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City drops proposal to place age minimum on electric scooter users, touts 'remarkable' first-year ridership numbers

Tulsa was all abuzz a year ago when word got out that Lime would be bringing its electric scooters to town, and the buzz hasn’t subsided since.

Lime came to town in late October 2018, followed soon after by Bird, and the city landscape was changed forever. The numbers tell the story: a combined 139,990 unique users and 606,768 trips.

“I think the use and the continued sustained use of them is pretty remarkable,” said Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy. “They were such a new technology and cities across the country had such different models and templates for dealing with that. Translating that to Tulsa was challenging when we first launched them.

“But what those numbers have shown, at least as we have reviewed them, is a broad popularity that is pretty widely geographically spread across the city. And that popularity wasn’t just a surge at the initial point when they were new and popular — it’s really continued to sustain itself throughout the last year.”

The city isn’t done figuring out what rules and regulations should apply to the new technology.

Doctor on Wednesday told city councilors that the Mayor’s Office was dropping its proposal to place a minimum age requirement on users of rented bicycles and electric scooters. The age limit was first proposed in May as part of a series of updates to the city’s electric scooter and bicycle ordinances.

The Mayor’s Office proposed setting the minimum age limit at 16 — the same age a resident of Oklahoma is eligible to drive a car — because it believed it was reasonable to assume that a person that age would be familiar with the traffic laws.

But Doctor explained Wednesday that after doing more research, city legal determined the minimum age requirement could not be applied only to customers who rent bicycles or scooters but would have to apply to anyone who operates a bicycle or scooter.

“The last thing we wanted to do was to prohibit individuals generally from riding their personal bicycles, to make Tulsa the first city in the U.S. to prohibit children from learning how to ride bikes,” Doctor said.

Lime, Bird and This Machine (the local bike-sharing program) all require users to be 18 years old, but the city has no authority to enforce it.

Doctor noted that people who rent bicycles and electric scooters must still comply with the city’s traffic regulations. That would include proposed city ordinance changes clarifying where scooters and bicycles can be driven and the number of persons allowed on a vehicle.

The City Council is expected to vote soon on ordinance changes that would limit the number of riders on an electric scooter to one and clearly identifying where electric scooters cannot be driven on sidewalks.

The existing electric scooter ordinance prohibits their use on sidewalks in “business districts” but provides no specific definitions of those areas. The proposed ordinance change would remove the “business district” designation and provide specific boundaries.

They include the Inner Dispersal Loop, which is defined as the area of downtown bounded on the east by U.S. 75, on the west and north by Interstate 244, and on the south by Oklahoma 51.

Along south Peoria Avenue in Brookside, people would be prohibited from driving electric scooters on sidewalks from East 33rd Street to East 36th Street.; and along Cherry Street, the prohibition would apply to East 15th Street, from south Peoria Avenue to south Utica Avenue.

Doctor said Tuesday that Tulsa has had to deal with the same challenges other cities have faced when scooters arrived, including abandoned scooters and a lack of understanding of the rules.

That is one reason why the city plans to use part of the revenue it raises from licensing scooter companies to further educate the public on scooter and bicycle regulations.

“Generally, I think Tulsa’s response has been pretty positive,” Doctor said.

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Republicans House members disrupt impeachment deposition

WASHINGTON — Republicans briefly brought the Democrat-led impeachment investigation to a halt Wednesday when around two dozen GOP House members stormed into a closed-door deposition with a Defense Department official. Democrats said the move compromised national security because some of the Republicans brought electronic devices into a secure room.

The protest by Republican lawmakers captured national attention, drawing the focus away from the testimony of a top U.S. diplomat who told lawmakers just a day earlier that he was told President Donald Trump was withholding military aid from Ukraine unless the country’s president pledged to investigate Democrats.

The maneuver delayed a deposition with Laura Cooper, a senior Defense Department official who oversees Ukraine policy, until midafternoon. The interview began roughly five hours behind schedule, after a security check by Capitol officials, and ended after roughly four hours.

As a series of diplomats have been interviewed in the impeachment probe, many Republicans have been silent on the president’s conduct. But they have been outspoken about their disdain for Democrats and the impeachment process, saying it is unfair to them even though they have been in the room questioning witnesses and hearing the testimony.

“The members have just had it, and they want to be able to see and represent their constituents and find out what’s going on,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform panel. That committee is one of three leading the investigation, and its members are allowed into the closed-door hearings.

Lawmakers described a chaotic scene. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she had just walked into the room when the Republican lawmakers blew past Capitol police officers and Democratic staffers. The staff member who was checking identification at the entrance was “basically overcome” by the Republicans, she said.

