When to Watch

On OETA main
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 12:30pm
On OETA okla
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 2:30am
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 3:00pm
Oklahoma Forum Sunday Apr. 20 @ 7:00pm
Oklahoma Forum Monday Apr. 21 @ 4:00am
Oklahoma Forum Monday Apr. 21 @ 9:30am

The Sheet

The Blog for Oklahoma Forum

Oklahoma's weekly, statewide discussion program, Oklahoma Forum, provides civil, meaningful discussion of news and issues that impact citizens statewide. Hosted by Emmy Award-winning journalist Dick Pryor and produced by Emmy Award-winner Mickie Smith, Oklahoma Forum is more than sound bites and spin. It is purpose-driven television - seeking answers, providing insight – about life in Oklahoma and its people.

The New Frontier in Medical Research

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday June 12, 2009

When we first starting talking about this week’s big topic on Oklahoma Forum, Producer Mickie Smith and I decided we wanted to have a program that was about medical research, and the ethics involved, but without injecting emotion and politics into the discussion. The challenge was in making the program interesting, without acrimony, and understandable while still needing to toss around medical terms. I think we found the right tone.

Dr. Stephen Prescott, President of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, provided a good explanation about how human embryos are used in research, pointing out that the eggs used are not the product of an abortion. Dr. Kincade told us there are many kinds of stem cells, each with differing characteristics that contribute to their efficacy in research. Dr. Donovan concurred with them that much of the heat generated over embryonic stem cell research is caused by a lack of understanding of the scientific terms involved. In fact, as Dr. Kincade pointed out, stem cell research has been going on for decades, and there is no embryonic stem cell research being conducted in Oklahoma.

It was a fast-moving program. We didn’t have time to get into all of the treatments being developed through medical research, but I found the prospects fascinating. Whether it is embryonic or adult stem cells, great advances are being made. In Australia, for instance, coating contact lenses with the patient’s own stem cell material has proven to reverse blindness. Imagine that! American clinical trials on a similar technique using embryonic stem cells are expected to begin this year.

A company in Rockville, Maryland is trying to get permission from the FDA to conduct trials on neural stem cells to cure Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Meantime, a California company is moving toward using embryonic stem cells to develop insulin-producing cells for diabetics. And, at OMRF, Dr. Kincade is conducting stem cell research to work on treating various forms of cancer and autoimmune diseases, and Dr. Jordan Tang is conducting ground-breaking research that could lead to a drug to treat Alzheimer’s.

I was surprised at just how much is actually going on in the research community. And, Dr. Prescott reminded us how important medical research is, not only to improve quality of life, but as a driver that creates jobs and stimulates the economy. As I told our guests after the program, we were hoping it would provide more light then heat. Watch it on the air on OETA OKLA or OETA OKLA (times are listed on the Oklahoma Forum website) or catch it on-line at Let us know what you think.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Dr. Stephen Prescott, Dr. Paul Kincade. Dr. Kevin Donovan is not pictured.)

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Expanding Rail Transit

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday June 5, 2009

(Left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Evan Stair, Deborah Fischer Stout, Dave Herbert, Dr. Charles Wesner)

Interesting discussion this week on the ideas for expanding rail transportation, particularly high-speed rail in Oklahoma. Evan Stair and Deborah Fischer Stout of the Northern Flyer Alliance presented the reasoning behind the proposal to extend the conventional passenger rail route, the Heartland Flyer, north from Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas. In Newton, the Amtrak extension would connect with the Southwest Chief, which extends from Chicago to Los Angeles. Doing this would allow Oklahomans to traverse much of the United States by rail.

We also discussed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan, released in April of this year. Under the plan (Vision for High-Speed Rail in America), Oklahoma City and Tulsa would be connected as part of the South Central high-speed rail corridor. You can see a map of the route in the PDF of the strategic plan. Former State Senator Dave Herbert has been a proponent of high-speed rail for many years. He was excited that Oklahoma was one of the state’s selected for high-speed rail construction, to be funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

An important element of the expansion of rail transit in Oklahoma is the Union Station railyard in Oklahoma City. Dr. Charles Wesner’s group, OnTRAC, supports realignment of the new I-40 Crosstown Expressway to preserve the railyard, which could serve as the connecting hub for passenger, high-speed and commuter rail (serving central Oklahoma). A recent decision by the Federal Surface Transportation Board allows state transportation officials to proceed with the current construction plans. That decision becomes effective June 9, but Wesner says the rules in no way obligates the BNSF line to abandon the rail line or ODOT to pave over the railyard at Union Station. OnTRAC has been urging a move of the Crosstown route 125 feet immediately south of the Union Station railyard. We invited Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Gary Ridley to be part of the program, as well, but he was unavailable. We will be following up on this program, and defintely want Director Ridley to be part of that next discussion.

A couple of thoughts that came up after our discussion. Deborah Fischer Stout mentioned that every dollar spent in developing railroad infrastructure saves $52 in highway maintenance. And, Dave Herbert pointed out that as CAFE standards increase for automobiles (requiring greater fuel efficiency) there will be fewer fuel tax dollars available to maintain highways. Thus, an investment in rail, he suggests, would be a wise investment by providing transportation infrastructure at a reasonable cost.

This is a fascinating and rapidly-evolving topic. Hope you enjoy the program. And just remember, this show is the start of our discussion of rail transit in Oklahoma, not the end of it.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

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Recapping the legislative session

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday June 1, 2009

(Left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Janice Francis-Smith, Scott Cooper, Michael McNutt, Michael Cross)

Just a day after the Oklahoma legislature adjourned Sine Die, we convened a panel of reporters who follow the legislature every day to discuss what happened. Janice Francis-Smith of The Journal Record has carefully followed the effort to enact tort reform, and she was surprised that a comprehensive bill was agreed upon. Having mineral rights owners at the table led to a provision on joint and several liability. Scott Cooper of the Gazette added that attorneys were successful in raising the non-economic damages cap to $400,000, wih the possibility of breaking the camp in some instances of bodily injury.

