April medical marijuana sales top $18M in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma tax officials say medical marijuana sales topped $18 million last month, marking the seventh straight month of growth for the new industry.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission reported Monday the state collected more than $1.2 million in April from the 7% excise tax on marijuana that is in addition to state and local sales tax also collected from medical marijuana sales.

Marijuana sales have grown significantly each month since dispensaries began selling cannabis in October.

The number of people eligible to obtain the drug also is continuing to climb. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority says it has approved more than 104,000 patient licenses since August and has licensed more than 1,400 dispensaries and 2,700 commercial growers.

Pilot makes emergency landing in Oklahoma City field

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City firefighters say the pilot of a small plane made an emergency landing along a roadway when the aircraft had mechanical problems heading to an airport.

Fire Captain David Macy said the pilot was trying to land the single-propeller plane at Wiley Post Airport just before 3 p.m. Monday when the engine quit working. The man flying the plane brought it down on the side of a road just north of the airport and skipped a few times into a field . He was the only person in the plane and was not hurt.

Macy said the pilot would have landed on the road that is mostly surrounded by fields and a nearby strip of businesses, but he avoided that because cars were driving on it.

Oklahoma court expenses, fines and fees rise in recent years

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Fines, dues and court expenses assessed to Oklahoma defendants have spiked since fiscal year 2007 and government agencies are increasingly relying on them as an income source, criminal justice advocates said.

Citations, fees and costs have risen 27% since 2007, the Tulsa World reported. State lawmakers have also imposed two administrative charges that collectively require defendants to pay an additional 25% of all fees amassed by the courts for the executive branch.

Court collections have contributed to around 66% to 90% of yearly district court subsidies over that same period.

Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said an impoverished person's inability to pay either puts them in jail or they return to crime to satisfy the debts.

"For a person who may be justice-involved and on the lower socioeconomic scale, the punitive consequences for the inability to pay these fees and fines lends itself to additional involvement in the criminal justice system," Steele added. "And we reach a point where we begin to criminalize poverty. And that should be unconscionable for any Oklahoman."

State or local executive branch agencies are beneficiaries to one-third of the roughly $160 million in yearly collections of fines, dues and court costs, according to Oklahoma Supreme Court records.

"The costs imposed on a criminal defendant to run the ordinary, customary obligations of government is just not a good way to do business," said Bill Kellough, a former Tulsa County District Court judge.

The sheriff dues in civil and criminal cases amount to around $9 million to $10 million annually, which is the largest collection of specific funds for an executive branch agency.

Two Tulsa attorneys and a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group have filed a lawsuit accusing the Oklahoma court debt collection system of being an unconstitutional "extortionate scheme."

The suit stems from a disputed 30% fee on the entire residual debt of a case transferred to a collections contractor who a county sheriff hired to find and alert the person of misdemeanor or failure-to-pay warrants.

Lawyers want the suit against the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association, 54 county sheriffs and a private bill collection company to be awarded class-action status.

Sen. Moran seeks commitment from Amtrak on train route

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is putting pressure on Amtrak to commit to the continued operation of the Southwest Chief passenger rail service that connects Chicago to Los Angeles with stops in Kansas.

Moran recently delayed confirming three nominees to Amtrak's board of directors in an effort to push the national rail carrier to offer assurances that the line will operate for at least another year, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Amtrak's president, Richard Anderson, agreed to meet with Moran and other lawmakers about the rail service's future later this month.

Amtrak officials considered suspending rail service from Dodge City to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and transitioning to buses last year. The idea stemmed from the cost of repairs needed along a portion of the route.

The Republican senator was behind a federal budget compromise approved by Congress in February that provides an additional $50 million to go toward maintenance and safety improvements of the Southwest Chief line. Discussions in Congress about extending funding are ongoing.

"As the divide between urban communities and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger rail services, like the Southwest Chief, are necessary in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country," Moran said. "I am continuing to seek assurances from Amtrak that it will uphold its commitment to repair, improve and continue the Southwest Chief rail line."

Moran and a group of lawmakers also sent Amtrak officials a letter requesting information about the route. Last year's ridership information hasn't been made available yet.