“Literally some of them were just screaming about the president and what we’re doing to him and that we have nothing and just all things that were supportive of the president,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Later when the deposition began, Cooper answered questions from lawmakers and staffers in response to a subpoena, an official working on the impeachment inquiry said. She explained to lawmakers the process of distributing military aid and was asked whether the appropriate steps were followed on Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the interview.

Both the official working on the impeachment inquiry and the person familiar with the interview spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door testimony.

“The president’s allies in Congress are trying to make it even more difficult for these witnesses to cooperate,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Democrats deny that Republicans are being treated unfairly, noting they have had equal time to question witnesses and full access to the meetings. Schiff says closed-door hearings are necessary to prevent witnesses from concealing the truth and has promised to release the transcripts when it will not affect the investigation.

They also said the Republicans — several of whom do not sit on one of the three committees — compromised security at Wednesday’s closed-door deposition. The interviews are being held in what is called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, which is a secure room where members can hear classified information.

Several lawmakers leaving the facility said that some of the Republicans brought their cellphones, even though electronics are not allowed. All members of Congress are familiar with the protocol of the SCIF, since they are often invited to classified briefings, and there are several such rooms around the Capitol.

Several Republicans appeared to be tweeting from the secure room. North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker tweeted: “UPDATE: We are in the SCIF and every GOP Member is quietly listening.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, alleged that Republicans “intentionally brought their electronic devices” into the secure area, violating congressional rules and the oath they take to gain access to classified information.

The “unprecedented breach of security raises serious concerns” for committee chairs who maintain secure facilities in the Capitol, Thompson wrote in a letter to the House sergeant at arms asking for action to be taken against members of Congress involved in the breach.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized his Republican colleagues for the tactic, calling them “nuts” to make a “run on the SCIF.”

“That’s not the way to do it,” he said. Graham later tweeted that he initially believed Republicans had taken the room by force and that it was actually a “peaceful protest,” adding his House GOP colleagues had “good reason to be upset.”

The Republicans who took part in the protest were unbowed. Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, said Democrats are running a “Soviet-style process” that should “not be allowed in the United States of America.”

“We’re not going to be bullied,” he said.

The standoff came the day after William Taylor testified that he was told Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until the country’s president went public with a promise to investigate Democrats. Trump wanted to put Ukraine’s leader “in a public box,” Taylor recalled.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California said Republicans did not want to hear from Cooper because they were “freaked out” by that testimony.

“They know more facts are going to be delivered that are absolutely damning to the president of the United States,” Lieu said.

Judge blocks new Oklahoma abortion pill reversal requirement from taking effect

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma County judge issued a temporary injunction Wednesday halting a controversial abortion-reversal law from taking effect pending further litigation.

At the end of an hourlong hearing, District Judge Don Andrews said he still has many questions about an abortion-reversal law that was slated to take effect Nov. 1 and halted the measure from taking effect until he can hear additional arguments at a trial.

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged an Oklahoma law that would make it a felony for doctors to perform medically induced abortions without informing patients that such an abortion may be reversible — a medically questionable practice that is not backed up by substantial scientific research. The law would require doctors who perform abortions to inform their patients that a medication-assisted abortion may be reversible if a patient takes only one pill of a two-dose regimen.

The new law stems from Senate Bill 614, introduced by Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt this year.

Read the rest of this story online at oklahoman.com. A subscription may be required.

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OKPOP museum breaks ground; completion planned for late 2021

The groundbreaking on Wednesday for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in downtown Tulsa will be remembered as a golden day.

Those turning the dirt wore golden hard hats like Tulsa’s Golden Driller.

They dug into the ground with golden shovels in the shape of guitars — a nod to the gold, custom-made Fender Stratocaster presented in 1954 to Eldon Shamblin, guitarist for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, who road-tested Leo Fender’s products at Cain’s Ballroom.

As the dirt was turned, the title song played from the soundtrack of the musical “Oklahoma!” — the first album ever certified as a “gold record” in 1958.

Even “the wind is sweeping down the plain today in honor of OKPOP,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt as gusts whipped around during the ceremony.

“History is all around us, and it’s evidence of why this museum needs to happen,” Stitt said of the Oklahoma Historical Society’s planned museum, which will house collections of Oklahoma creative artists from music, movies, TV and more.

The governor described himself as a “proud American,” but “Thank God I’m from Oklahoma.”

He and several other officials spoke to a crowd of about 300 people, ranging from Oklahoma’s creative community to state lawmakers and more, who gathered on land across the street from Cain’s Ballroom where the museum will be built.

The groundbreaking was a decade in the making, between persuading lawmakers that Tulsa was the right spot and finding the funds to make it happen.

