Once again, Oklahomans have pulled through another “unprecedented” bout of winter weather. Last October it was the unusually early ice storms. During the past two weeks, Oklahomans were hit with more ice, then two rounds of snow and sub-zero temperatures seldom seen in Oklahoma, or this part of the country for that matter.
It’s been especially difficult for our ranchers as they worked to protect their livestock, especially the newborn calves. Sadly, not all were able to be saved, but many were. Their efforts were heroic.
I was very pleased that the president moved quickly to approve Governor Stitt’s disaster declaration, which will clear the way for federal assistance for cities, counties and tribes seeking reimbursement for emergency expenses, and authorizing FEMA to assist. The declaration begins with the first round of weather on Feb. 8 and it covers all 77 counties.
We’re quickly approaching the Feb. 25 deadline for committee action on bills, but due to dangerous road conditions, committee meetings that had been scheduled for the first three days of this past week were pushed back, making for very full, intense days on Thursday and Friday to help get us back on track.
We’ve already had one bill signed into law this session—Senate Bill 1031, which will reauthorize temporary exemptions to the state’s Open Meeting Act to allow government bodies to continue to meet virtually during the pandemic. The exemptions will remain in effect until Feb 15, 2022, or until 30 days after the expiration/termination of the state of emergency for the pandemic, whichever occurs first.
The full Senate has also approved legislation clarifying that local communities can display their support for law enforcement. I believe the vast majority of Oklahomans stand behind the men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to protect their fellow citizens, and this legislation is in keeping with our Oklahoma values.
I am also optimistic that the Senate will soon approve Senate Bill 1, which I authored. The bill tightens state laws on scrap metal theft, but just as importantly, I’ve named this the Sgt. Craig Johnson Oklahoma Scrap Metal Dealers Act, in memory of the Tulsa police officer who helped create the bill but was later killed during a traffic stop. He was actively involved in our working group that drafted this bill, even coming to meet with me in Perry. I’m proud to be able to honor his life and service in this way.
Finally, I do want to mention that this past week, the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization certified how much the Legislature would be able to appropriate for the FY 2022 budget year, which begins this coming July 1. We’ll have $9.6 billion to appropriate, however that amount includes more than $1 billion in one-time cash. That means if we built those one-time funds into reoccurring expenditures, we’d be digging ourselves into a hole. As vice chair of Appropriations, I believe in taking a fiscally conservative approach with those dollars as we continue to work on the budget in the coming weeks. But overall, it’s a far better projection than we could have been facing, leaving us in a better position as we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at Chuck.Hall@oksenate.gov.