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.

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Matt Trotter / KWGS

A former assistant district attorney to Steve Kunzweiler is challenging him to be Tulsa County’s top prosecutor.

Ben Fu said Wednesday his first priority will be rebuilding the relationship between the DA’s office and law enforcement agencies, with the first step being his staff going through use-of-force training.

Oklahoma-DOC

Oklahoma is developing a protocol for the state’s new primary method of execution: inert gas inhalation.

Officials announced Wednesday it will replace lethal injection as Oklahoma's primary way to carry out capital punishment. Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh was put in charge of the state's prisons in January 2016, a year after Oklahoma's last execution, one in which the state used the wrong drug on Charles Warner.

Cache High School students got their representative’s thoughts on planned teacher walkouts during a visit to the capitol.

Rep. Jeff Coody said the $10,000 raise for teachers and raises for state employees that educators are demanding will cost roughly one-third of what the legislature appropriates each year, so he has an unfavorable view of their planned April 2 walkouts.

"Honestly, it’s akin to extortion. It’s probably not doable, and you all are going to suffer as a result of it," Coody told the students Monday.

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A bill allowing private child-placement agencies receiving state funds to object to placements violating their religious beliefs passed the Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday.

Opponents of Senate Bill 1140 say it opens the door to potential foster or adoptive parents being rejected because of their race or sexual orientation. Bill author Sen. Greg Treat said only the latter is possible.

The Oklahoma Senate approved a plan Monday to lower the income cutoff for adults to receive SoonerCare benefits, a move that would see 43,000 people lose coverage.

Sen. John Sparks asked Senate Bill 1030 author Senator Josh Brecheen whether he thought Oklahomans were working just long enough to stash away some money before quitting to claim Medicaid benefits.

Opponents are going all-in to stop a measure allowing private agencies in Oklahoma to deny placements.

Senate Bill 1140 would let private agencies receiving state funding refuse to participate in foster care or adoption placements based on their written religious or moral convictions. Freedom Oklahoma is launching a statewide campaign against the bill with ACLU Oklahoma as a partner. Executive Director Troy Stevenson said states with similar laws have seen a drop off in adoptions.

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Oklahoma voters could decide in November on whether to allow property taxes to fund school operations.

State Sen. Stephanie Bice has proposed a ballot measure to broaden what schools can use their building funds for.

"Why not allow them the opportunity to reward teachers that are doing an outstanding job? Why are we hamstringing districts because it may create an unfair advantage when we can give them some control back?" Bice said. "We can allow them to choose what makes sense for their community."

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Whether through work requirements or a lower earnings cutoff, Oklahoma will almost certainly make it more difficult this year for adults to be on Medicaid.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority will develop work requirements for adults enrolled in SoonerCare. Spokesman Michael McNutt said Gov. Mary Fallin has issued an executive order telling the health care authority to come up with a plan in six months or less.

Hunger Free Oklahoma

After years of holding steady in school breakfast participation, Oklahoma has fallen behind several states it used to lead.

Last school year, 58 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches also ate breakfast at school, according to Hunger Free Oklahoma's school breakfast report card. That proportion is 23rd best in the U.S., down nine spots from three years earlier despite staying about the same.

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The state board approved Thursday the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s plan for a $16.2 million midyear budget cut.

That’s common education's share of the 0.66 percent state spending cut finalized last week. Education department Chief of Government Affairs Carolyn Thompson said while the bulk must come out of the state funding formula, almost $900,000 will come from administrative and support cuts and a from fund paying out bonuses for National Board–certified teachers.

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The Oklahoma Education Association said Thursday it will take a $10,000 raise over the next three years —with $6,000 coming this year — to avoid a statewide teacher walkout on April 2.

The group is also calling for $5,00 raises for support professionals and $200 million in restored common education funding over three years, state employee raises and increased health care funding.

OEA President Alicia Priest said teachers are trying to push lawmakers to act.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform

The group behind a 2016 state question letting Oklahomans reclassify drug possession as a misdemeanor said Wednesday criminal justice reforms coming this legislative session won’t cut it.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform Chairman Kris Steele said the sentencing and parole reforms promoted this week by the governor, Republican leaders and district attorneys have been watered down from a task force’s recommendations made last year.

Steele said Oklahoma has to act to reduce its prison population now.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa is now offering the work program known as A Better Way to panhandlers and homeless people in the city. 

A van will pick up people three days a week and take them to public beautification projects they’ll be paid for doing. Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Mike Brose said pay is not the only benefit to the work.

"We’re giving other people in our community a chance to restore their dignity, moving back into the fabric of the community, self-sustainability. It’s a big mental health deal," Brose said.

OEA

Oklahoma public school teachers have reached their breaking point with lawmakers unable to come up with a raise.

The Oklahoma Education Association was initially planning a statewide walkout on April 23 if the legislature hadn’t come up with a pay raise. OEA President Alicia Priest said that will now happen April 2.

"I have listened to the anger and frustration of teachers from Atoka to Enid, from Bartlesville all the way to Altus. Our members are ready to act now," Priest said.

April 1 is the statutory deadline for lawmakers to pass an education budget.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Both chambers of the legislature are taking a run at consolidating the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs into one agency.

House Bill 2910 essentially proposes folding OBNDD into OSBI. Rep. Bobby Cleveland said there are too many state agencies and too much duplication of effort.

The Oklahoma House passed a measure Tuesday extending the state's "stand your ground" law protections to places of worship.

House Bill 2632 applies to buildings, structures and office spaces used for religious activities and services, and it grants criminal and civil immunity to people who shoot someone in self-defense there.

