Tag Archives: Oklahoma

Oklahoma Supreme Court throws out anti-abortion law

The Oklahoma Supreme Court this week threw out a law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, saying efforts to portray the measure as protecting women’s health are a “guise.”

The law would require a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles be present for any abortion. The court found it violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down a similar provision in Texas.

“Under the guise of the protection of women’s health,” Oklahoma Justice Joseph Watt wrote, “(the law) creates an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion, violating protected rights under our federal Constitution,” referring specifically to the Texas case.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure, Senate Bill 1848, into law in 2014, but courts had blocked it from taking effect. This week’s ruling overturns a lower court’s decision in February that upheld the law.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns, a Norman physician who, at the time the lawsuit was filed in October 2014, performed nearly half of Oklahoma’s abortions.

Burns has said he applied for admitting privileges at hospitals in the Oklahoma City area but was turned down.

Also, at the time, the only other clinic in the state that performed abortions was in Tulsa. However the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center opened in south Oklahoma City in September and Planned Parenthood opened in the northwest Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres in November.

“Today’s decision is a victory for Oklahoma women and another rebuke to politicians pushing underhanded laws that attack a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to safe, legal abortion,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but previously has said that bill was passed to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma women.

The court also found that the law violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s ban on measures containing more than one subject, a practice known as logrolling. The law included “12 separate and unrelated subsections,” the court said.

“The sections in SB 1848 are so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice,” according to the ruling.

The court’s ruling came the same day that the Oklahoma Board of Health approved new requirements for hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state.

The provision mandating the signs was tucked into a measure the Legislature passed this year that requires the state to develop informational material “for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.”

Businesses and other organizations estimate they will have to pay $2.3 million to put up the signs because the Legislature approved no funding for them.

The Legislature and the governor must ratify the board’s rules for the signs before they are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, board attorney Donald Maisch said.

In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich this week signed a 20-week abortion ban while vetoing stricter provisions in a separate measure that would have barred the procedure at the first detectable fetal heartbeat. The so-called heartbeat bill would have prohibited most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block additional parts of a contentious Florida abortion law. The lawsuit contends that the law violates constitutional rights by requiring groups to register with the state and pay a fee if they advise or help women seek abortions. The lawsuit also challenges a provision requiring groups to tell women about alternatives to abortion.

Schools close following 5.0 earthquake in Oklahoma

A public school district in central Oklahoma canceled classes today in order to assess the damage from the magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rocked the prairie town of Cushing on Sunday evening.

The Cushing Police Department said the trembler caused “quite a bit of damage,” particularly in and around Cushing’s century-old downtown. A number of brick facades had collapsed, and windowpanes in several buildings shattered. Photos posted to social media show piles of debris at the base of commercial buildings in the city of about 7,900.

Earthquakes have become common in the region, which scientists attribute to the proliferation of fracking operations.

In early September, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck the area. That quake tied the state’s all-time record, set in 2011. It shook parts of the Midwest and was felt from Houston to North Dakota. Six after-shocks followed the quake, including one that registered 3.6.

According to federal data, there have been 19 earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past week alone.

An increase in earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has paralleled the growing volume of underground wastewater disposal from oil and natural gas production by fracking. Scientists believe the high-power injections of water into the earth alter stresses that hold geologic faults together and let them slip, unleashing the quakes. But oil industry and government officials deny that hydraulic fracking is causing the quakes.

Oilmen have pressured scientists and geologists at local universities not to address the subject.

In parts of the state, the number of tremblers matches those in northern California. In 2014, Oklahoma surpassed California as the nation’s most quake-prone state.

Oklahoma’s quakes are shallow — five miles or less below the surface — while California’s go as deep as 400 miles. Deep surface earthquakes are stronger and more destructive.

Oklahomans have a complicated relationship with the fracking industry. An estimated one in six workers in the state owes their paycheck either directly or indirectly to the industry. But fears about the growing frequency and magnitude of the seismic events have alarmed large numbers of residents.

 

State of emergency declared in Oklahoma following record earthquake

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck nine miles northwest of Pawnee this morning.

