StateImpact Oklahoma reflects on 2022 — from abortions to turnpikes
StateImpact Oklahoma managing editor Logan Layden talked with the StateImpact reporters about the highlights of their coverage in 2022, and what’s to come in the new year — from the overturning of Roe v. Wade to the tumult over turnpike expansion in the state.
LOGAN: Well we’ve come to the end of 2022, and joining me today are StateImpact health reporter Catherine Sweeney and Beth Wallis, who’s been our environment and science reporter, but will be transitioning to our education reporter. Beth, what do you see as the highlights of your coverage of 2022?
BETH: Sure, so I think the turnpike is definitely a big one. So the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s ACCESS Oklahoma project. It’s a 15-year, 5-billion-dollar project, and it’s seen quite a few challenges this last year. The OTA recently lost a case in district court that said they had violated the state’s Open Meeting Act because the agendas that sort of outlined that project weren’t clear enough. So they recently lost that case. There are a few other cases that are currently playing themselves out in the court that would decide if the OTA actually has the authority to build these other projects. Those have happened throughout the year. We’ve seen a lot of community organizing from that.
I think the other big part of my beat this year has been the implementation of cannabis laws. Obviously, upcoming next year, we have a special election that would legalize recreational cannabis. This last year we saw the legislature really pushing enforcement. That’s been a big issue with cannabis laws in Oklahoma. Basically, these laws were aimed at bolstering enforcement. One of them was a revolving fund for law enforcement. Another one was getting the OMMA out of the Department of Health and allowing them to be their own entity. There’s also a big moratorium over the next two years on new licenses for any kind of cannabis business. And it’ll either be two years or until the OMMA can finish all of their investigations and inspections, because they’re still very far behind. So the focus this year was really on getting the program caught up to where it’s being enforced consistently, and then probably preparing for the introduction of recreational cannabis next year.
LOGAN: Even though you’re going to be doing education coverage for us going forward, you’re not taking your eye off either one of those issues. That’s going to continue to be a source of coverage for you in 2023. And Catherine, what a year it was on the health beat. Still dealing with COVID, sure, but also the end of Roe v. Wade. When you reflect on 2022, what sticks out to you from your coverage?
CATHERINE: I think that you nailed two of the biggest ones: the end of abortion in Oklahoma and the evolution of the pandemic. So just to rehash a little bit, Oklahoma lawmakers have been attempting to ban abortion in the state for decades. And that’s always kind of seemed pie in the sky until changes on the Supreme Court this year — the federal Supreme Court — made that stop being pie in the sky. All of a sudden these laws they’ve been passing forever stick, and they don’t fall because of legal challenges. They get implemented for the first time. The other thing that I covered a ton was the pandemic and its evolution. Obviously, it looks a little different than it did in 2020 and 2021. One big change has been, just, policies that are intended to make the pandemic easier on people have started disappearing.
I think one of the less covered areas that I really tried to focus on was Oklahoma’s epidemic of sexually transmitted infections. I think it has definitely fallen out of the public view. Oklahoma ranks number four in the country for syphilis, number 11 for chlamydia, 5th for gonorrhea. There's been a huge outbreak in syphilis outside of the men who have sex with men population. There’s been a huge outbreak of congenital syphilis, which means babies born with syphilis. I’ve written about this a lot because I think it’s not part of the conversation. I think we have been so focused on the pandemic — understandably — that it’s been hard to also focus on this just — another epidemic of sexually transmitted infections and what the state is doing to combat that.
LOGAN: That’s StateImpact health reporter Catherine Sweeney and education reporter Beth Wallis. Thanks for the discussion. I’m StateImpact managing editor Logan Layden. You’ll be hearing more from all of us in 2023.