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PM NewsBrief: Feb. 22, 2023

This is the KGOU PM NewsBrief for Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

Oklahoma ACCESS Turnpike Anniversary

Today marks one year since the Stitt administration announced it would embark on its 15-year, $5 billion ACCESS Oklahoma Turnpike program. Here's where the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s highly-contested project stands today and how much further it has to go.

"...Such an exciting announcement for Oklahoma infrastructure," said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Feb. 22, 2022, hundreds of residents learned their homes may be bulldozed to make way for new toll roads. And even though Stitt said the routes wouldn’t affect many — "It’s really just farmland, pastureland, so you’re not disrupting," he said.

Residents disagreed.

Soon, the opposition group Pike Off OTA was formed. And since, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for ACCESS. One lawsuit from Pike Off challenges how the OTA interprets its legislative authorization for certain ACCESS routes, and that one’s tied up in the State Supreme Court.

Another lawsuit alleges the agency violated the state’s Open Meeting Act by using vague wording in agendas for meetings that approved the project. Though a district judge sided with Pike Off, the OTA appealed and another hearing is set for March 3.

And, lawmakers are pushing a flurry of bills this session to put guardrails on the OTA, like requiring a vote of approval from affected homeowners before a project can be authorized and ending the agency’s practice of using revenue from one turnpike to fund another.

School Safety Bill

A bill aimed at reducing school vulnerabilities is heading to the Oklahoma Senate floor.

Sen. Dewayne Pemberton of Muskogee filed Senate Bill 100 after chairing a bipartisan School Safety Working Group.

Pemberton says Oklahoma’s school sites and Career Techs need to be assessed to make sure facilities are as safe as possible - and that there needs to be proper administrative protocols in place to address any emergency.

The bill would require each school district to have a risk and vulnerability assessment by the Oklahoma School Security Institute - which would need to be completed by July 2026.

Pemberton says the OSSI would also need to hire more people to complete the assessment over the next three years, which is estimated to cost $1.4 million per year.

The bill heads to the full Senate for consideration.

House Gun Bills

Two bills expanding the circumstances under which handguns are allowed to be carried in certain places are advancing through the state House.

Two of Republican Representative Kevin McDugal’s bills allowing for certain people to be authorized to carry handguns in some city and town buildings and in schools passed through the House Public Safety Committee on Monday.

House Bill 2136 would allow municipalities to authorize certain employees or public officials with valid handgun licenses to carry concealed or unconcealed firearms when acting in the scope and course of their employment.

House Bill 2139 would allow those with a valid handgun license to be authorized by the board of education to carry a handgun on school property.

The bills will now move to the House floor for further consideration.

Maternal Mortality Reporting Legislation

Oklahoma ranks among the worst states in the country for maternal mortality, but data on those deaths is difficult to compile. StateImpact’s Catherine Sweeney reports a bill making its way through the Legislature now could make it easier.

There are a host of reasons getting those statistics has been hard. Both the federal and state government rely on death certificate information. Those certificates can take several months to be released.

The state department of health oversees a committee that reviews maternal mortality. They look at all death records for women between the ages of 10 and 59 to see if the medical provider indicated a pregnancy-related condition in the certificate.

Rep. Cynthia Roe authored House Bill 2152, which passed out of its first committee hearing on Tuesday.

"This would require a hospital or birthing center to, ya know, report these deaths in a timely fashion so they can be investigated," said Roe.

It would also order the medical examiner to investigate all deaths of women who were either pregnant or had delivered a baby within the past year.

Potential Hunting, Fishing License Increases

Oklahoma hunting and fishing licenses have been the same price for at least 20 years. But that could soon change.

The Oklahoma legislature is considering a bill to raise and change some fees for hunting and fishing licensure.

Senate Bill 941 updates the state’s fee structure and directs the Wildlife and Conservation Commission to prepare a report every five years to potentially allow the legislature to raise fees again.

Sen. David Bullard is the bill’s sponsor. He says the bill also reduces the number of hunting and fishing licenses, consolidating what you get for purchasing a hunting or fishing license.

"It combines 46 licenses down into 14. That’s a smart move," said Bullard.

The measure passed out of committee this week, but still has a long way to go before it reaches the governor’s desk.

Cherokee Nation election candidates face challenges

The Cherokee Nation's election season is heating up, but candidates running for district seats are receiving some challenges.

The Cherokee Phoenix first reported that Cherokee Nation election officials have set a hearing date for Joseph Byrd's challenger.

Byrd is running for district three seat. That hearing is set for February 27th.

Byrd, who is Cherokee and Quapaw, is currently the Business Committee Chairman for the Quapaw Nation-a position he was recently re-elected to last summer. He lives in Tahlequah.

One of his opponents, Brandon Girty, filed the challenge. Four others are also running for a seat in the district.

Byrd's father Joe Byrd senior served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1995 and succeeded Wilma Mankiller.

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