The record-tying earthquake in north central Oklahoma also prompted regulators to order the shutdown of 35 disposal wells used by frackers over a 500-square-mile area.

Today’s quake tied the state’s previous record in 2011. It shook parts of the Midwest and was felt from Houston to North Dakota. Six after-shocks followed the quake, including one that registered 3.6.

Earlier this week, a 3.2 quake occurred in the same spot as today’s, which is about 70 miles northeast of Oklahoma City

Scientists believe hydraulic fracking operations are responsible for the growing number of Oklahoma earthquakes. The injections can alter stresses that hold geologic faults together and let them slip, unleashing earthquakes.

An increase in earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has paralleled the growing volume of underground wastewater disposal from oil and natural gas production. According to earthquaketrack.com, there were 15 earthquakes today in the state, 114 in the past month, and 2,506 in the past year.

In parts of the state, the number of tremblers matches those in northern California. In 2014, Oklahoma surpassed California as the nation’s most quake-prone state.

Oklahoma’s quakes are shallow — five miles or less below the surface — while California’s go as deep as 400 miles. Deep surface earthquakes are stronger and more destructive.

Sean Weide in Omaha, Nebraska, told The Associated Press that he’d never been in an earthquake before and thought he was getting dizzy. Weide said he and one of his daughters “heard the building start creaking” and said it “was surreal.”

At least one minor injury was reported today. A man protecting his child suffered a head injury when part of a fireplace fell on him. The man was treated at a hospital and released.

Buildings in Pawnee’s “downtown” area were cracked and the sandstone facing on some buildings fell, according to reports.

Oklahomans have a complicated relationship with the fracking industry. An estimated one in six workers in the state owe their paychecks either directly or indirectly to the industry. But fears about the growing frequency and magnitude of the seismic events have alarmed large numbers of residents.

Oil industry and government officials deny that hydraulic fracking is causing the quakes. Oilmen have pressured scientists and geologists at local universities not to address the subject.

The wells ordered shut down today will remain closed for 10 days.

 

 

 

Mother charged with using crucifix to kill daughter

A 49-year-old Oklahoma woman has been charged with first-degree murder on suspicion of killing her daughter whom she thought was possessed by the devil by jamming a crucifix down her throat and beating her, court records released this week showed.

Juanita Gomez was booked last week in the death of Geneva Gomez, whose body was found in an Oklahoma City home with a large cross on her chest, a probable cause affidavit said.

Local media said the daughter was 33 years old.

No lawyer was listed for Gomez in online jail records.

Police said Gomez confessed to the crime, telling officers she forced a crucifix and religious medallion down her daughter’s throat until blood came out.

“Juanita saw her daughter die and then placed her body in the shape of a cross,” the affidavit said.

Gomez was being held without bond at the Oklahoma County jail.

Oklahoma senator mulls overriding governor’s abortion veto

The Oklahoma Republican state senator who authored a bill that would effectively outlaw abortion in the state said Saturday that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll try to override the governor’s veto.

“I have not made a decision,” Sen. Nathan Dahm, of Broken Arrow, told The Associated Press. “That’s what we’re pursuing, what we’d like to see accomplished.”

He said he’ll decide during the coming week whether to pursue an attempt — the same week that the Legislature faces a deadline to adjourn while grappling with a $1.3 billion budget hole that could lead to cuts to public schools, health care and the state’s overcrowded prison system. They’ve yet to be presented with a proposed state budget.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill Friday, saying that while she opposes abortion, it was vague and would not withstand a legal challenge.

The measure would have made it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison for anyone who performs an abortion, including doctors. State law already makes it a felony for anyone who’s not a doctor to perform an abortion, and Dahm’s bill would have removed the exemption for physicians.

Michael McNutt, a spokesman for Fallin, said the governor has not been notified of a veto override attempt.

“It’s a legislative decision. Obviously she would like it to be supported, but it’s up to the Legislature at this point,” McNutt said.

The Senate voted 33-12 for the bill on Thursday, one vote more than needed to override in the Senate and send it to the House.

Dahm noted that it could be difficult for those who voted for the legislation to vote for an override.

