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AM NewsBrief: Jan 4, 2023

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023.

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority corrects Open Meeting violations keeping ACCESS project on pause

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority corrected Open Meeting Act violations Tuesday by re-voting on design contracts for its $5 billion ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike program.

Demonstrators rallied outside before the meeting began. Last month, the Cleveland County District Court found the OTA had violated the state’s Open Meeting Act by using vague wording in agendas for two key meetings that authorized ACCESS projects.

Because that ruling invalidated the votes for those construction contracts, the agency re-voted on them — approving them all unanimously.

Tuesday’s meeting also featured a rare public comment period. Here’s one of the lawyers from the Open Meeting Act case, Richard Labarthe.

"I urge you to pause, hit the pause button and allow for open and honest discourse. Let the OTA make its case why this is all necessary and let the opponents make their case. And let’s all do it in the light of day."

The ACCESS project isn’t yet out of the woods, though. Another case is working through the state Supreme Court that challenges the OTA’s legislative authorization to build some routes.

Tom Cole for Speaker

If Kevin McCarthy can't muster up enough votes for the house speaker position, Congressman Tom Cole, who represents Oklahoma's 4th District may be considered—according to recent reporting from Indian Country Today.

If he were elected, Cole, who is a Chickasaw citizen, would be the highest ranking Indigenous federal official—third in line for the presidency.

Cole was being eyed for the House Speaker position in 2015, but said at the time he wasn't interested.

Congressman Cole has a history of speaking up on tribal issues-including getting legislation passed so the Quapaw Nation could sue for damages over the Tar Creek Superfund site. He signed off on a friend of the court brief in the Brackeen v. Haaland Supreme Court case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act. And, he introduced the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nation Compacting Act in the wake of the 2020 Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

Cole has served in Congress since 2003.

McCall extends run as the longest serving speaker in state history

Nationally, there’s political chaos as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives struggle to elect a speaker. No such drama in Oklahoma where Charles McCall extended his run as the longest serving speaker in state history.

McCall, a Republican from Atoka, now goes into his fourth term as speaker of the state House. He’s represented House District 22 since 2012.

In a statement, McCall says it’s an honor to be speaker and a duty he doesn’t take lightly. He says during his time as speaker the state has made great strides toward improving government efficiency, bolstering the economy, and improving education, but that much more work needs to be done.

The legislature will be back in session starting on Monday, Feb. 6.

Treat returns as President Pro Tem

State Senator Greg Treat is returning as President Pro Tem. His win marks the fifth-straight session for Treat to serve as the leader of the Senate.

Treat says he is expecting the members of his chamber to work on issues of tax reform in the coming legislative session.

Oklahoma State representative charged with a felony

An Oklahoma State representative has been charged with a felony.

State Representative Ryan Martinez was charged with a felony last Thursday for driving under the influence in October.

The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office issued the charge and also recommended a warrant be issued for his arrest.

Body cam footage shows Martinez argued with his arresting officers he could not be arrested due to an Oklahoma law stating Senators and Representatives cannot be arrested while the Legislature is in session, but that law has an exemption for felony offenses.

Martinez was previously arrested for driving under the influence in 2014. He was put on probation and his misdemeanor charge was later expunged.

Oklahoma law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from serving in the Legislature.

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