Legislature meets to approve emergency declaration, address revenue failure

The Legislature re-convened on Monday to address several necessary items to continue government services for all Oklahomans.

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The House first convened in special session to approve the governor’s declaration of a Catastrophic Health Emergency in all 77 Oklahoma counties for the next 30 days.

The declaration gives the governor the power to unify all state, county and municipal health entities to address the spread of COVID-19. The governor also is allowed to suspend any regulatory statute, order or agency rule to address the emergency, and he is allowed to call up the National Guard to help respond to the emergency. The order is the equivalent of the Oklahoma Wartime Powers Act.

Primarily the point of this action is to allow the governor to purchase medicine and medical supplies or equipment as necessary and to prepare hospitals for the anticipated surge of this virus.

Some have expressed concern over such broad powers being given to the state’s executive, but there are numerous checks in place. The Legislature also voted on Monday to recess the special session not adjourn it. This would allow us to come back in to end the emergency if we feel the governor is overstepping his authority over the citizens and private businesses of our state. The public also is watching the governor’s actions and can access their state lawmakers with any concerns. The media also is watching.

In addition, Monday, the Legislature came back into regular session to vote on three bills that allow us to access money in the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the Revenue Stabilization Fund to address a revenue shortfall of about $416.8 million for the current fiscal year. Appropriating money from these savings accounts means that we will be able to continue to fund all core government services at the amount originally budgeted for this fiscal year.

The Legislature is expected to come back again to vote on the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021 and on several policy bills. House and Senate leaders are currently working with the governor’s office on the budget for the next fiscal year and with members on which policy bills will need to be passed this year.

As we met, we took numerous safety precautions including having our temperature taken before entering the Capitol and voting in groups so that we did not exceed the limit of 10 persons in a room at a time. Many members wore masks and gloves.

As always, if I can help you with something directly, I can still be reached by email, John.Pfeiffer@okhouse.gov, and my office phone has been forwarded and will be answered, (405) 557-7332. 

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