Oklahoma GOP governor signs medical marijuana rules into law

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed into law new regulations for Oklahoma's burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

The Republican on Thursday signed a measure known as the "unity bill" because it's supported by various factions of the cannabis industry. The measure received bipartisan support in the state House and Senate.

The bill sets up guidelines for inventory testing and tracking, advertising, packaging and labeling, among other things. It also allows employers to fire medical marijuana users in certain "safety-sensitive jobs" who test positive for the drug. Those include firefighters and workers who carry firearms, drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery.

Although the bill sets up regulations, it isn't intended to curb the explosive growth of the state's medical marijuana industry. Oklahoma's Medical Marijuana Authority has approved nearly 60,000 patient licenses since August.

•••

Senate OKs plan to push school districts to 5-day weeks

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A plan to force more Oklahoma school districts to return to five-day school weeks has cleared the Oklahoma Senate.

The Senate voted 31-17 on Thursday for the bill that now goes to the House.

According to the state Department of Education, 92 of Oklahoma's more than 500 school districts currently are operating on four-day school weeks. In those cases, instructional hours are extended each day to reach the required number of hours.

The bill by Republican Sen. Marty Quinn would allow schools to continue operating four-day weeks if the district meets minimum guidelines for student performance and cost savings.

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised the Senate's passage of the measure.

Supporters of the four-day school week says it helps districts save money and recruit teachers.

•••

Police investigating alleged assault of legislative page

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's speaker of the House suspended its page program on Thursday after a teenage girl reported she was sexually assaulted by another page at a hotel near the Capitol where the high school participants spend the night.

Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes confirmed his detectives are investigating the alleged assault of the teen Tuesday night by a male teenager who also was serving as a page.

No arrests have been made, and Clabes said when the investigation is completed, it will be turned over to the district attorney to decide if charges are warranted. Clabes said both students are minors.

In an email to House members on Thursday, Speaker Charles McCall said he was suspending the page program pending an internal review.

"I will be working with House Republican and Democratic leadership to assign a bipartisan task force to re-evaluate the House page program, including our current procedures and best practices from other states," McCall wrote.

The Senate operates a similar page program, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said he plans to review the program's protocols in light of the recent incident.

Hundreds of high school students participate in the Oklahoma Legislature's page program every year, spending a week in Oklahoma's capital city running errands for lawmakers and legislative staff. The program includes overnight stays at a local hotel paid for by the Legislature. The students are accompanied by adult chaperones provided by the Legislature, and the program's guidelines indicate students are "closely supervised at all times."

A former state House member in 2017 agreed to get sensitivity training and was blocked from interacting with the page program for a year after being accused of making inappropriate comments to a high school page two years earlier. Former Rep. Will Fourkiller denied saying anything inappropriate, but agreed to the sanctions anyway.

•••

Dozens of Oklahoma inmates granted parole under 2018 law

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Dozens of Oklahoma inmates have been granted parole since the process was streamlined last year to reduce prison costs.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board agreed to discharge all but a few of the 73 nonviolent offenders registered on the state's new administrative parole docket, The Oklahoman reported.

Under the 2018 law, the inmates must serve at least one-fourth of their sentence and follow standards of their parole. The new parole process disqualifies anyone convicted of a violent crime, a felony sex crime or a crime punishable by death or life without the possibility of parole.

For qualifying inmates, the streamlined method replaces a pre-review investigation and appearance before the parole board, which are part of the usual parole process.

Administrative parole will free up around 3,750 prison beds and roughly $16.7 million per year once fully implemented, according to an analysis conducted by the state House.

The five-member board will alert the state Department of Corrections of those granted parole. Those authorized should be paroled within weeks.

The decision comes despite Oklahoma's top prosecutors resisting efforts for more prison alternatives.

Adam Luck, a new addition to the parole board, told the newspaper he was struck by "the emotional toll on individuals who've been affected by crime," and the "sheer amount of cases."

Parole discharges dropped to 77 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to the think tank Oklahoma Policy Institute. But between 2016 and 2018, the state increased parole rates for nonviolent offenders, from 27 percent to 33 percent.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute said it was encouraged by the board's vote on parole.

"We're a few days in, but based on what we've seen so far, these are very promising parole rates," said Damion Shade,a criminal justice analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute. "So much of what we're seeing in Oklahoma is an attempt to catch up."

•••

Oklahoma regulators agree to $46 million rate hike for PSO

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma regulators have approved a $46 million annual rate increase for the state's second largest electrical utility.

The three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve the hike for Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which serves about 550,000 electrical customers in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma.

Under the $46 million agreement, the average residential customer will pay about $2.38 more per month for electrical service. PSO originally requested an $88 million rate hike, which would have increased residential rates an average of $7 a month.

PSO requested the rate increase in September to replace and upgrade infrastructure and invest in new technology to improve reliability and efficiency. Commission Chair Dana Murphy says the settlement agreement addresses reliable service as well as cost.

PSO's parent company is American Electric Power.