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AM NewsBrief: April 20, 2023

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Thursday, April 20, 2023

Tornadoes Cause Widespread Damage In Central Oklahoma, At Least Two Fatalities

An outbreak of tornadoes in central Oklahoma Wednesday evening leveled homes, tossed vehicles and killed at least two people.

The tiny town of Cole took a direct hit from a large tornado. As of early Thursday morning there were two confirmed deaths in that area.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Foster addressed the media as the search and rescue effort was ongoing.

"We’re having to park and walk up miles to get into a lot of these places. And so it will take us time to search that. We do know that there are injuries. We do know that there’s significant damage to property," Foster said.

Shawnee also took significant damage, including the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University.

I-40 had to be closed in both directions in that area. Nearly 20,000 OG&E customers lost power overall. The hail damage is extensive.

The high school in Washington, Oklahoma, near Cole, canceled class for Thursday as it’s being utilized as a shelter.

Lawmakers Work To Override A Veto, Spend $600 Million In Medicaid Surplus

Despite the governor’s best efforts, Oklahoma lawmakers are going to spend the state’s $600 million Medicaid surplus. A fight over leftover federal funding ended this week with a veto override.

Throughout the pandemic, the federal government was giving states extra funding for their Medicaid programs. Oklahoma’s Medicaid agency held onto that money and put it in a special fund, kind of like a savings account.

The Legislature passed Senate Bill 1130, which ordered the agency to use the money for normal operations. The half-billion would replace appropriations that would otherwise come from the Legislature, so it shores up resources for members to send elsewhere. Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the bill. He wanted to safeguard the money for longer-term health policy initiatives.

The Senate voted almost unanimously to override the veto. Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson said the Legislature designs the budget, not the governor.

He bristled at Stitt calling the bill imprudent in his veto message.

Teacher Raise Bill Undergoes Changes

A bill that would’ve given teachers a $3-6,000 raise depending on experience underwent a major facelift Wednesday.

Senate Bill 482 was making its way through the legislature with virtually no pushback. But in Wednesday’s House Appropriations and Budget committee meeting, lawmakers were presented with a completely different bill.

That’s because there’s a teacher raise in another bill — House Bill 2775. And that bill is part of the massive education funding package currently stalled out between House and Senate leaders. Earlier this week, a conference committee was called in the hopes of hashing out a resolution.

Representative Dick Lowe says because the raises are being negotiated there, it opened an opportunity to resurrect one of his bills:

"We decided we wanted to go ahead and send back a bill that we had sent over earlier, as this is the exact language of House Bill 2162," said Lowe.

The newly worded Senate Bill 482 would extend teachers’ yearly step raise from up to 25 years to now up to 35 years. It passed committee, but with all those changes, it’s got a few more hurdles to clear.

McCurtain County Commissioner Resigns After Outcry Over Racist Remarks

An embattled McCurtain County official resigned Wednesday.

Commissioner Mark Jennings who was reportedly caught on tape saying he would run for public office if violence against Black people was legal announced his resignation. The tendering comes after Idabel Mayor Craig Young called for Jennings to step down.

"So we can start rebuilding here at the county. I think a lot of this [expletive] would go away," said Young.

Young was not Jennings’ only detractor. Gov. Kevin Stitt also asked for the former commissioner to step down. Stitt’s office said Jennings submitted his resignation through a handwritten note.

Officials are still calling for the resignations of others allegedly involved in the discussion. State Senator George Burns, who represents McCurtain County, said Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning, and jail administrator Larry Hendrix who were also apparently involved in the “racist, hateful comments” should also resign.

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