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PM NewsBrief: March 16, 2023

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Auditing the OTA

The Oklahoma Attorney General has called the state auditor to conduct an investigative audit of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

In a news release Wednesday, attorney general Gentner Drummond said the audit will look at transactions between OTA and the Department of Transportation, contracting and purchase practices, and the agency’s finances. This announcement comes on the heels of OTA losing a lawsuit that accused the agency of violating the state Open Meetings Act leading up to the announcement of a plan to expand the state’s turnpike network.

The plan was announced in February 2022 without giving any notice to residents in the path of construction. A state representative was also paid far above appraised value for her home in the eminent domain process. Norman city councilor Rarchar Tortorello, who represents an area greatly affected by the plan, was pleased with the announcement.

"The time has come for the citizens of Oklahoma to finally get the view from the top, the middle and the bottom of what OTA has been doing, and this audit is that tool that provides us what we would like to see and hear," Tortorello said.

In his own news release, Tortorello said he and attorneys who have sued OTA look forward to working with Drummond.

Limiting Forever Chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule to set legally enforceable limits for PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.”

PFAS are human-made chemicals used in non-stick cookware and waterproof clothes. They’re called forever chemicals because they don’t break down over time. Instead, they build up in the environment and in our bodies, where their health effects are still unclear.

This rule would require public water suppliers to monitor PFAS levels and let customers know what they find, which currently isn’t required. If the rule goes into effect, water suppliers with PFAS levels above the limit would need to take action to lower them. For some forever chemicals, the limit would be 4 parts per trillion.

The EPA’s current unenforced recommendation is 1000 times lower than the proposed enforceable limit. Earlier this month, the EPA also announced that it would allocate almost $21 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for grants to help Oklahoma water supplies address PFAS contamination.

Corporal Punishment for Disabled Students

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives failed to move a bipartisan bill that would ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities to the Senate.

The House voted 45 to 43 on House Bill 1028, failing to meet a majority of 51 members needed to move the bill along. Fifteen members were absent for the vote. Representatives Jim Olsen and Randy Randleman argued against the bill by pointing out that parents must sign off for schools to use corporal punishment on their disabled children.

Representative Anthony Moore, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he told lead sponsor John Talley he would happily sponsor the bill because it seemed like a no-brainer to him.

"I told the author that, number one, I would co-author this with him, but that this would be an easy bill to carry because there's nobody that's going to be for corporal punishment on students with disabilities. I apologize to the author, because apparently, I was wrong," Moore said.

Talley said many school districts urged him to pass the bill, and that corporal punishment was used on disabled students more than 400 times between 2021 and 2022 in Oklahoma. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against the practice.

St.Luke's votes to disaffiliate

Oklahoma's largest Methodist church will gather on Sunday to vote on the fate of the church.

The Methodist church, located in Oklahoma City, has over 8,000 members and includes those who attend online.

Leaders at St.Luke's said the congregation wishes to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, and is voting to disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church, or UMC, due to the same-sex marriage and gay ordination prohibition ban enacted in 2019.

If the vote passes, St. Luke's will not be the first to leave the denomination. Since the ban, over 2,000 Methodist churches have announced their departure from the UMC including St. Andrews Church in Plano, Texas, last February.

St. Luke's is expecting thousands from their congregation to appear for the vote, including out of state members.


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