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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Author Interviews
4:16 am
Fri March 14, 2014

In 2009, 3 Americans Went For A Hike, And Ended Up In A Tehran Prison

Joshua Fattal (from left), Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer were on a hike in 2009 when they unknowingly crossed a road that bordered to Iran. They were stopped by border patrol and imprisoned in Tehran.
Mia Nakano Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 10:27 am

In the summer of 2009, three young Americans went for a hike. Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were living together in Syria, teaching and writing. Their friend Josh Fattal was visiting from the U.S. The three took a tour to a waterfall in the Kurdish highlands of Iraq, and as they hiked along a road that turned out to be the border with Iran, an armed man in uniform waved them over.

The next thing they knew, they had embarked on a two-year ordeal in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran. They join NPR's Renee Montagne to talk about their new memoir, A Sliver of Light.

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Prison Guards requested bill
6:11 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Criminals Won't Be Earning Early Credits For Good Behavior

Rep. Scott Biggs
Credit Oklahoma State Legislature

The Oklahoma House has shot down a bill to allow criminals to begin earning credits for good behavior earlier in their sentence after a lawmaker warned that a vote on the bill would be seen as being "soft on crime."

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StateImpact Oklahoma
4:55 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Regulator Votes To Adopt New Rules For Disposal Wells In Earthquake-Prone Region

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission at the March 13, 2014 meeting.
Credit Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to adopt new data monitoring and reporting rules for operators of disposal wells in central Oklahoma’s earthquake-prone Arbuckle Formation.

As StateImpact’s Joe Wertz reports, these are the first formal regulations addressing oil and gas-related earthquakes.

The rules require operators in the Arkbuckle to record daily injection pressure and volume measurements, and turn the data over to the commission if requested.

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Overwhelmingly approved
4:43 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Cellphone Use In School Zones Will Result In A Fine

Credit todbot / Flickr.com

Using a cellphone in a school zone will result in a fine in Oklahoma under a bill that has been overwhelmingly approved in the state Senate.

The bill by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman passed Thursday on a 42-0 vote.

The bill would make it illegal for anyone to use a cellphone in a school zone, with fines of up to $250 per offense. Exceptions would include vehicles that are stopped or drivers using hands-free devices. The measure now heads to the House for consideration.

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StateImpact Oklahoma
2:04 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Could Goats Be The Solution To Oklahoma’s Red Cedar Problems?

Credit Mike Baird / Flickr Creative Commons

Eastern Red Cedar trees are a menace to Oklahoma.

As StateImpact has reported, “the volatile oils they contain can cause the trees to explode during wildfires… They also crowd out other plants, force wildlife off their habitats, and hoard rainfall.”

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State Capitol
1:21 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

Privatization Plan For Medicaid Narrowly Clears Oklahoma Senate

Credit Lora Zibman / Flickr Creative Commons

A plan to test privatizing the management of health care services provided to the poor in Oklahoma has narrowly passed the state Senate over the objections of opponents concerned that it will lead to lower reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals.

The Senate voted 25-21 on Thursday for the Oklahoma Medicaid Reform Act of 2014 by Republican Sen. Kim David of Porter. The bill now heads to the House, where it is expected to undergo changes.

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State Capitol
12:43 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

House Approves Oklahoma School Shelter Initiative

Gov. Mary Fallin tours the devastated Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore following the May 20 tornado that killed seven students.
Credit The National Guard / Flickr Creative Commons

A proposal supported by Gov. Mary Fallin to help local school districts pay for safety upgrades like storm shelters and safe rooms has been approved by the Oklahoma House.

The House voted 65-28 Thursday for the bill and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

“This bill empowers communities to take action to better protect their children from tornadoes and other threats," Fallin said in a statement. "It is a fiscally responsible, realistic plan that I believe will ultimately help to save lives."

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StateImpact Oklahoma
11:58 am
Thu March 13, 2014

As Wind Energy Moves Into Eastern Oklahoma, Resistance Turns Political

Joe Bush, owner of a ranch near Shidler, Okla., has signed agreements to lease land for two wind farms. Bush worries a 2014 bill that would impose a moratorium on some wind-energy projects would prevent the wind farms from being built.
Credit Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma is one of the country’s top wind-energy producers, and companies want to build more turbines across the state.

For many landowners, wind farms can be a financial windfall. But as wind energy moves into regions unaccustomed to turbines, opponents have taken the fight to the state Capitol.

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OneSix8
9:35 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Entertaining The Hours Of Your Week With St. Patrick’s Day Downtown And Spring Break

St. Patrick's Day in OKC.
Credit Stpatricksday.com

Oklahoma City’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place Saturday, March 15th.  The procession begins at the intersection of Reno and Hudson Avenues downtown at 11 a.m. before making its way east toward the Bricktown Ballpark.

Thousands of Oklahomans are expected to attend the parade that features more than 80 combined entries that include floats, animals and antique cars.

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Business
9:08 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Overtime Pay Proposal Triggers A New Debate About Wages

Economists are divided about the White House plan to boost overtime pay for workers.
Doug Finger Gainesville Sun/Landov

Originally published on Thu March 13, 2014 1:56 pm

On Thursday, President Obama rolled out his plan for strengthening overtime pay protections for millions of workers. In his view, if more workers got fatter paychecks, they could spend more and stimulate the economy.

But if his critics are right, then employers would end up laying off workers to make up for the higher wage costs. And that would hurt the already painfully slow recovery.

Which scenario is right?

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