OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Legislature finished the session early on Thursday, ending its first with new Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who checked nearly every item off his to-do list and saw the budget for his office more than double.
With the help of a rebounding economy and soaring revenues from a package of tax increases approved after a long interparty tussle with his predecessor, Stitt arrived on the scene with a $600 million budget surplus and a GOP-led Legislature eager to work with him on spending it.
Both the House and Senate adjourned Thursday afternoon, well ahead of the May 31 constitutional deadline.
The final agreement on the $8.3 billion budget , the state's largest ever, included an additional pay raise for teachers and an extra $200 million into the state's savings account, both priorities for the CEO-turned-governor. The governor himself got a 121% percent boost in his office's budget and secured an additional $2 million for repairs to the governor's mansion and millions more for a fund he can use to help lure businesses to the state.
"I think it's been a fantastic session," Stitt said. "I really feel happy with where we're at with the savings we got, protecting Oklahomans in the future from another tax increase or cuts to core services."
Stitt also expanded the governor's power to include the ability to appoint the directors of Oklahoma's largest state agencies, including the Department of Corrections, Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Some Democrats criticized the session as failing to help the state's working poor, noting Stitt and GOP leaders refused to expand Medicaid, restore an earned income tax credit for poor people or approve a cost-of-living allowance for retired teachers and state workers.
"Low-income working Oklahomans were once again forgotten this session," said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank that advocates for the poor. "In a year where there was plenty of money to expand business incentive programs like the Quick Action Closing Fund and to allocate enormous increases for the governor's office and the Legislature, there was no excuse for turning a deaf ear to those struggling to get by and get ahead."
Stitt rejected that criticism, saying that Oklahoma's booming economy will lead to more jobs and better pay and that "all boats are going to rise."
"A working person has nothing to worry about," Stitt said. "We've got tremendous opportunities in our state, and I'm excited about the future."
Some teachers also grumbled openly about what they say were anti-public education bills, including measures to expand private school vouchers and discourage districts from adopting four-day school weeks.
"I know there are some teachers already recruiting candidates to run for certain districts," said Alberto Morejon, an eighth grade U.S. history teacher from Stillwater who launched a Facebook page that became an online meeting place for teachers and parents during last spring's teacher walkout , which shuttered schools across the state for two weeks.
"We'll have time to collect all of their voting records and make graphics and share with these communities about how these people voted on all these public education bills. We're just getting started."
Prosecutor to decide if police who shot kids can be charged
HUGO, Oklahoma (AP) — A prosecutor is reviewing an investigative report to determine if two police officers who shot into a truck injuring three children and a robbery suspect in southeast Oklahoma should face criminal charges.
The Hugo police officers opened fire April 26, wounding 21-year-old William Devaughn Smith and the children, ages 5, 4 and 1.
District Attorney Mark Madoff says it will take him several weeks to review the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation report and determine whether detectives Billy Jenkins and Chad Allen committed crimes.
The bureau confirmed it sent the report to prosecutors but declined further comment.
Smith is charged with aggravated robbery and is being held in Choctaw County jail. Court records don't list an attorney for him.
Hugo Chief of Police John Bozeman hasn't responded to emailed questions.
Oklahoma court upholds convictions, life sentences for 3 men
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has affirmed the first-degree murder convictions and life sentences of three men in separate cases, including a 24-year-old man convicted in the stabbing death of a co-worker.
Dakota Joe Spainhower was convicted by a jury in Creek County in the 2016 stabbing death of Devin Lundberg, who worked with Spainhower in Bristow.
The court also upheld the life prison sentence of 29-year-old David L. Seely, who was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in McClain County in the 2016 stabbing death of 28-year-old Jackie Wesnidge of Moore. The court says the victim suffered 17 stab wounds.
In addition, the court affirmed the life sentence of 51-year-old Gary Wayne Wilson, who was convicted in the 2016 shooting death of 41-year-old Terrel Smith in Tulsa.
Oklahoma County creates trust to manage troubled county jail
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma County's Board of Commissioners has created a trust to manage the troubled Oklahoma County Jail.
The three-member board voted unanimously Wednesday to create a nine-member trust to oversee the jail's operation and finances.
The Oklahoman reports the trust moves the jail closer to the possibility of privatization. The trust could decide to allow the sheriff's department to continue to run the jail, hire a private company to run it or make the trust responsible for its operation.
Officials say the 13-story jail has been an issue since it opened in 1991. Inmates easily escaped because of design defects. In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department found 60 civil rights violations and it came under federal supervision.
The jail has also had a high number of inmate deaths in recent years.