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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NPR Story
1:06 pm
Fri August 2, 2013

Gay Olympian To Athletes: Don't Boycott Winter Olympics

Johnny Weir of USA skates at the 2012 Finlandia Trophy Espoo International figure skating competition. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto/LEHTIKUVA via AP)

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 1:52 pm

Recent legislation in Russia that criminalizes homosexuality and gay rights activism is raising concerns ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Russia has also seen an outbreak of violence against gay rights advocates, raising questions about safety for gay athletes and visitors to the Olympic games.

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The Two-Way
12:19 pm
Fri August 2, 2013

Whitey Bulger Decides Not To Take The Stand

James "Whitey" Bulger, in an image released by the U.S. Marshal's Service in August 2011.
EPA /Landov

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 11:18 am

One of the most anticipated testimonies in a criminal trial will not happen: James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston gangster, decided not to testify in his own defense, today.

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StateImpact Oklahoma
11:11 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Twister Truths: Does The Tornado Risk Peak After The School Day Ends?

Wooden crosses at the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore stand in memory of the seven students killed during the May 20, 2013 tornado.
Credit SFC Kendall James / U.S. Department of Defense

Editor's Note: This is part one in StateImpact Oklahoma's "Twister Truths" series where we use data to kick the tires on the conventional wisdom underlying severe weather policy in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, state and local emergency authorities emphasize individual shelters in peoples’ homes over communal shelters in schools or other civic buildings. As we reported here, almost all the federal disaster funding the state receives has been directed to rebates for the construction of residential shelters and safe rooms.

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State Capitol
10:12 am
Fri August 2, 2013

State Veterans Issues Focus Of Multiple Studies

Veterans center in Ardmore, Okla.
Credit Oklahoma Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Rep. Tommy Hardin(R-Ardmore) and Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) are hosting several interim studies pertaining to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Centers.

Hardin’s study focuses on ODVA’s request to declassify certain positions in veteran’s centers. The request was previously approved by a committee but due to its legislative nature, Hardin requested the study.

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The Two-Way
9:43 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Postmaster: We Photograph Your Mail, But Not To Snoop

A 2002 photo of the San Francisco Processing and Distribution Center.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 10:32 am

The head of the U.S. Postal Service has acknowledged that every piece of domestic mail is photographed for processing and that the information is sometimes made available to law enforcement, according to The Associated Press.

In an interview with the news agency, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says that exterior images of individual pieces of mail are snapped at some 200 processing facilities around the country primarily for sorting purposes, but that the images have been used "a couple of times" by law enforcement to trace letters in criminal cases.

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Special Education
9:17 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Study To Examine Options For Students With Severe Disabilities

State Rep. Ann Coody (R-Lawton)
Credit Oklahoma House of Representatives

Rep. Ann Coody (R-Lawton) hopes to find a good solution for children with disabilities in her interim study: placement options for students with severe disabilities.

Coody said the study was requested because state and federal laws require school districts to provide free public education for special education students. Currently 95,000 individuals, ages 3 to 21, are identified as having some sort of disability.

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Shots - Health News
9:06 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Penn State To Penalize Workers Who Refuse Health Screenings

Penn State hopes to reduce its health care costs by helping employees become healthier. But some faculty members complain that charging them $100 a month for refusing to participate in a health improvement program is unfair.
Jeff Brady NPR

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 1:02 pm

If you work for Penn State and don't agree to step on a scale or have your waist measured, it could soon cost you $100 a month. The Pennsylvania State University is joining a growing list of employers penalizing workers who want company-sponsored health benefits but refuse to participate in health improvement programs.

University officials say they need to take dramatic steps to reduce health care costs, and getting their workers in shape is one way to do it.

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Oklahoma State University
8:59 am
Fri August 2, 2013

OSU Sexual Assault Court Hearing Delayed

The Spirit Rider statue on Oklahoma State University's Stillwater campus.
Credit thecollegerag / Flickr Creative Commons

A judge has rescheduled the arraignment for a former Oklahoma State University student accused of sexual assault.

Nathan Cochran was due in court Friday for an arraignment in Payne County, but a judge delayed that until Sept. 6 at 1:30 p.m. Cochran is charged with four counts of sexual battery and is accused of groping male students while they slept.

Cochran has pleaded not guilty. Affidavits filed in the case allege that the incidents occurred in August and November in 2012.

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It's All Politics
7:13 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Could North Carolina Lead A 'Red-State Resurgence'?

Cozzie Watkins of Charlotte, N.C., holds a sign while joining a "Moral Monday" protest against recent actions of the North Carolina Legislature, in Raleigh last month.
Al Drago MCT /Landov

Pat McCrory hasn't fared too well with protesters.

The Republican governor of North Carolina has signed off on a vast array of conservative legislation this year, cutting taxes, slashing unemployment benefits and abolishing teacher tenure. So much change so fast has led to protests, including "Moral Monday" events staged at the capitol a dozen weeks in a row by the NAACP.

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StoryCorps
2:18 am
Fri August 2, 2013

A Mother And Son Live, And Cope, With Mental Illness

Liza Long's son, 13, struggles with rage and violent outbursts. After the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., Long wrote a blog post advocating for better care for mentally ill youth.
StoryCorps

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 10:08 am

One day after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., last December, Liza Long wrote a blog post urging the country to focus on treatment for the nation's mentally ill youth. In it, she shared the story of her own son, "Michael" (not his real name). "I live with a son who is mentally ill," she wrote for The Blue Review.

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