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News Brief: Week of March 3-9


Tornado kills 23 in Alabama

A devastating tornado ripped through Lee County, AL, on Sunday, March 3, killing 23 while leveling hundreds of homes and businesses.

Residents had just eight or nine minutes to take shelter from the category EF-4 tornado with winds of up to 170 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The national average warning time is 14 minutes.

Rescue workers spent all day Monday, March 4, digging through debris in search of victims. As of Thursday, March 7, all victims were located and identified.

The tornado was the single deadliest since an EF-5 tornado struck Moore, OK, on May 20, 2013, killing 24.

The death toll from this single storm also surpassed the 10 nationwide tornado deaths in 2018. This number was the lowest recorded since 1875.

Manafort sentenced to 47 months

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced Friday, March 8, to 47 months in federal prison on eight counts of bank and tax fraud.

While federal sentencing guidelines recommended Manafort receive 19 to 24 years in prison, sentencing judge T.S. Ellis said the guidelines were “too harsh,” and Manafort has “been a good friend to others, a generous person.”

Prosecutors say Manafort hid money in offshore accounts in order to evade paying taxes and did illicit lobbying work in Ukraine on behalf of a pro-Russian political group.

Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman from June to August 2016, was charged in connection to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump to request $8.6 billion for border wall

President Trump will request $8.6 billion for a southern border wall when he makes his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal to Congress today.

The White House will also ask for a 5 percent funding cut across all federal agencies, with the exception of the Department of Defense.
In a statement made Sunday, March 10, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they would not support a budget which funded construction of an “expensive and ineffective” wall.

In addition to making decisions on border security, Congress must also decide if they wish to raise the federal spending cap, which limits the amount of money the U.S. government can borrow. While the cap has been raised incrementally since 2013, financial experts worry increased borrowing could raise the national debt to a dangerous level.


OKCPS to close 15 schools

During its board meeting on Tuesday, March 5, the Oklahoma City Public School District approved a plan to close 15 elementary and middle schools, while also reconfiguring or relocating 17 others.

The closures will save the district $4 million, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said. The saved money will go toward reducing class sizes, hiring more support staff and instituting dedicated math, science and physical education programs at every school.

Teachers of the closed schools will be reassigned, and schools will operate at 84 percent capacity instead of 60 percent capacity, according to McDaniel.

Red light cameras bill advances

A bill prohibiting the installation of red light cameras at Oklahoma intersections was approved Tuesday, March 5, by the Oklahoma State Senate.

According to Senate Bill 260 author Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, studies have shown traffic collisions increase at intersections where the cameras are installed, and several states which have installed red light cameras have already begun to take them down.

In neighboring Texas, where the cameras are utilized, Gov. Greg Abbott said last year the devices were expensive, caused safety issues and sometimes misidentify the speeding driver.

The bill must now be signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in order to become law.

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