Improvements planned for turnpike stop in Oklahoma

STROUD, Okla. (AP) — Changes are coming to a frequent pit stop used by travelers driving between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Officials say the Stroud service area on the Turner Turnpike will be renovated and become a westbound-only stop over the next two to three years. Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spokesman Jack Damrill tells the Tulsa World that the current service area has become congested with large trucks and that its design isn't safe for drivers.

Damrill says a new building will be constructed for westbound traffic, and a new service area for eastbound traffic will be built near the Interstate 44 exit at Chandler. Both areas will have expanded parking for large trucks, a gas station and a fast-food restaurant.

Officials say about 14,300 vehicles travel on the Turner Turnpike through Stroud each day.

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Oklahoma lawmakers mull details of Medicaid expansion bill

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — It's uncertain whether a measure proposing the use of Medicaid expansion funds to boost Oklahoma's private insurance subsidy program will pass during this session, according to the bill's sponsor.

Sen. Greg McCortney said lawmakers don't want to vote on his sponsored legislation until the details of how it will be funded are agreed, The Oklahoman reported.

"We know how to pay for it with existing funds," said McCortney. "The big question now is can it be ready for this session or will we have to wait until next year?"

McCortney added that unlike Medicaid, the final proposal will likely require participants to pay a small portion of their premium.

Sen. Julie Daniels said she worries the proposal could trigger tax hikes and ineffective outcomes.

"I absolutely recognize we have difficult issues in healthcare, but I'm reluctant to put trust in the federal government to fix them," Daniels said.

Daniels noted that extending coverage to physically capable people could affect "the most vulnerable populations" Medicaid was intended to help.

"A waiver can be withdrawn, but once you introduce a program like this there's no going back," Daniels said. She noted that Oklahoma would be left to cover the expenses, which would mean "a hit to other core services."

Improved supervision of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and state Department of Human Services, which manage the federal subsidies, are just as important as expanding coverage for Oklahoma residents living with disabilities, said Jeff Hughes, an executive director of the nonprofit Progressive Independence.

Hughes added people with disabilities use alternatives, like GoFundMe, in order to obtain basic necessities such as prosthetic devices and communication equipment because they "can't get it through our health care system."

"I'm pushing them to be doing a lot more than they do," he said.

Hughes suggested that the state form an advisory board — comprised mostly of people with disabilities — to oversee the agencies. They would report to the governor or the Legislature.

Advocates of expanding Medicaid coverage have filed a petition with Oklahoma to address the issue in a statewide vote.

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Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett joins PR firm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Former Oklahoma City mayor and gubernatorial candidate Mick Cornett is joining a marketing and public relations firm.

The Oklahoman reports that Cornett will be working at Oklahoma City-based Jones PR in an executive counsel role and will specialize in business.

Cornett says he'll be offering business perspectives and advice in his new role. Jones PR President and CEO Brenda Barwick says Cornett brings years of marketing expertise to the company. Cornett and Barwick have known each other since they attended the University of Oklahoma.

Cornett served as mayor from 2004 to 2018 and is widely credited with helping bring the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team to the city in 2008.

He ran for governor last year but lost to Gov. Kevin Stitt in a Republican Party primary runoff in August.

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State sells $5.1 million in bonds to update dams

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma has sold about $5.1 million in bonds which will be combined with previously designated federal and state funds to strengthen four high-hazard dams.

The Oklahoman reports that a recent sale on behalf of the state's Conservation Commission will benefit the four dams which protect residents in Perry, Meeker, Wilburton and Elk City.

The commission's executive director, Trey Lam, says the dams also provide water for the communities.

Officials say the state's dams, which were built between 1968 and 1990, are currently safe. The rehabilitation will extend the dams' lives 50 years.

Updating the dams will cost more than $41 million, with about 65% of that funded by the federal government. The state legislature previously dedicated $4 million to renovate the dams but needed more money to close the funding gap.