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AM NewsBrief: June 14, 2023

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

Gov. Stitt Vetoes Bill To Increase Mental Health Treatment In Jails

Gov. Kevin Stitt has vetoed a measure that aims to increase mental health treatment in jails. Senate Bill 552 would have provided more mental health services to inmates that are deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Stitt acknowledged the bill's positive intentions in his veto message. However, he voiced concerns regarding the potential burden it may place on certain county jails that lack sufficient treatment personnel to effectively care for individuals with mental health disorders.

The bill received unanimous approval in the House and only one “no” vote in the Senate.

"To say I was surprised when SB 552 was vetoed is saying it very mildly," said Sen. John Haste, the bill’s author. "We had the agreements of the Sheriff’s Association, the agreement of the DA Council, and it was an important piece of legislation. It was a critical piece that the Department of Mental Health was asking for."

Lawmakers don’t have the ability to override the veto in their current special session, but will have the opportunity to in next year’s regular session.

Norman Voters Approve Water Rate Hike In Special Election, Minco Results Show Tie

Oklahoma voters in 14 counties cast their ballots on a number of local races Tuesday.

In Norman, a water rate hike was approved to pay for aging and ailing infrastructure in the city. Officials say the city is struggling to keep up with needed repairs. The average Normanite’s bill will rise by five dollars a month, starting in September. Revenue from the increase will generate about $7 million dollars for the city.

Elsewhere, voters in Kiowa County approved a one cent sales tax increase to improve their more than 100-year-old jail.

In Blanchard, voters gave the thumbs up to hotel and motel tax hikes in their cities.

In Minco, voters couldn’t make up their mind on their hotel and motel tax increase. State election board results show a tie at 42 votes a piece for and against the proposal.

OU Harassment Lawsuit

A former OU academic adviser at the University of Oklahoma is suing the school and her former department chair, claiming she had to resign from her position following years of sexual harassment.

First reported by The Oklahoman newspaper, the almost 30 page lawsuit filed on June 6th details how the unnamed plaintiff allegedly suffered sexual harassment that escalated in frequency and severity since 2020.

The defendant, who is described as a prominent scholar and department chair at the OU College of Arts and Sciences, is being accused of misconduct ranging from inappropriate and sexually explicit comments, communications, and physical advances on numerous occasions both during and outside of work.

The filing claims this behavior from the defendant dates back to 2015 with other victims, including other faculty members, a faculty member’s wife, an adjunct professor, and students. According to the lawsuit, the former adviser alleges six other women in the department resigned due to his actions, and said the defendant failed to land a job at the University of Texas due to his reputation of harassment. As of now OU has declined to fully comment on the pending litigation, stating they are “aware of the suit and will respond as appropriate.”

Cedar Tree Mitigation Program

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission is getting more than $3 million dollars to study the impact of eastern redcedars on the state’s water resources. The project aims to clear more than 5,000 acres of cedars in Western Oklahoma.

The Conservation Commission will work with local landowners along the North Canadian River to clear redcedars and salt cedars — species that cost the state an estimated half-billion dollars every year in lost pastureland, depleted water resources and fire damage. They’ll collect data on how that removal affects water availability, soil health and wildlife.

The program comes from funding directed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this month. It will also provide funds to train rural fire departments on prescribed burns and how to create brush-free zones around rural communities.

Trey Lam is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. He hopes this program serves as a reusable framework for the state.

"I think it's the state's first step toward addressing maybe lots of different invasive species," said Lam.

Lam says the Conservation Commission hopes to start collecting data and removing trees by the end of this year.

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