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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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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State Capitol
1:17 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Oklahoma House Approves Embryonic Stem Cell Ban

Credit Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images / Flickr Creative Commons

A bill that makes it a felony crime to conduct certain types of embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma has been overwhelmingly approved in the House, despite concerns it sends the wrong message to the nation's research community.

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School Shelters
12:30 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Oklahoma High Court Hears School Shelter Arguments

Petitions are completed for the Take Shelter Oklahoma organization in December. The group says it does not have enough signatures to put its petition on the ballot.
Credit Kurt Gwartney / KGOU

An attorney for supporters of an initiative petition to place storm shelters in public schools told the Oklahoma Supreme Court that Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office abused its discretion by re-writing a ballot title that he says was not legally incorrect.

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Same-Sex Marriage
9:24 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Court Filing: Oklahoma Children Better Off With Straight Parents

A sign supporting gay marriage in California on the first day same-gender couples could legally marry there.
Credit Marc Love / flickr.com Creative Commons

Lawyers for an Oklahoma clerk who refused to grant a marriage license to a same-sex couple say a federal judge was wrong to overturn the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriages.

In a court filing Monday night, the Alliance Defending Freedom cites courts and anthropologists in saying children are better off in a home with a mother and a father. The group also says that the two women in Tulsa had no fundamental right to marry.

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The Two-Way
8:59 am
Tue February 25, 2014

After 'Best Year Since 2005,' Housing Sector Likely To Slow

A home for sale earlier this month in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 9:07 am

Home prices across 20 of the nation's major metropolitan areas rose 13.4 percent in 2013 from the year before, according to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index report.

Overall, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices economist David Blitzer, the index "ended its best year since 2005" — well before the burst of the housing bubble in 2007-08.

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Politics
7:23 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Democratic Sen. Landrieu Walks A Fine Line In Red Louisiana

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has won some conservative supporters in her state, but her support for Obamacare is putting her re-election at risk.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 7:06 am

If Democrats are going to keep their majority in the Senate, they'll need to hang on to a few critical seats they hold in conservative states.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has one of those, and like some of her colleagues up for re-election, her support of the Affordable Care Act could be the mountain to overcome this fall.

The question for Landrieu is: Will Louisiana voters define her by Obamacare, or judge her on the entire record she's built over nearly two decades as a senator?

For Some, Obamacare's A Dealbreaker

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Architecture
2:38 am
Tue February 25, 2014

A College Project That Imagines A Floating City For Oil Workers

View of central crossing of the central hub island, one of dozens of man-made islands envisioned by Rice University architecture students. The islands would serve as a floating city for oil workers off the coast of Brazil.
Rice School of Architecture

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 7:58 am

Imagine you're in a college-level architecture class and your assignment is to come up with an idea so revolutionary that it could be considered an important advance in industrial design.

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Committee created by T.W. Shannon
6:30 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

New House Speaker Wants To Abolish The Calendar Committee

House Speaker Jeff HIckman
Credit Oklahoma State Legislature

Newly elected Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman is proposing to abolish a committee established by his predecessor.

Hickman on Monday scheduled a hearing for a resolution to abolish a Calendar Committee that was created last session by former House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

The Calendar Committee was set up to approve all bills before they could be heard on the floor. Shannon suggested last year the committee would allow an open, bipartisan approach to scheduling bills for a floor vote, but critics said it was an additional unnecessary step.

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Meetings start in March
4:45 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Oklahoma Water Resources Board To Hold Public Meetings

Credit fox_kiyo / Flickr.com

State water officials have announced a series of public meetings across the state on various water conservation plans designed to mitigate water use over the next 50 years.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board, which is hosting the meetings, announced the dates Monday. They will be held March 11 at the Oklahoma Panhandle State University campus in Goodwell, March 12 at the Quartz Mountain Resort near Altus, and March 13 at the Simmons Center in Duncan. Each meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

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