The economic stimulus money provided by the U.S. government helped budget writers get through a very trying budget year. Faced with a revenue shortfall of anywhere from $600 M to $900 M, the federal dollars allowed the state to actually raise the amount of money spent on health care and education, while reducing most agencies’ budgets by less than 10%. It’s important to note that by not using the Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget, the legislature will have that money available next year, when even tougher economic times are a possibility.

The panel agreed that the new Ten Commandments law, allowing a Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds, will face a legal challenge. Consensus is that the legal challenge will occur after the state announces where it will place the monument. That’s expected to be several months from now. And, we also discussed the controversy over the Flaming Lips and the official state rock song, “Do You Realize?".

The first legislative session with Republicans fully in control of both houses of the legislature was truly historic, and the dynamics of the political debate in the capitol are changing. It makes for an interesting program.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

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Aviation industry takes flight

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday May 22, 2009

(Left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Bob Conner, Mary Smith, Vic Bird.)

Many may not know it, but aviation and aerospace is Oklahoma’s biggest industry, with more than 143,000 jobs and an industrial impact of more than 12 billion dollars per year. The largest aircraft maintenance facilities in the world are located in our state, the Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City and the American Airlines maintenance facility in Tulsa. Plus, there’s the FAA in Oklahoma City and 114 airports.

Oklahoma’s rich aviation heritage has helped create an industry from which one in ten Oklahomans receives a paycheck. This week, we discuss the economics of aeronautics and what the future holds as the state further develops the aerospace industry. I could go on, but it’s a good program, so I invite you to watch. And, check out Hometown News, too. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

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Civil Justice Reform

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday May 18, 2009

(Left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Mike Seney, Terry West and Jeff Raymond)

All along, we were planning on our program on Sunday, May 18th, being about changes in the state’s civil justice system. Tort reform. We knew it was likely to be a major topic in the final days of the legislative session, because a comprehensive bill was still standing with less than a month to go before Sine Die Adjournment on May 22nd. What we weren’t counting on was that new, compromise legislation was going to be rolled out just three days before the taping of our program. The House, Senate and Governor’s office announced the agreement on House Bill 1603 on Monday. So, we adjusted our guest list and the focus of our program from a general discussion of civil justice reform to a discussion of the new House Bill 1603, how it came about and what it would do.

Our producer, Mickie Smith, had already booked Mike Seney from the State Chamber, an organization that has been leading the push for tort reform for many years on behalf of the business community. Mike, himself, is an authoritative advocate in favor of tort reform. We found a new voice in Jeff Raymond, Executive Director of OK Watchdog, a group that advocates for consumers and patients. We contacted the Association for Justice (lawyers) and the Oklahoma State Medical Association (doctors), to get their perspectives on the topic. Their input became epecially important with the legislation moving quickly to the floor of the House and Senate on Thursday. It was hard to work out schedules, but on very short notice Shawnee attorney Terry West of the West Law Firm in Shawnee graciously accepted our invitation to be on the program. We couldn’t have had a better representative for the trial bar. He was been a key player in the tort reform debate for many years and a person with “a seat at the table” for negotiations.

Talk about good timing - the vote in the House on HB 1603 ended on Thursday, just about 12:30, half an hour before we were to sit down for the program, and just a couple of hours before the Senate would take up the bill. At about 12:30 p.m. on Thursday , the OSMA gave us a statement about their position on HB 1603 and we were good to go for a 1:00 p.m. taping. So, knowing that the bill has passed the House just minutes before (and was likely to pass the Senate with ease), we began our discussion.

Once in the program, I found it telling that Terry West said the compromise legislation came about, in part, because the key players in the debate were tired after years of wrangling. In true compromise fashion, the agreement was something each interest group at the table could live with, but not necessarily be excited about. There was give and take. Some pet provisions were dropped and others adopted. But, in the end, the revised HB 1603 was agreed to by representatives of the medical, legal and business communities with hopes of putting the issue behind them, at least for a while. West hoped the agreement would take tort reform off the table for three or four years. Seney agreed that it would, but only until a legal challenge occurred.

Terry West commented that a key provision would be a system for tracking lawsuits, to determine just how big (or small) the problem of “lawsuit abuse” really is in Oklahoma. He also approved of the possibility of breaking the $400,000 non-economic damages cap in egregious situations. Mike Seney was excited about provisions that were wanted by mineral rights owners and a provision that better defined expert witness testimony to eliminate the use of “junk science.” Jeff Raymond said his group had no interest in the provisions that would prevent gun manufacturers and the food industry from being sued, but was most concerned about the doors of the court house remaining open to injured people.

Two provisions will bear special scrutinity, if not undergo legal challenges. Seney and West agreed that the portion of the bill that requires a certificate of merit from an expert before a negligence case could be filed would likely be challenged in court. Also, the $20 million indemnity fund to help pay claims against physicians if the non-economic damages exceed a million dollars. That provision had generated considerable heat during House debate, especially from Moore Republican Paul Wesselhoft, who claimed it was a government bailout for doctors and lawyers.

But, that discussion is for another day. Our Oklahoma Forum program on the reforms proposed by HB 1603 was as close to timely as a public affairs program can be. We were on the cutting edge of the legislative process, providing information about major legislation literally as it was happening. Thanks to all involved for an important program.

Until next time,
Dick Pryor

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