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PM NewsBrief: Feb. 1, 2023

This is the KGOU PM NewsBrief for Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023

Governor Stitt Opposes Rule Under Clean Water Act

Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt is among 25 Republican state governors who signed a letter to President Joe Biden opposing a new rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate pollution in what it calls “the waters of the United States.” But how the EPA defines those waters has changed under the last three presidential administrations.

The most recent update is based on a definition the EPA used before 2015. Upstream waters that “significantly affect” the integrity of Federal waters will fall under the Clean Water Act; otherwise, their regulation is up to the tribes and the states.

Half of the country’s governors signed the letter opposing the rule change, saying it would make the Clean Water Act’s protections too broad and burden private landowners. The letter requests a delay in the implementation of the new rule until the Supreme Court makes a decision on a pending case about how to define federally regulated waters. As of right now, the rule will go into effect in March.

Drummond drops GEER lawsuit

Last year, an investigation revealed millions in federal funds intended for Oklahoma students and their families were distributed by a Florida tech company with little oversight. The previous state attorney general sued the company, but Oklahoma’s new AG says state actors are ultimately responsible.

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, or GEER, was a federal program giving states millions of dollars to help students’ families recover from the pandemic by aiding with educational expenses. Oklahoma gave Florida-based company ClassWallet a no-bid contract to administer the program.

But an investigation released in May by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found the funds went to all kinds of things: Christmas trees, smart watches, nearly 550 TVs… And even though Education Secretary and now State Superintendent Ryan Walters gave blanket approval for the purchases, former state Attorney General John O’Connor filed suit against ClassWallet in August.

Now-Attorney General Gentner Drummond says he’s dropping that suit and instead turning his office’s focus to holding state officials accountable, saying, “It is clear that a number of state actors and other individuals are ultimately responsible.”

Legislation session preview - Tax Cuts

Tax cuts are a major goal for Oklahoma Republicans. And with a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, they’re likely to be a focus in the upcoming session.

Oklahoma has a record savings account right now of almost $3 billion dollars.

That means, Republicans are likely to explore many different ways to use that money. Last year, there was disagreement within the GOP on how best to do it.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has touted a cut to the state’s grocery tax, while House Republicans pushed for one-time rebate checks toward the end of 2022.

Regardless of what comes to be, the nuts and bolts of tax cuts and general spending will mostly play out during budget negotiations – a process that’s largely secretive as leaders in the House, Senate and Governor’s Office craft a budget behind closed doors.

IHS Diabetes Funding

Indian Health Services will receive nearly $140 million dollars from the federal government to support diabetes prevention programs throughout the country. Tribal nations in Oklahoma will be big beneficiaries.

The Indian Health Service began its special diabetes program in 1997 after research determined American Indians and Alaska Natives were more likely to develop the disease than non-Natives. IHS says since implementing the program, diabetes-related kidney disease rates have been cut in half.

Twenty-six tribal nations and health care centers dedicated to caring for American Indians will receive funding – including the Northeast Tribal Health System and the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa.

Three of the largest tribal nations in the state, the Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation and the Muscogee Nation, will receive nearly $12 million dollars

IHS awards were given to 302 tribal nations in 35 states.


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