with Reynolds, former state representatives Porter Davis and Mike Ritze signed a letter to Oklahoma’s legislature urging an investigation into the corporation commission that's tasked with approving rate hikes. The letter comes after multiple utilities companies across the state raised rates with the OCC’s approval.

Rail workers vote

The U.S Senate voted yesterday to impose a contract on freight rail workers, avoiding a proposed strike. Here's more on how Oklahoma’s senators voted.

In a vote of 80-15, the Senate passed a bill that would impose the terms of a contract only eight of 12 rail unions voted to accept in September, averting the freight rail strike that was planned for December 9.

Both Oklahoma Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe voted in favor of the bill.

Additionally, the Senate rejected a proposal to give rail workers seven paid sick days per year. Both Lankford and Inhofe voted against that.

Despite his approval of a contract without paid sick days, Lankford says he expects rail workers will get to bargain for better work-life balance in future negotiations.

The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.

First Americans Museum to host second annual winter art market

The First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City will host its second annual winter art market this weekend. Attendees can buy their holiday gifts from Indigenous artists from all over the country

Looking for a pair of earrings to impress that special auntie on your list? A purchase from Dr. Jessica Harjo will get you back in their good books.

What about some comic book drawings from Cherokee artist Kindra Swafford, creator of the series Trash Panda tales from Indian territory. Totally for sale.

"Each of those comics have either been something that I've heard in story with my friends or something that's happened. I have one where there's a bunch of ants and they're working together and it shows the syllabary it shows the community aspect of it," said Swafford.

Artist Kristin Gentry is the assistant manager of the museum store. She says the market features the full range in terms of price and scale

We have fine art, silversmiths, metal smiths. You can get really nice, beautiful jewelry.  We have weavers-We have think like bead workers, so you can get that type of beadwork, jewelry, medallions, regalia, items," said Gentry.

The two day market features creations from 50 Indigenous artists from Oklahoma and beyond. Visitors will enjoy artist demonstrations, live music and yes, Indigenous Santa Claus will be there.

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