Oklahoma, like most of the nation and the world, is in the midst of an unprecedented public health event. The situation seems to be changing daily around the globe and here at home. As of Tuesday afternoon, this is what I can tell you.
On Monday each chamber of the Legislature held joint caucus meetings to be briefed by State Health Commissioner of Health, Gary Cox, on the latest info regarding COVID-19. Afterwards, at a joint press conference with Republican and Democratic leaders of the State Legislature, several steps were announced aimed at better protecting the public while ensuring the critical business of the citizens continues at the Capitol.
Our page programs are suspended starting next week. Capitol tours, meetings and events by outside organizations are also on hold for now as we work to limit the possibility of exposure. Elected officials, essential Capitol staff, and credentialed reporters will still be working in the building or remotely as may be necessary.
Work will continue—but we may have to continue to adapt as the situation evolves. I think the key phrase here is that the situation is fluid. We still have a constitutional responsibility to write and pass a balanced budget. We will fulfill our obligations and ensure the people’s business is completed in an efficient and orderly way.
On Tuesday morning, we passed legislation to temporarily amend the open meetings law to allow for government body quorums through videoconferencing and teleconferencing. This is particularly important for municipal and county government bodies who are trying to find ways to fulfill their duties while allowing for social distancing, which is so important for limiting infection rates.
Notifications must still be posted, but these can be online, and the legislation maintains citizen participation in a public meeting held via teleconferencing or videoconferencing. How the public can participate must be included in the public entity’s meeting notice.
We also found out Tuesday that someone within the Senate had tested positive for COVID-19. We’re all following appropriate health department recommendations, and folks will be telecommuting for the next few days. The business of the people will continue.
This is indeed a public health event unlike anything we’ve ever seen, but I urge everyone to remain calm and follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, including social distancing, handwashing and avoiding touching your face.
For updates at the state-level, visit the Oklahoma State Health Department’s website at coronavirus.health.ok.gov.
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.