More than 52,000 passengers boarded the Southwest Chief line in Kansas in 2017, which was an increase of 2,700 people from the previous year.

Governor tours tornado damage in southern Oklahoma

DURANT, Okla. (AP) — Gov. Kevin Stitt has visited an area of southern Oklahoma struck by a tornado last week, when storms killed three people.

State Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain says Stitt spent about two hours Monday near Bokchito, about 160 miles southeast of Oklahoma City near the Texas state line. A tornado was recorded there April 30.

Cain said Stitt surveyed the area by helicopter, by vehicle and on foot. The governor also visited a survivor center at Rock Creek Elementary School in nearby Durant.

Stitt declared a state of emergency last week for 52 Oklahoma counties because of the storms. That allows state agencies to spend money to help local governments.

The National Weather Service says at least 16 tornadoes were reported April 30 in Oklahoma.

 

Tulsa seeing an increase in movies being filmed in area

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Seeing a crew of people lugging cameras and lighting equipment and setting up a filming location isn't as rare a sight in the Tulsa area as was once the case.

And not just for the making of commercials, or student films or amateur efforts.

April alone has seen the filming of a television series, a feature film for family audiences and a documentary shooting in the city, said Abby Kurin, who is the director of the Tulsa Office of Film, Music Arts & Culture.

"In 2017, we (worked) with 11 projects for films, commercials, reality TV and more," she said to the Tulsa World. "In 2018, it was 22 projects, and that included a Facebook Watch series, the film 'Run With the Hunted,' documentaries and virtual reality projects.

"The fact that we're in April, and we're on track to exceed that number, well, that's pretty exciting."

The state has seen an increase in filmmaking ever since the institution of the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program years ago, which allows filmmakers to receive as much as 37% back on the money they spend in the state.

But in Tulsa, Kurin said fewer than a half-dozen of those 22 productions last year utilized the rebate.

She points to the upward trend in filming as being at least partially a product of Tulsa's being the only city in the state with its own film commission, which became a full-time division of the Tulsa Regional Chamber five years ago.

"We've been working with the film community, helping with everything from lodging assistance to film location assistance, so we're excited to see those numbers climb," said Kurin, who has been the TFMAC director since its inception.

"I hope it's a testament to not only what we offer as far as resources but also our hospitality. Like having an office to connect the dots, we make it as accessible (for filmmakers) as possible, whether that's obtaining filming permits or simply connecting them with people who can help them, and that those people have been welcoming."

The projects filming in the Tulsa area during April:

"In the Gap": An original, 10-episode television series to be broadcast on Trinity Broadcasting Network in the fall, highlighting biblical heroes as well as showing modern examples of people committed to their faith. Not only is it being produced by Tulsa's Cloud Nine Productions, but it's also written and adapted by Oklahoma writers, and the casting is almost exclusively state actors, according to the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.

"A.R.I.": This feature film, also shooting with an almost exclusively Oklahoma-based crew, is described by the state film office as a "family adventure movie that tells the story of an adventurous teenager who summons the courage to help a friendly robot escape" from those looking to exploit him as a weapon.

"Lucia's Voice": This documentary will tell the story of Lucia Lucas, who will make history when she soon performs the title role in Tulsa Opera's May production of "Don Giovanni" as the first transgender woman to perform a lead role in a major opera in the U.S.

The office's help and hospitality have also resulted in a high rate of repeat business.

The company behind "In the Gap" is Tulsa-based, and the "A.R.I." filmmaker also shot his last two movies in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick & Kinslow Productions, the Tulsa company responsible for films such as the Emmy-winning "Boomtown: An American Journey" and now the Lucia Lucas documentary, is increasingly in contact with Kurin.

"As a Tulsa film producer, Abby Kurin's office (has been) extremely helpful with locations, permitting, local crew, equipment rental and lodging," said Russ Kirkpatrick, who is producing "Lucia's Voice."

Said Kurin: "We've been fortunate to have people filming here who came sometimes for the content and connections to Tulsa, like the (virtual reality) project about the 1921 race massacre, or a video commissioned by Apple that had a director from Tulsa involved."

"I think we have a really exciting year ahead, and we're confident that some great projects are coming," she said.