“Sometimes people, even if they voted for the bill, are hesitant to vote to override the governor’s veto because of their concern about the governor being petty and vindictive and vetoing some of their legislation,” Dahm said.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, who voted for the bill, said Friday that he supported it because it’s an anti-abortion measure, but was noncommittal whether he would vote for a veto override.

“We’re working with the governor on the budget, so there’s got to be some strategy involved there,” Bingman said. “I want to support the governor as much as I can. At the same time, I want to support our members, so I’ll have to think on that.”

Ignoring budget woes, Oklahoma makes abortion a felony

Oklahoma lawmakers have moved to effectively ban abortion in their state by making it a felony for doctors to perform the procedure, an effort the bill’s sponsor said is aimed at ultimately overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The bill, which abortion rights group Center for Reproductive Rights says is the first of its kind in the nation, also would restrict any physician who performs an abortion from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma.

It passed 33–12 on May 19 with no discussion or debate; a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats in voting against the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, an anti-abortion Republican, has until May 26 to sign the bill into law or veto it. Spokesman Michael McNutt said she also could also allow the bill to become law “without approval” after the five-day period has elapsed. He also said she will withhold comment until her staff has time to review it.

Dahm made it clear that he hopes his bill could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Since I believe life begins at conception, it should be protected, and I believe it’s a core function of state government to defend that life from the beginning of conception,” Dahm said.

But abortion rights supporters — and the state’s medical association — have said the bill is unconstitutional. Sen. Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City Republican and the only physician in the Senate, described the measure as “insane” and voted against it.

“Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission year after year to restrict women’s access to vital health care services, yet this total ban on abortion is a new low,” Amanda Allen, an attorney for the New-York based center said in a statement. “The Center for Reproductive Rights is closely watching this bill and we strongly urge Gov. Fallin to reject this cruel and unconstitutional ban.”

The Senate came as the Oklahoma Legislature nears a May 27 deadline for adjournment and is still grappling with a $1.3 billion budget hole that could lead to deep cuts to public schools, health care and the state’s overcrowded prison system.

“Republicans don’t have an answer for their failed education policies, failing health care policies and failing fiscal policies, so what do you do in that situation?” said Senate Democratic leader Sen. John Sparks. “You come up with an emotional distraction. That’s what this bill is.”

Nearly every year, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed bills imposing new restrictions on abortions, but many of those laws have never taken effect. In all, eight of the state’s separate anti-abortion measures have been challenged in court as unconstitutional in the last five years.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case over an overturned Oklahoma law that would have required women to view an ultrasound of her fetus before an abortion is performed. That same year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a law that would have effectively banned all drug-induced abortions in the state.

In 2014, the state Legislature approved a law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, but a challenge is pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Also on May 19, the Oklahoma House approved a bill that requires the state Department of Health to develop informational material “for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society,” but lawmakers didn’t approve any funding for it. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, requires the health department to produce information about alternatives to abortion and the developmental stages of a fetus, but the bill’s sponsor says it cannot be implemented without any funding.

Trust Women, a Wichita, Kansas-based abortion rights foundation that’s building an abortion clinic in Oklahoma City, says it’s “dismayed” by the passage of the procedure-performing bill, but is undeterred in its plans to open the center.

“Trust Women stands firm on our decision to open a clinic in the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a provider,” founder and CEO Julie Burkhart said in a statement. “Women need the services we will offer.”

Oklahoma voters to decide on return of Ten Commandments

Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to abolish an article of the state constitution so that a Ten Commandments monument can be returned to the Capitol grounds.

The House has voted 65-7 for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to remove a constitutional prohibition on the use of state funds to support a religion.

The state Supreme Court relied on that section of the constitution in June when it ordered a 6-foot-tall granite Ten Commandments monument moved from the Capitol grounds.

The monument’s removal angered many Oklahomans, particularly Republican lawmakers who vowed to return the monument to state property.

“Since the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June regarding the Ten Commandments monument, my constituents wanted to know what could be done,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney who sponsored the bill in the House. “I knew it would be a difficult proposition to undo the ruling, so we looked at giving voters the opportunity to remove the basis for the ruling.”

Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.

Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represented Prescott, has vowed another challenge in federal court if the statue is returned. ACLU Oklahoma’s Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, a former Democratic lawmaker, has accused GOP lawmakers of using the monument as a political gimmick.

Even if the Oklahoma voters decide to amend the constitution and return the monument to the Statehouse, Kiesel said it’s likely a challenge would prevail under the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma taxpayers would be stuck footing the legal bill.

As fracking-induced earthquakes rise, Oklahomans demand action

Oklahoma residents are imploring leaders to stop the dramatic increase in earthquakes caused by wastewater injection wells from fracking operations.

About 200 people tried to pack into standing room-only committee rooms on Jan. 15 at the Oklahoma Capitol. They sat on the floor and spilled into the rotunda, prompting legislators to move the forum into the House chamber.

Several Edmond-area residents said their homes have been damaged and their children frightened after a swarm of quakes rattled the Oklahoma City suburb in recent weeks, including a 4.3-magnitude temblor last month.

Oil and gas operations in the state inject a billion barrels of toxic wastewater per year thousands of feet under Oklahoma. The technique is believed to keep drinking water safe from the toxic byproducts of fracking but it’s also responsible for the quakes.

Earthquaketrack.com reports there Oklahoma has experienced: 6 earthquakes today, 38 in the past week, 217 during the past month and 2,201 over the past year. Residents complaint that the constant tremblors, which range up to 4.8 in magnitude are unacceptable. Scientists say the “big one” has yet to come.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, like GOP politicians throughout the country, has received massive donations from the oil and gas industries — and related interests. In return, she’s passed a law that makes it illegal to ban fracking operations anywhere in the state, and she’s given big tax incentives to oil and gas companies to build more fracking mines in the state.

Although the Oklahoma public likely doesn’t know that their tax dollars are paying for state’s fracking boom, they’re still fed up with the earthquakes.

Emily Pope, a Maryland native who moved to Edmond four months ago after her husband got a job here, said she is shocked at the number of quakes that have rattled her home.

“We had no idea we were moving into a huge earthquake zone,” she said while holding a four-month-old toddler. “If we had known that, we probably wouldn’t have accepted the job out here.”

Edmond resident Julie Allison, who lives about 2 miles from the epicenter of two recent quakes, said she believes oil and gas companies should be forced to subsidize the cost of earthquake insurance premiums and claims of damages.

“People can’t afford to pay the deductibles,” Allison said. “If I sound like an unhappy citizen, it’s because I am.

“It’s time for everyone to wake up.”

Despite growing concerns from the public, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday “there is no need for the governor to intervene at this time.” Fallin formed a coordinating council to address the issue, but has deferred mostly to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry and has directed some wells to shut down or reduce disposal volumes. Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor’s secretary of energy and environment also is working on the issue.

The lawmaker who organized the forum, Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said he intends to push legislation in the upcoming session to establish a reparation fund to help residents impacted by wastewater injection that would be based on a new fluid disposal fee. He also wants to impose mandatory reductions in injection amounts in the ten Oklahoma counties where most of the earthquakes are occurring.

Any attempt to impose new restrictions or fees on the oil and gas industry is likely to face fierce resistance from industry lobbyists, a powerful force at the Capitol.

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said he’s not optimistic lawmakers will take steps to address the quakes because they’re afraid of harming an industry that is a key economic driver in the state.

“Unfortunately, I think we’ve chosen the industry over our constituents, and we’ve gotten things out of balance,” Williams said.

“I need people to engage on a much grander level even than we’re seeing today.”

Ten Commandments monument ordered to be removed from Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds

A six-foot-tall granite monument of the Ten Commandments that has sat outside the Oklahoma State Capitol for several years is on its way out.

A panel that oversees artwork at the statehouse voted 7–1 to authorize the privately funded monument’s removal after the state’s highest court ruled that it violated the Oklahoma Constitution.

The Capitol Preservation Commission, which was named as a defendant in a lawsuit seeking the monument’s removal, voted to authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to remove the one-ton granite monument.