Several lawmakers questioned Rep. Greg Babinec whether there’s a need for such a law.

Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma lawmakers and district attorneys have reached an agreement on six criminal justice reform bills.

The measures reduce punishments for many property crimes and subsequent convictions and streamline Oklahoma’s parole process.

"These reforms are targeted toward nonviolent offenders, many who suffer from addiction and mental health issues," Fallin said.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Walkouts are not imminent in Tulsa Public Schools, but, starting Monday, teachers are encouraged to "work to contract" for the rest of March to push lawmakers to implement a statewide teacher pay raise.

Teachers are paid for seven hours and 50 minutes a day, so things they commonly do at home, like entering grades or planning lessons, they effectively do for free.

Working to contract means those things that can't be done inside the time teachers are paid for won't get done.

It's something TPS teachers haven't done in roughly 20 years.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has requested a nearly $191 million increase in state funding.

Nearly half — $96.6 million — is to go to the Smart on Crime Initiative and would help increase access to diversion programs like drug and mental health courts. ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White said drug court graduates have a recidivism rate of less than 8 percent compared to 24 for the general prison population, and they benefit economically.

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An Oklahoma House committee passed a medical marijuana regulation bill this week on the heels of a Senate committee doing the same.

House Bill 3468, however, is less stringent than its Senate counterpart. It would simply establish the Oklahoma Cannabis Commission to oversee all aspects of medical marijuana should the people legalize it in June.

Yukon Republican Rep. John Paul Jordan said his bill draws from other states.

Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Nation distributed $5.4 million Friday to dozens of Green Country school districts.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the Cherokees are honoring their ancestors with the annual donation on Public School Appreciation Day.

"Our ancestors from the 1700s on have believed in education," Baker said. "They spent 60 percent of their budget in 1846 to build the male and female seminary to teach teachers to teach our kids."

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A state senator wants to save Oklahoma $84 million by changing Medicaid income requirements, a move that would make more than 43,000 currently covered adults ineligible.

Senate Bill 1030 by Sen. Josh Brecheen would change parent and caretaker group income requirements from 41 percent of the federal poverty level to 20 percent. Brecheen said all of the more than 106,000 of those adults are able to work.

The Oklahoma legislature is still in its second extraordinary session, but that may be about to wrap up after the Senate passed Thursday what will likely be its final three bills.

House Bill 1022 is the measure committing the state to spend $32 million this year and $110 million next year to replace lost federal funding to the state’s medical schools.

Sen. Roger Thompson said another bill limits the income tax credit for utility companies buying coal mined in the state.

Oklahoma religious leaders are speaking out against gun violence.

The Rev. Chris Moore with Tulsa’s Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ said while the clergy members are not making specific policy recommendations, officials need to offer more than "thoughts and prayers."

"Frankly, anything would be good. I mean, because what we see is just a complete dedication to one direction. As far as gun laws go, it’s just remove all restrictions," Moore said.

Bixby Schools

Four former Bixby High School football players were charged Thursday for the rape of a teammate.

Colton Cable, Samuel Lakin and William Thomas, all 17; and Joe Wood, 16, each face one count of second-degree rape by instrumentation. Rogers County District Attorney Matt Ballard, acting as the special prosecutor in the case, charged the four teens as youthful offenders, a special classification for minors who commit serious crimes.

Second-degree rape by instrumentation can be punished by up to 15 years in prison. 

The charges don't signal the end of the investigation.

State of Oklahoma-File photo

The Oklahoma Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in challenges to a proposal to pay teachers more by raising the tax on oil and gas production.

State Question 795 will ask voters to levy a 5 percent gross production tax for 36 months, but the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association wants it pulled from the November ballot because the written gist of the initiative is not clear about which wells would be affected.

A state House committee passed a trio of bills Wednesday that could expand Oklahomans’ access to guns.

Rep. Jeff Coody said House Bill 2918 lets anyone carry a gun with permission of the owner of the property they’re on. Rep. Cory Williams contended changing a section to say property controlled by "a" rather than "the" person, however, defeats that.

"You don’t require permission. You’re just allowing them to carry anywhere they want on any land that they want owned by anybody in the universe," Williams said.

File Photo-Glock Talk

Two weeks after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a Florida high school, an Oklahoma House committee approved a bill to expand school employees' access to guns.

House Bill 3192 would let school boards allow employees with a valid Oklahoma gun license carry on campus. Rep. Jeff Coody said force must be met with force.

"The only reasonable solution in many of these cases is to have someone on the inside who knows these kids and knows the teachers and who can eliminate the threat before it becomes more catastrophic than it already would be," Coody said.

An annual report on education in the Tulsa region shows continued improvement.

ImpactTulsa has been involved in campaigns to boost achievement in "soft skill" areas, like measures of school enrollment and completion.

"You’ve got kids signing up for pre-kindergarten. You’ve got work initiated on the chronic absenteeism. You’ve got upward trends in high school graduation, and you have upward trends in college applications and college enrollment," said ECONorthwest President John Tapogna, a consultant who works with ImpactTulsa on its previous community impact reports.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

People arrested on municipal charges like driving on a suspended license or shoplifting will now be booked into the City of Tulsa Jail.

Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said being able to take people arrested on city charges there instead of to the county jail should cut the booking process from 90 minutes to 30.

"We don’t have enough men and women in our police department to do the job we want to do," Jordan said. "Getting them in and out of a jail facility quicker when they have to put somebody in jail … just the time savings alone should be huge for our department."

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