Senator Hall: Budget will be the top priority moving forward this session

On Monday, after nearly three weeks of conducting meetings and briefings remotely, we returned to the Capitol for a special session to consider the governor’s emergency medical declaration. We also met in regular session to address a revenue failure in the current budget. 

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This was the first time the Legislature had assembled in the building since a Capitol staffer had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 17.  The building was later thoroughly deep cleaned but closed to the public in an abundance of caution.

In order for us to meet, special procedures were used for safety and to enable personal distancing.  Everyone’s temperature was taken when entering the building, and we wore masks sewn by a Senate staffer, and some wore gloves as well.  We also came into and left the chamber in small groups to debate and vote on legislation.

Again, the special session was to consider the governor’s declaration of a health emergency, giving him temporarily expanded powers to better coordinate a response to the COVID-19 pandemic here in Oklahoma, which the Legislature supported. 

We then adjourned the special session and reconvened in regular session to take up legislation enabling us to backfill a $416 million shortfall in the current budget year.  We were already looking at decreased state revenues because of lower oil and gas prices, but coupled with the dramatic impact of the pandemic, including closures and layoffs, the economy has been dramatically altered in recent weeks.

The good news is that we worked last year to set aside another $200 million in emergency funds, bringing our state’s total savings to $1 billion.  Those savings mean we can avoid across the board cuts—this was extremely important agencies work to deal with the impact of the pandemic.  It’s affecting every agency and every single person in this state.

Before adjourning, we also suspended the rules to give the Senate greater flexibility to conduct committee meetings or floor sessions virtually or remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The public will still have access to proceedings online, but this will allow for much safer participation for all.

Our top priority for the remainder of the session will be competing work on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which is also being greatly impacted by the pandemic.

We are living through an extraordinary time in our nation and in the world’s history.  We all need to continue to do everything in our power to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including frequent, thorough handwashing, social distancing, and if you begin suffering symptoms, including cough, fever or difficulty breathing, call your health care provider or 2-1-1.

Lastly, I want to remind everyone, if you haven’t responded to the 2020 U.S. Census, please do so.  Billions of federal dollars are distributed annually to cities, counties and states to fund hospitals, schools, roads and other critical services, and the amount of the funding is determined by population—those numbers come directly from the U.S. Census. When people don’t respond, we get shortchanged on that funding.

As of April 5th, the national average response rate was 45.1%, and it was 40.5% for Oklahoma. The highest response rate in our state was Canadian County at 50.9%.

Here are the rates for the counties in Senate District 20 and some of our communities:

Noble County – 41.6%
Pawnee County – 30.1%
Logan County – 45.6%
Kingfisher County – 35.4%
Perry – 45.1%
Pawnee – 33.6%
Guthrie – 47.2%
Hennessey – 42.5%

If you’ve received a census form at your home you can respond by mail, or if you haven’t gotten one, you can still complete your census over the phone by calling 1-844-330-2020, or you can respond online at 2020census.gov.  The results of the Census will impact our state for the next decade.  Let’s all do our part to make sure we get a full count.

Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to be your voice in the Oklahoma Senate.  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.

MAKE IT COUNT OKLAHOMA! An undercount in the census of just 2 percent can cost the state $1.8 billion in lost federal money over the next 10 years. Fill out your census form, Oklahoma. Learn more at: www.2020census.gov.

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