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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Said Car Tag Image Counter To Christian Beliefs
4:12 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Judge Rejects Minister's Claim

Credit Oklahoma Tax Commission

A federal judge has rejected a claim by an Oklahoma minister that the image on the state's license plate of a young Apache warrior shooting an arrow skyward conveys a religious message that is counter to his Christian beliefs.  

U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton dismissed the claim Tuesday filed against the state by Bethany pastor Keith Cressman.

Heaton wrote there is nothing about the image that suggests the Indian warrior is praying or that the arrow he is shooting is sacred, even though the image is inspired by artist Allan Houser's "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture.

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StateImpact Oklahoma
3:57 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

The Economic Impact Of A Bunch Of Thirsty Oklahoma Cows

Cows Graze in Kay County, Okla.
Credit fireboat895 / Flickr Creative Commons

Cattle is big business in Oklahoma.

In 2013, the state ranked No. 5 in total heads of beef cattle — with 4.2 million heads that represent roughly 4.7 percent of the total U.S. cattle inventory, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show.

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Transportation
2:42 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Gov. Fallin Urges Washington To Take Transportation Action

Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) testifies Tuesday before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Credit Provided / U.S. House

Gov. Mary Fallin testified Tuesday before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urging lawmakers to negotiate a path forward on reauthorizing surface transportation.

"Well-managed dollars committed to infrastructure improvements directly impact our economy and enhance the ability of our industries to transport goods and provide services,” Fallin said. “Investing today in transportation is investing long term in our economic viability and the safety of our citizens."

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World Views
1:13 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Iranian Hostage-Turned-Ambassador: Still Optimistic, Would Love To Return

A group photograph of the former Iranian hostages shortly after their release. The 52 Americans spent a few days in the hospital prior to their departure for the United States.
Credit Johnson Babela / U.S. Department of Defense

Ambassador John Limbert and 51 diplomatic and military colleagues were taken prisoner in the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. They were released 444 days later as Ronald Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1981.

Limbert has never been back to Iran in the 33 years after he boarded the plane for Algeria, even though he married an Iranian woman and his children were born there. He’s now a private citizen, no longer works for the State Department, and has no prohibition on his travel to Iran. But he says he’s not welcome by the Islamic Republic.

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The Two-Way
10:43 am
Tue January 14, 2014

20 Million DirecTV Customers Just Lost The Weather Channel

The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore reporting from Manhattan's Battery Park during Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
Jonathan Saruk/The Weather Channel Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 9:04 am

What was already a stormy relationship between The Weather Channel and DirectTV has now become something of a Category 3 communications catastrophe.

Twenty million DirecTV customers can't see The Weather Channel today because the two sides didn't reach an agreement on a new distribution deal before a midnight Monday deadline.

According to The Associated Press, "the two companies pointed fingers at each other":

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Human Services
9:55 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Oklahoma Disabilities Waiting List Moving Forward, Still Almost A Decade Behind

Credit Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services / Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services Developmental Disabilities Services Waiting List has been years in the making. The list serves individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and his or her family.

Oklahoma’s waiting list is not an entitlement under Medicaid, even though services are provided with Medicaid funding, but many of the services are received via OKDHS. In that manner, Division Director JoAnne Goin said services are entitlements similar to nursing home services.

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The Two-Way
8:58 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Hundreds Fleeing South Sudan's Fighting Drown In Nile River

Civilians who fled the recent fighting stack their belongings up outside the gate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound, in the provincial capital of Bentiu, west of Malakal, on Sunday.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin AP

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 4:34 pm

At least 200 refugees, mostly women and children, have drowned in South Sudan after a ferry sank as they were trying to cross the Nile River to escape fighting near the northern town of Malakal.

Army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said the group was in an "overloaded" boat. The New York Times, which places the number of dead at between 200 and 300, reports that it is the worst such ferry accident to date as tens of thousands of residents have sought refuge.

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State Capitol
8:43 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Pardon, Parole Board Hopes To Move Clemency Hearings To McAlester

The Pardon and Parole Board hopes a new Department of Corrections executive director will be receptive to their request to move clemency hearings to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Interim Executive Director Tracy George reported Monday she recently had discussed the idea of moving the hearings from the Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Death row inmates are housed and executed at the maximum security facility in McAlester.

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The Two-Way
6:51 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Congress Poised To Pass $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

Jonathan Ernst Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 7:24 am

The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a $1.1 trillion spending bill that would fund the federal government into October and bring to an end, for now at least, the bitter partisan battles that have led to one government shutdown and threatened to push the U.S. into defaulting on its bills.

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Shots - Health News
6:28 am
Tue January 14, 2014

California Hospital Workers Pitch Obamacare To ER Patients

O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif., is encouraging uninsured patients to sign up for coverage in the emergency room.
Sarah Varney for NPR

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 10:10 am

Angela Felan is sitting in the ER waiting room at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif. A blue surgical mask covers her nose and mouth, and a sweatshirt is pulled snug over her head.

She first came into the emergency room a few days ago with what she thought was bronchitis. The doctor prescribed an inhaler that cost her $56.

Felan, 31, works part time in retail and hasn't had insurance for at least a decade because she hasn't been able to afford it. "Unfortunately even not having insurance is just as expensive," she says.

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