“We’re going to meet with the builder who installed it and figure out the best way to remove it,” said OMES spokesman John Estus. “We’re also going to coordinate with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to address some ongoing security concerns that they have.”

The monument has been a source of controversy since it was erected in 2012. Several groups have since made requests to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wants to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also have made requests.

The original monument was smashed into pieces last year when someone drove a car across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A 29-year-old man who was arrested the next day was admitted to a hospital for mental health treatment, and formal charges were never filed. A new monument was erected in January.

Several supporters of the monument attended the public meeting about the monument and complained about the commission’s actions. Former Republican state Rep. Mike Reynolds attempted to address the panel, but acting chairwoman Linda Edmondson declined to recognize him.

“This is an illegal meeting,” Reynolds argued.

Reynolds maintained that the commission only has the authority to approve or disapprove plans and that its power does not extend to areas outside of the Capitol building.

Estus said the monument will be removed by a court-ordered deadline of Oct. 12.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in June that the monument’s display violates a constitutional prohibition on the use of public property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.” A district court judge earlier this month ordered the monument to be removed within the next 30 days.

Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow whose family paid about $10,000 for the monument’s construction, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on what he plans to do with the sculpture.

A bill authorizing the monument was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, in 2009. A Norman minister sued to have it removed, arguing that it violates the Oklahoma Constitution. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt fought to keep the monument, maintaining that it serves a secular — not religious — purpose.

Oklahoma Supreme Court says citizens can sue for injuries from fracking-related earthquakes

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has ruled that citizens injured by earthquakes that were possibly triggered by oil and gas operations can sue for damages.

The ruling allows a woman who blames fracking disposal wells for damages she suffered from an earthquake to request a jury trial. If one is granted, the case would become the first of its kind in the nation.

Sandra Ladra sued New Dominion and Spess Oil Co. for injuries suffered to her knees and legs in November 2011, when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck near her home in central Oklahoma. She said the tremor caused the rock facing on her two-story fireplace and chimney to fall into the living room, where she was watching television with her family.

Scott Poynter, a spokesman for the injured woman and her attorney, said Ladra, 64, has been told she may need knee-replacement surgery.

Poynter said Ladra’s case —Ladra v. New Dominion LLC — will “be stuck for a while” if the oil companies ask the court for reconsideration. Similar cases in Arkansas and Texas didn’t make it as far as jury trials, he said.

In Ladra’s case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s ruling that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the energy industry, has exclusive jurisdiction over cases concerning oil and gas operations.

The regulatory body “is without authority to hear and determine disputes between two or more private persons or entities in which the public interest is not involved,” the high court said in its decision.

Oklahoma, a region not known for seismic activity, has experienced a rash of earthquakes since 2009, the same year area oil companies began using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to shatter deep rock layers to extract oil and gas. Fracked wells produce large quantities of wastewater, which drilling companies inject into ultra-deep disposal wells, which critics blame for causing earthquakes.

Richard Andrews, Oklahoma’s state geologist, published a study in April concluding it’s “very likely” the 600-fold increase in earthquake activity experienced in some parts of the state was triggered by the injection of wastewater in disposal wells rather than by the fracking activity itself.

Quake rate

Oklahoma’s earthquake rate has increased from 1.5 temblors a year before 2008 to an average rate of 2.5 a day, Andrews said in the April 21 report.

Since 2011, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed against companies including BHP Billiton Ltd., Chesapeake Energy Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP that allege underground injection activities caused earthquakes in Arkansas and Texas, according to a tally of cases compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.

A July 2014 study published in the journal Science found that four high-volume disposal wells owned by New Dominion on the outskirts of Oklahoma City may have accounted for 20 percent of all seismic activity in the central U.S. from 2008 to 2013.

David J. Chernicky, chairman and founder of New Dominion, has said the evidence tying underground wells to earthquakes is unreliable. He was dismissive of Ladra’s lawsuit in an interview this year and expressed confidence New Dominion will prevail.

New Dominion, based in Tulsa, and Spess Oil didn’t immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment on the suit. Robert Gum, New Dominion’s lawyer, also didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Mark Chediak and Benjamin Elgin in San Francisco contributed to this story.