Matt Trotter

Reporter

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN. 

He has a master's degree from Arizona State University, where he spent a semester on the first reporting staff of Cronkite News Service's Washington, D.C., bureau. As a grad student, he won awards for multimedia journalism and in-depth TV reporting.

Matt is from Southern California, so he's slowly following Route 66 across the United States. He would have made it Chicago by now, but he's not a fan of long drives.

Ways to Connect

Stay calm, turn off your car, keep your hands on the wheel.

Instructions like those telling Oklahomans what to do when they get pulled over are a new part of the state drivers manual. The inserts are the result of a partnership between the Department of Public Safety and Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus.

DPS Commissioner Rusty Rhoades said other instructions include turn off the radio, don't make any sudden movements and turn on your interior lights if it's nighttime.

Tulsa Police

The Tulsa County District Attorney charges an alleged drug dealer with first-degree murder for his customer’s overdose death.

Jillian Searle’s mother found her unconscious from a heroin overdose in their home March 21. Searle, 19, later died.

Detectives say 29-year-old Taylor Rogers admitted to selling her a gram of heroin around 24 hours earlier and believed the drug killed her. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said detectives built a good template with the case, which has led to a first-degree murder charge against Rogers.

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Larger shares of Tulsa Public Schools high schoolers are graduating.

The district reports a graduation rate of 76.9 percent for the class of 2017, up 4 percentage points from the class of 2014. The district tracks graduation rates in four-year cohorts.

TPS Secondary Instructional Leadership Director Stacey Vinson said bringing back students who left school has helped push the graduation rate up. That work includes a door-knocking campaign the district instituted last year.

Tuesday's top stories:

  • An arrest has been made in a nearly 20-year-old northeast Oklahoma murder case.
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter stays on the ballot after the state election board tosses an opponent's challenge to whether Hunter meets residency requirements.
  • Jim Bridenstine is sworn in as the new administrator of NASA.

Google

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A new survey shows the support that has been provided to Oklahoma communities as a result of the Google Data Center in Pryor.

An analysis by Oxford Economics shows the data center is making its mark on the community with about 400 employees that have a combined direct income of approximately $31.5 million.

The Oklahoman reports that the economic impact survey measures direct, indirect and induced jobs and income generated.

Wikipedia

While how they’ll do it is still up in the air, Oklahoma lawmakers will take up bills affecting the wind industry before the session is over.

Negotiations continue on a possible gross production tax on wind energy. The stalemate is between House Democrats, who want assurances that will be the last tax change for the industry, and Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat, who does not want that put into law.

Joel Kowsky / NASA

It's official: Jim Bridenstine is now the administrator of NASA.

Bridenstine was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence Monday afternoon at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Pence said Bridenstine is taking charge of the agency at a time when interest in its goals are on the upswing and so are its responsibilities.

"Under Space Policy Directive 1, we will send American astronauts back to the moon, and after that, we will establish the capacity with international and commercial partners to send Americans to Mars. And NASA will lead the way," Pence said.

State of Oklahoma-File photo

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter remains on the ballot after a Republican challenger contested his candidacy.

Gentner Drummond tried to make the case that Hunter’s time with D.C. lobbying firms between 2002 and 2015 meant he was not a bona fide resident of Oklahoma for 10 years prior to filing for the 2018 election and therefore ineligible. 

In addition to arguing Hunter gave up his homestead exemption in Oklahoma, indicating he was no longer a resident, Attorney Garry Gaskins pointed election board Chair Steve Curry to a TV interview with Hunter.

Tulsa police tallied the city's 11th homicide of the year early Sunday in an apparent murder-suicide.

Police found a 33-year-old woman dead in a bedroom at 12227 E 38th Place. She had been shot with a small-caliber rifle. A 44-year-old man was dead in the same room, and police say evidence points to the man killing the woman and then turning his gun on himself.

Serge Melki

Oklahoma’s fiscal year 2019 state budget will likely be revealed this week.

House Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace said there’s more for lawmakers to appropriate this time around.

"We are down to, I would say, less than 1 percent of the overall budget. We’re going to have about $7.6 billion to appropriate this year. Some final decisions have to be made between the speaker, the pro tem and the governor, and we’re very close," Wallace said.

This budget has a major difference from budgets of the past few years.

Monday's top stories:

  • State lawmakers expect Oklahoma's budget will be finished soon.
  • More testimony is planned for today in the murder trial of Michael Bever.
  • Rain helps firefighters control blazes in western Oklahoma.

NIEER

The latest State of Preschool report takes a bit of the shine off Oklahoma’s pre-K program.

The annual report says Oklahoma puts quantity over quality, getting the nation’s fourth-highest proportion of four-year-olds, 73 percent, into preschool but meeting just seven of 10 heightened quality standards.

National Institute for Early Education Research CEO Steven Barnett said there are great benefits to pre-K, especially for kids in low-income families.

npr

The Oklahoma Senate defeated a measure this week to let law enforcement agencies in the state store most body camera footage for just 90 days.

Agencies would submit to their district attorneys for approval guidelines on how they would determine if videos must be kept longer. Sen. Wayne Shaw said the measure was requested by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

"It costs approximately $80 a month per police officer to store that information, which, just for Tulsa County alone, is talking about almost $300,000 a year, which becomes very expensive," Shaw said.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa County officials finally broke ground Friday on the new downtown Family Justice Center.

Voters approved the facility in 2014, but it’s been delayed as officials whittled down estimated costs and sent the project back out for bid.

The new building, located at Archer Street and Elwood Avenue, will replace a deteriorating one at 315 S Gilcrease Museum Road. It will also be bigger. District Court Juvenile Division Chief Judge Doris Fransein said the extra space is needed for more than just breathing room.

Bridenstine's office

  

Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine is confirmed as the next NASA administrator.

Senate Republicans pushed Bridenstine’s nomination to a vote today, which ended 50–49 with the help of some in the party who previously opposed Bridenstine. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announcing he would retire at the end of the month helped sway him to vote for Bridenstine.

File photo

The Oklahoma legislature is advancing a slate of criminal justice reforms it did not take up last year.

The seven bills tackle recommendations to reduce Oklahoma's incarceration rate, like tying tiered property crime punishments to dollar values and distinguishing sentencing enhancements between violent and nonviolent criminal histories.

One of the measures, House Bill 2286, will address the fact that only about one in 10 Oklahoma prisoners are paroled.

State lawmakers appear poised to direct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to come up with Medicaid work requirements matching those for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Oklahoma Senate passed House Bill 2932 on a 31–11 vote Wednesday, sending it back to the House for final approval.

Adults 18 to 50 years old would have to work or participate in approved programs 20 hours a week unless they qualify for an exemption. That could affect around 8,000 Oklahomans currently qualifying for SoonerCare benefits under Medicaid's parent and caretaker eligibility.

KWGS News

The national average price for a gallon of gas hit a nearly three-year high at almost $2.72 on Tuesday.

Oklahoma, however, is enjoying the nation’s lowest price right now at $2.43.

"We are always, consistently in the top 10 least expensive states. Even with the new taxes that are coming on board to help fund education, we still should be there," said AAA Oklahoma's Mark Madeja. "And that, of course, is due to the fact that we’re an oil and gas state."

Oklahoma gas prices are up 29 cents from a year ago. A perfect storm of factors has driven prices up.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Oklahoma may soon allow much bigger contracts to privatize state services to be signed without a cost analysis, a move that could make the practice more common.

Senate Bill 925 allows contracts up to $1 million to go without a cost analysis, a tenfold increase. Rep. Mike Osburn said the measure met little resistance until it came to the House floor.

"Not one state agency has said, ‘We have a problem with this bill.’ In fact, most of them have said, ‘We really need this bill to make our lives easier and to make it a more efficient process,'" Osburn said.