“It has taken so long, taken some time, but great things take some time,” said Jeff Moore, the executive director of OKPOP, who has been planning what the museum will look like for that past decade.

The plan is for it to be 60,000-plus square feet of immersive, rotating exhibits on three floors, with an event venue, a performance space and a large terrace overlooking downtown.

OKPOP will be located at 422 N. Main St. in the Tulsa Arts District, and the completion of the project is anticipated for late 2021.

Nabholz Construction has been selected to build OKPOP on land that was donated by Tulsan David Sharp and Interak Corp.

It will showcase the achievements of state entertainers like Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood and many more, as Oklahomans have sold more than 1 billion records, been nominated for an Emmy Award every year since 1962 and created iconic stories for the stage and screen.

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who is also the state’s Secretary of Tourism and Branding, told the crowd that tourism is the third largest industry in Oklahoma, generating more than $1 billion in tax receipts.

“We can be, and will be, a top-10 tourism state,” Pinnell said, promoting the appeal that OKPOP will have for the city and the continuing rapid growth of the downtown arts district.

“And Tulsa can be a top-10 tourism city. Tulsa is leading the way ... Stay gold, Tulsa,” Pinnell said, continuing the golden theme.

Ray Hoyt, president of VisitTulsa Regional Tourism, called OKPOP “a game-changer” that is “unique in a way that Gathering Place has proven to be” for the city’s tourism numbers.

Beyond numbers, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said that “Tulsa is the arts capital of this part of the United States” and spoke of how OKPOP can further spur creativity.

“We want Oklahoma kids to come to this museum and see what’s accessible to them” he said, “... Like a girl in high school who’s writing a story that becomes ‘The Outsiders,’” as happened to Tulsa’s S.E. Hinton.

Or perhaps like one of the mayor’s former classmates “who used to make a lot of videos,” Bynum recalled of actor Bill Hader. “This is going to be a spot where people come to be inspired” and then hopefully “go on to inspire others” themselves, he said.

Bynum also noted how these individuals give back to their community, pointing to Taylor Hanson sitting next to him.

“As the resident long-hair on this stage,” the musician said with a chuckle, before recalling his discussions with museum officials about OKPOP being a special place.

“Not just building a box full of old things, but something that lives,” he said, with a vision that “creativity is the best renewable energy” to be forged in Tulsa and beyond.

“We’re here because of the creators, and I’m proud to be part of a long lineage of creators,” he said while noting some who have died in recent years, generating applause as he mentioned musicians Leon Russell, Roy Clark and Steve Ripley.

The groundbreaking was not only the first step in a new phase for the OKPOP project but also a chance to reflect on the long road getting there.

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society and the man who coined the term OKPOP, was greeted by the first standing ovation from the crowd.

He recalled a blunt conversation that Tulsa philanthropist George Kaiser had with him years ago, regarding the number of state-funded museums in Oklahoma (32) and how many of those are in Tulsa (zero).

That is, until OKPOP.

He thanked the persistence of legislators like former Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman and former Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman, and he praised the embrace of OKPOP by local business leaders and people like Mike Neal, Tulsa Regional Chamber CEO.

Their support was invaluable when reaching out to legislators on behalf of a museum in Tulsa and encountering “some success, some resistance,” Blackburn said.

The Oklahoma Historical Society received $25 million in bond funds from the state to build OKPOP, but only after “striking out multiple years,” he said.

“You’re not just funding (OKPOP) but investing in our future,” Blackburn said.

Neal pointed back to Blackburn, calling him “the man I want in a foxhole ... You’re the one that made all this happen. Thank you.”

“For eight straight years this coalition went to the Capitol and talked to legislators,” Neal said, noting that many wanted OKPOP in their communities.

“When we were shut down year after year, we always came back together.”

Among those in the fight was Jamie Oldaker, the revered rock drummer and one of three members in Eric Clapton’s band in the 1970s from Tulsa who recorded and toured with him for years.

“The first reaction: This needs to be in Oklahoma City,” Oldaker said he was told by legislators who wouldn’t consider Tulsa.

“I said, OK, raise your hand if you know anything about arts and culture in Oklahoma, and none of them did. I told them, you’ve got the basketball team in Oklahoma City. The arts and culture should be in Tulsa.”

The OKPOP team has been working for years to collect photos, film and video, artifacts, audio recordings, and an assortment of archival materials that will best show off the creative culture that Oklahomans have brought to the world.

Artists who have shown support for the museum and offered to donate to the OKPOP collections include Reba McEntire, Tim Blake Nelson, Alfre Woodard and Kristin Chenoweth, among others.

And Oldaker, of course.

“I was one of the first people to donate,” he said. “I’m proud to say that I’ve been in on this for a long time.”