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AM NewsBrief: Feb. 27, 2023

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Monday, Feb. 27, 2023.

Severe Storms Impact Thousands of Oklahomans

Severe thunderstorms brought strong straightline winds and multiple tornados to the central plains late Sunday night. The storms damaged homes and left thousands without power.

As the line of storms moved across the plains, it generated roughly 50 tornado warnings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, including a damaging tornado that reportedly stayed on the ground for 15 miles east of Norman. The National Weather Service confirmed 114 mile-per-hour winds in the Texas panhandle. 

The storm blew over powerlines, trees and tractor trailers, but injury numbers are unclear. Utilities companies say nearly 70,000 households in Oklahoma lost power, mostly in the western and central parts of the state. 

For updates on power outages in your area, visit poweroutage.us.

Storm Damage In Norman

Significant damage from last night’s storm has been reported across the city of Norman.

Areas affected include Classen Blvd, 12th Avenue, and businesses and neighborhoods along Highway 9. The OnCue on Classen Blvd. took heavy damage, with a sizeable portion of its roof missing.

Power lines are down in the area, and reportedly a stretch of Highway 9 was closed due to fallen electrical wires.

Various apartment complexes such as Alight 12th, Alight Norman, and The Ave have sustained roof and structural damage. A gas leak was also reported in the area.

Norman Regional’s new hospital off Highway 9, along with the USPS center, have also taken damage. The surrounding neighborhoods had overturned vehicles and damaged garages. There were various power outages across Norman, including campus.

First responders warned people of hazardous debris on the road, and to use caution while driving.

Walters Sets Up Committee To Protect Prayer In Schools

State Superintendent Ryan Walters is looking to establish a blue-ribbon committee to report on religious practices in Oklahoma public schools.

Superintendent Walters announced the formation of two blue-ribbon committees at Thursday’s state board meeting. One committee will “advise and recommend guidance to local school systems on how to protect every student and parents’ freedom to worship.”

Walters says he put together the committee because of a letter:

"A letter that I received from religious and community leaders asking that I take a deep look at prayer in school and the role of faith in our K-12 schools," Walters said.

The letter is signed by faith leaders as well as the president of the lobbying group, the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee. Notably, none of the faith leaders espouse a religion other than Christianity, and one of the six represented organizations is founded on Christian nationalism.

Since 1962, students have been legally protected to pray privately at public schools and join after-hours religious clubs.

Inmate Dies At The Cleveland County Jail

The first detainee death in the Cleveland County jail of 2023 occurred late last week.

44-year-old Joe Allen Sims Jr. was found unresponsive from an apparent hanging in his cell at the Cleveland County jail on Friday afternoon.

The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations are investigating his death and the Medical Examiner’s Office will determine an official cause of death.

This follows the resignation of two high-ranking jail officials last month - Deputy Chief Scott Sebrook, who was in charge of overseeing all jail operations, and Major Dennis Hansen, who was an administrator in charge of support services. The month prior, one woman was found dead in her jail cell and another died after being transported to a hospital for a medical emergency. Their deaths are also under investigation.

Capitol Insider: Attorney General Withdraws Opinion For Misusing Religious Liberty

During the latest edition of Capitol Insider, KGOU general manager Dick Pryor talks with Quorum Call Publisher Shawn Ashley about public funding for religious charter schools, bills to crack down on drag performances, and efforts to ‘box-in’ new state schools superintendent Ryan Walters. Ashley also looks ahead to the coming week.

"Thursday is the deadline for bills to be heard in a committee of their chamber of origin. House bills and joint resolutions in a House committee. And Senate bills and joint resolutions in a Senate committee. It will be a fast-paced week as members work to move their proposals on to the next step in the legislative process," said Ashley.

Stay up to date with the latest in Oklahoma politics, policy and government with our weekly Capitol Insider podcast available now on KGOU.org and wherever you get your podcasts.

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