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AM NewsBrief: Jan. 9, 2024

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Tuesday, Jan. 9. 2024.

Election Day In Oklahoma

Today, voters are going to the polls in 18 Oklahoma counties to decide the fate of 24 propositions. The measures cover topics like education and public safety across the state.

Beaver County voters will choose if the county will be annexed into High Plains Technology Center’s district.

This means the panhandle would not only gain a secondary education resource but also, the center will grow its existing bilingual services for students.

If the county’s proposition passes, there will be just over a penny property tax levy.

Meanwhile, in eastern Oklahoma, Grove residents will be voting on a potential sales tax increase for new police and fire department stations. This comes after voters struck down a property tax increase in September.

In Central Oklahoma, voters of the Oakdale Public School District in Edmond will decide on an $11 million bond package for the district’s security upgrades, new HVAC systems and more.

State AG To Testify Before U.S. House Committee

State Attorney General Gentner Drummond is scheduled to testify Wednesday to the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee.

The hearing is part of that panel’s impeachment proceedings against the Department of Homeland Security Secretary over his handling of the southwest border.

Drummond is one of three state attorneys general invited to speak about how the border crisis has impacted public safety.

Drummond is expected to tell committee members about his efforts to crack down on foreign nationals operating illegal marijuana grow operations in the state.

A task force Drummond established last spring has investigated and is prosecuting more than 50 criminal cases, many of which allegedly involve Mexican or Chinese nationals.

Oklahoma Hydronet To Track Water Levels In The State

Researchers at Oklahoma State University are developing a system to track the state’s water resources in real time, known as the Oklahoma Hydronet.

Tyson Ochsner is a physicist and hydrologist at OSU. He says he worked with a farmer in Southwest Oklahoma to install soil moisture sensors for smart irrigation, only to have the crops fail anyway.

"There wasn't enough water in the aquifer to irrigate the crop all the way to the end of the season. But he didn't know that in advance," said Ochsner.

That’s why he is working on the Oklahoma Hydronet — a new system to track water levels in aquifers and reservoirs across the state.

State and federal agencies already collect data on water levels in larger lakes and take annual aquifer measurements. But the Hydronet will monitor smaller reservoirs and provide groundwater data in real time, which should help water utilities and ag producers make more informed decisions.

The Hydronet has funding for the next two years, but Ochsner hopes it will grow into a long-lived, world-class system like its weather-monitoring cousin, the Oklahoma Mesonet. He expects water data to go live in summer of 2025.

Proposed Commutation Rule Changes

The state Pardon and Parole Board held a public comment hearing Monday on proposed rule changes that would make commutation more difficult for inmates to achieve where dozens of people came to share their concerns.

Members of the public urged the five members of the Pardon and Parole Board to reject proposed commutation eligibility requirements.

The suggested criteria include having a sentence that is involved in a change of sentencing range, having served at least 30 years of a sentence with no projected release date and no misconducts in the last five years, a recommendation from a trial officer, or a recommendation from the governor.

If approved, Oklahoma inmates must meet at least one of these criteria to be eligible for commutation.

Representatives from the ACLU of Oklahoma, Project Commutation, and other criminal justice organizations were present at the hearing.

Glynn Simmons, who was recently exonerated after serving nearly 50 years in prison in Oklahoma, also addressed the board and mentioned he had been denied commutation over 20 times.

The board will vote on whether to approve the proposed changes next month.

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