Special Report: Auditing The Disaster Aid For 2013 Tornadoes And Storms

Federal public-assistance funds are paying for the rebuilding of Plaza Towers Elementary School, in which seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado. The school is expected to open next month.
Clifton Adcock Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years.

To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help re build damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks.

The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion. Charities also have pumped in aid.

The relief aid stemming from Disaster No. 4117, as it is called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is arriving through several channels, heading ultimately to state and local agencies, contractors, businesses and individuals.

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StateImpact Oklahoma
12:19 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Effort To Allow New Tax On Mining Companies Gains Ground In Oklahoma House

An active aggregate mining operation near Mill Creek, Okla.
Credit Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

This isn’t the first legislative session some Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing for a severance tax for mining limestone and sand, but it’s the first time the idea has gotten this far.

On Monday, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed HB1876, which would allow up to a five percent tax on the production of limestone, sand, and other aggregates. It now moves to the full House for consideration.

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State Capitol
11:27 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Senate Panel Approves Tough New Oklahoma Abortion Restrictions

Credit Ben Ramsey / Flickr Creative Commons

A bill to impose strict new state regulations and requirements for abortion providers in Oklahoma has cleared a Senate panel.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 19-2 on Wednesday for the bill by Edmond Republican state Sen. Greg Treat. The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.

The measure would require the Oklahoma State Board of Health to develop a list of standards for facilities, supplies, equipment and personnel that abortion providers must maintain at all times.

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State Capitol
9:55 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Oklahoma Anti-Gay Business Bill Dead This Session

Credit KellyK / Flickr Creative Commons

The principal sponsor of a bill that would allow business owners in Oklahoma with strongly held religious beliefs to refuse service to gays says his measure is going back for rewrite.

Not only that, Seminole Republican Tom Newell says the measure likely won't be given any further consideration in the current legislative session.

Newell said Tuesday that while he still supports the idea, his bill is being redrafted to prevent "any fiascos like there have been elsewhere."

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The Two-Way
8:54 am
Wed February 26, 2014

North Korea's Still In The Dark, As Photos From Space Show

This image was taken Jan. 30 by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. North Korea is the large dark patch in the middle. The only significant light is from its capital, Pyongyang. The next photo adds reference points.
NASA.gov

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 10:55 am

Pictures really do tell the story about how far behind economically North Korea is compared with its neighbors.

In 2002, as Eyder has said, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used a satellite photo to illustrate how in-the-dark the communist nation was.

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Transportation
8:33 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Syrup Spill Snarls Oklahoma City Traffic

Traffic moves along I-44 just west of a syrup spill that shut down one lane of the highway Wednesday morning.
Credit Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says drivers should avoid parts of Interstate 44 in Oklahoma City after a tanker leaked syrup for miles along the roadway.

Crews shut down the right lane of westbound Interstate 44 between Northwest 36th Street and Southwest 89th Street after discovering the spill Wednesday morning. The highway patrol says crews are bringing in sand to help clean up the slippery mess.

Authorities say the tanker was hauling 48,000 gallons of syrup to a Braum's restaurant. Police say the driver apparently drove for miles without noticing the leaking syrup.

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The Two-Way
6:58 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Putin Flexes Moscow's Muscles; Kerry Says This Isn't 'Rocky IV'

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ria Novosti Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 11:25 am

We retopped this post at 12:25 p.m. ET.

Responding to the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin has put his army on alert in what seems to be a bid to influence events in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. is "not looking for [a] confrontation" with Moscow.

And, in a reference to the Cold War days of the past when the rivalry between two superpowers would find its way into popular culture, Kerry tried to cool things down.

"This is not Rocky IV," he said, during an MSNBC interview.

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It's All Politics
6:23 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Obama And Boehner Relationship Anything But Solid

President Obama and Speaker John Boehner were all smiles at a rare White House meeting Tuesday. But their relationship has more often been marked by angry finger-pointing.
Jacquelyn Martin AP

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 6:49 pm

If more were actually getting done in Washington, there probably would be much less attention focused on how few times President Obama and Speaker John Boehner have met face-to-face, and on their "relationship."

But Congress is testing new lows in terms of legislative productivity, which leaves plenty of time for journalists to muse about the president-speaker relationship, such as it is, on the day of one of their rare meetings.

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Birth Control
4:15 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Morning-After Pill Bill Delayed

Credit epSos.de / Flickr.com

The Oklahoma Senate has delayed action on a bill to prevent girls younger than 17 from buying the so-called morning-after pill without a prescription after the measure's author realized it applied only to females.

Norman Republican Sen. Rob Standridge brought the bill up for consideration Tuesday in the Senate. The measure prohibits girls younger than 17 from purchasing the morning-after emergency contraceptive without a prescription.

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Politics and Government
2:49 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Religious Freedom Bills Rooted In Fears Of Obama Policies

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, has been urged by the state's two U.S. senators, both Republicans, to veto a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to gays or other groups that offend their religious beliefs.
Charles Dharapak AP

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 3:43 pm

Many religious leaders are feeling under siege. They believe the Obama administration is at worst hostile but at least "tone deaf" to the demands of faith. In their view, the government is attempting to make them act in ways that violate their convictions.

That is the context in which so-called religious freedom bills are being considered in Arizona and numerous other states.

The bills, which would allow business owners to refuse service to gays or other groups that offend their religious beliefs, appear discriminatory on their face.

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Oklahoma Watch
2:25 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

State Moves To Share Early-Childhood Data With Districts

Credit Brad Flickinger / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma is often held up as the national poster child for offering early childhood education to many students.

But according to state officials and educators, the system has a serious weakness: Data about each student’s academic profile is not shared between early-childhood education program providers and school districts, or between providers. That can prevent kindergarten teachers from being able to immediately target students' learning needs when they arrive, officials say. It also prevents providers from doing the same when a child transfers from one program to another or is enrolled in more than one program.

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