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AM NewsBrief: Feb. 23, 2024

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

State Lawmakers Pass Tax Cut On Groceries

The Oklahoma Senate voted overwhelmingly this morning to cut the state’s portion of the sales tax on groceries.

House Bill 1955 passed the Senate with a 42-2 vote.

The measure cuts the state’s four-and-a-half-percent tax on groceries and prohibits cities and counties from raising their sales taxes until next summer.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat was the sponsor of the bill which passed the House last session and stalled in the Senate until today.

He’s repeatedly advocated a cut to the state’s grocery tax rather than its income tax. He says it means faster inflation relief for Oklahomans.

Okemah Sen. Roger Thompson chairs the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committee. He worries the bill could harm local municipalities that rely on sales taxes as their main source of revenue.

He voted against the measure.

Shoppers will see the grocery tax cut on their receipts in August when the new law goes into effect.

State Board of Education Approves New Administrations Rules

The State Board of Education unanimously approved 15 new or amended administrative rules at its Thursday meeting.

One rule would tie test scores to a district’s accreditation status, and another that would apply the governor’s recent executive order limiting diversity, equity and inclusion programs to K-12 schools.

If the rule is enacted, districts would receive an academic deficiency if fewer than 50% of its third through eighth graders test at the “basic” level in English or Math. Next school year, if the district fails to show a 5% increase in those scores, it will be downgraded. If it fails again to increase the following year, it will be downgraded again to one step above non-accreditation. Board legal counsel Bryan Cleveland defended the rule change.

"We have a state statute that directs that the accreditation standards are supposed to be consistent with an academic, results-oriented approach. And the Department believes the current standards don’t actually meet that command from the legislature, and so the rule implements an actual academic portion to accreditation," said Cleveland.

Another rule would apply a recent DEI order from Gov. Kevin Stitt to K-12 schools. Schools would not be able to receive state funding if they support certain DEI programs. While the board approved the rules, they must also pass through the legislative process to be enacted.

Ukrainian Surgeons Learning Cutting Edge Medical Technology In Oklahoma

As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, more and more Ukrainians need complex reconstructive surgery after facing life-altering injuries.

OU Health is teaching a group of Ukrainian surgeons how to perform those procedures.

The program is called “Operation Ukraine,” and through it, OU Health has now taken in three groups of surgeons since May 2023 to offer training they can bring back home.

The current group of four head and neck surgeons is receiving training to help them handle the injuries they see in their hospitals.

Mark Mims, an OU Health surgeon is helping with the program.

“The ultimate goal for Operation Ukraine at OU Health is to allow the Ukrainian surgeons to train their own future generations,” Mims said.

The Ukrainian surgeons are also the first to use advanced technology that OU Health is giving them.

This includes surgical glasses that allow them to call surgeons from OU who can provide real-time consultations during their operations at home.

Last Founding Member Of Oklahoma County Jail Trust Resigns

The last founding member of Oklahoma County’s jail trust quit this week out of frustration over funding.

Sue Ann Arnall is an attorney and philanthropist in OKC. She recently resigned from her position as a founding member of the Oklahoma County jail trust due to frustrations over funding issues.

In her resignation letter, Arnall writes about her concerns for the ongoing challenges related to inadequate funding from Oklahoma County.

Arnall expressed disappointment in a lack of responsiveness from county officials to address funding concerns, stating that her pleas for adequate funding had gone unheard for too long.

In response to Arnall's departure, fellow trust members acknowledged her contributions and commitment to improving conditions for employees and detainees.

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