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Capital City: Abortion rallies and elections today

Gusty wind did not prevent continued renovation work Thursday, Jan. 25, on the Oklahoma Capitol's south side. [Photos by Thomas Maupin, For The Oklahoman]
Gusty wind did not prevent continued renovation work Thursday, Jan. 25, on the Oklahoma Capitol's south side. [Photos by Thomas Maupin, For The Oklahoman]

Good Tuesday morning. 

It's Election Day in most Oklahoma counties, and while a February election often receives less attention than the races of last November, the results will go a long way in shaping city councils and school boards that play a critical role in infrastructure, school curriculum and a variety of other local policy issues.

“I had noticed in that long line in November when we were waiting to vote there were a lot of captive people there and huge voter turnout,” said Norman council member and mayoral candidate Breea Clark, speaking at a candidate forum last week. “Yet there is low voter turnout on, what I think, are the elections that matter the most, at least in your everyday lives."

You can find more election info here

Rallies at the Capitol ... An anti abortion rally is slated to take place at the state Capitol today, along with a rally in support of abortion rights. 

Anti-abortion Oklahomans have expressed a new energy with a belief the U.S. Supreme Court has shifted. And while an overturning of Roe v. Wade is a long way off (for a lot of reasons), there are several anti-abortion bills that activists are looking to promote. 

Senate Bill 13 would make abortion a felony homicide and several Oklahomans who gathered at the Capitol Wednesday said they wanted lawmakers to support the bill, even if it resulted in a legal challenge.

Gov. Kevin Stitt reaffirmed his support for anti-abortion legislation at a Capitol rally last week and said he wanted to see the U.S. Supreme Court outlaw abortion across the nation.

“I want to work with the Legislature to continue to push pro-life legislation forward and I (want to) think how we can also influence our Supreme Court to actually change some things,” said Stitt, speaking at the annual Rose Day rally.

However, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, who is also opposed to abortion, said he wouldn’t want to advance legislation that he knew would be ruled unconstitutional.

Even with a shift at the U.S. Supreme Court, Treat said he isn’t ready to test the limits just yet.

“I’ve got to reevaluate on the federal side of what our chances are, (but) I seek opinions from constitutional attorneys, not necessary political consultants,” Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said last week. 

Abortion bill advances ... The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed its first three bills of the session on Monday, including one that some opponents portrayed as a covert attack on abortion providers.

House Bill 2591, by Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, would strip Medicaid eligibility from providers of “services relating to pregnancy or termination of pregnancy” who do not report evidence of the rape of a minor. The Tulsa World has more

Nursing bill advances ... Despite a wave of opposition television ads from a state doctors association, a bill to allow some nurses to administer anesthesia was advanced by a Senate committee on Monday.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association purchased hundreds of television commercials in the Oklahoma City market over the last few days in opposition to Senate Bill 801, which ends physician supervision of registered nurse anesthetists, who sedate patients for surgery and other procedures.

Commissioner ends lobbying job ... Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey filed paperwork Saturday to terminate his lobbyist registration for an anti-abortion advocacy group, a second job that had drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, reports NonDoc

Last week it was reported that Calvey, a former state representative who was elected District 3 Oklahoma County Commissioner last year, is also a registered lobbyist for the anti-abortion group Oklahomans For Life Inc., according to the state Ethics Commission.

Should prosecutors hire collection agencies? ... Oklahoma district attorneys have more than $56 million in uncollected fees on their books and are being advised they should hire collection agencies to go after offenders to recover more of the debt, reports Oklahoma Watch

But district attorneys are balking at the recommendation, made by private auditors, because the prospect of collecting a lot of the money is uncertain – and aggressive collections could conflict with criminal justice reform efforts intended to shift their offices and the courts away from depending on fines and fees. Reform advocates say heavy fees and fines have trapped offenders in debt loads that are difficult or impossible to erase and can lead former inmates to re-offend and end up back in prison.

“They’ll be the first to tell you they don’t do a good job of (collecting fees). Those district attorneys are mainly prosecuting folks and protecting folks and not collecting on fees,” James Adcock, a member of the accountability commission, said at its Jan. 30 meeting. “We have recommended just looking at that whole system. There are other ways of doing it, like outside collection agencies that the OTC (Oklahoma Tax Commission) uses. There are a lot of fees out there, and if you just collect 10 percent of them, it’s a lot.”

UCO offering retirement incentive ... The University of Central Oklahoma is offering qualified full-time faculty a retirement incentive to help offset a budget gap created by a drop in enrollment. Eligible employees were contacted by email Friday.

President Don Betz notified the general UCO community about the incentive program in a message sent Friday, noting “the most recent five years of diminishing state support and declining enrollment.”

UCO budget reports show state appropriations have decreased by $12.4 million since 2014-15, when they represented 34 percent of the university’s revenue. Now state support accounts for 25 percent of revenue, with tuition and student fees making up 70 percent.

Enrollment during that time declined by nearly 1,500 students, or 8.8 percent. The 2018 headcount was 15,393.

School district shortchanged ... Chickasha Public Schools received a check for $2.1 million Monday after Grady County Treasurer Robin Burton acknowledged that a large portion of property tax revenues earmarked for the school district were misdirected into the Grady County General Fund. “It’s astounding, absolutely astounding,” said Superintendent Jack Herron.

Thanks for reading. Got questions, suggestions or complaints? Email me at bfelder@oklahoman.com. 

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Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›