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The Oklahoma House sent the Senate a special-session measure on Tuesday to dedicate recent fuel tax increases to road and bridge repairs.

House Bill 1014X specifies revenue from 3 cent gas and 6 cent diesel tax hikes will go into the account for state highway and bridge repair, known as the ROADS Fund. Some Democrats cried foul.

Tuesday's top stories:

  • Tulsa Public Schools will be in session until May 31 to make up for the two-week teacher walkout.
  • The trial begins for Michael Bever, the second of two Broken Arrow brothers charged in the murder of their parents and three siblings.
  • Proposals to close the Talihina Veterans Center are still alive in the Oklahoma legislature.

Tulsa Public Schools students go back today, and they’ll be in class until May 31.

The addition of five days was approved by the TPS board last night. Superintendent Deborah Gist said adding minutes to school days is inadequate.

"If we were to add 15 or 20 minutes to a day, you know, that’s two to five minutes a period at the secondary level. That’s not meaningful instruction," Gist said.

Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs

State House and Senate bills to close the Talihina Veterans Center are still alive, but whether one will actually become law is unknown.

The House passed a Senate bill on Monday to let the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs issue $35 million in new bonds for a new veterans center. A House bill currently in the Senate has not been heard on the floor yet.

Neither Senate Bill 1347 nor House Bill 3042 can become law if passed in their current forms. Their supporters say Talihina is understaffed and run down.

Tulsa Public Schools

Tulsa Public Schools officials will spend the weekend coming up with a plan for students to make up time lost during the two-week teacher walkout.

It will be up to the TPS board to approve that plan Monday night, but parents will be notified as soon as possible. Superintendent Deborah Gist said a district instruction policy may help with the planning.

As Oklahoma lawmakers look for more money to fund education and other core services, some are again pointing to the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

TSET’s $1.1 billion in assets have been a popular target in Oklahoma’s down budget years, especially among those who criticize the trust’s spending on healthy lifestyle grants and programs. Morton Health CEO Susan Savage said dipping into those reserves is short-sighted.

"I think we need to view it as a resource for how we make Oklahomans healthier and not as a way to backfill the budget," Savage said.

drug free.org

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is encouraging local governments to join its lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Believing he can prove damages in the billions of dollars, Attorney General Mike Hunter is assembling a committee to ensure cities and counties get their share from any settlement. Hunter said his suit has another upside — joint and several liability, meaning any drug company involved can be held fully responsible for damages.

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A slate of bills intended to fight opioid addiction moved forward in the Oklahoma House this week.

Senate Bill 1128 requires electronic prescribing, which experts see as the most effective step the state can take in reducing the supply of the addictive painkillers. That measure, however, now calls for an e-prescribing pilot program in counties with populations of more than 200,000 to evaluate the practice.

That makes some doctors exempt.

Clifton Adcock/Oklahoma Watch

A movement continues to extend “stand your ground” protections for self-defense shootings to places of worship.

The Senate voted 42–1 on Thursday for House Bill 2632, which makes places used either part- or full-time for religious services covered by the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.

The shooting still must be done because of reasonable fear of harm or death or to prevent a violent felony.

Wikimedia

Another day, another attempt by Oklahoma House Democrats to get a vote on a bill ending the capital gains deduction.

Rep. Cory Williams tried his luck on Thursday, saying he wants to keep the tax break for agriculture. Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Williams said that would make it impossible for the Oklahoma Tax Commission to certify revenue for lawmakers to spend.

That didn’t sit well with Williams.

An Oklahoma House committee advanced Wednesday a controversial bill dealing with private child-placement agencies, but not without a substantial change.

Senate Bill 1140 allowed such agencies to refuse placements based on their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. Rep. Leslie Osborn offered — and the committee accepted — an amendment making the bill apply to private agencies receiving neither federal nor state funding.

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