When the Oklahoma Legislature returns Monday to address state financial issues and confirm Gov. Kevin Stitt’s “health emergency” declaration, House members and staff will be screened for fevers, and access to the building will be restricted to “elected officials, essential Capitol staff, the press, state officials invited for critical meetings and construction personnel” working on the building.
Those Capitol COVID-19 protocols and other details were revealed around 12:40 p.m. today in a press release from House Speaker Charles McCall’s office.
“The Legislature will complete important business next week while putting safety at the forefront of all activities at the Capitol,” said McCall (R-Atoka). “Extraordinary precautions will be taken to ensure health and safety within the Capitol during these necessary proceedings. We are going to stabilize the budget so services can continue uninterrupted and affirm the governor’s health emergency declaration to step up Oklahoma’s battle against COVID-19. The Legislature’s time to act is here, and we are prepared to do so in a safe manner that is compliant with current health guidelines.”
Under the same rule lawmakers invoked March 16, journalists will be the only members of the public allowed into the Capitol. On March 17, the Legislature amended the state’s Open Meeting Act to expand teleconferencing options for public bodies and adjourned for an indefinite period of time.
On March 16, the House amended its rules to allow for proxy voting among members, but the Senate has not taken such a step to date. One House member, Rep. Jason Lowe (D-OKC), and one Senate member, Sen. Paul Rosino (R-OKC), have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. One Senate staff member and two House staff members have tested positive as well.
For lawmakers’ return Monday, the House outlined how its proceedings will work:
- Skeleton crews of fewer than 10 people will run floor and committee proceedings.
- Members and staff must listen to proceedings in their offices.
- Members will be brought into floor and committee proceedings individually or in small groups to vote, ask questions, debate and present legislation in order to comply with orders limiting gatherings of 10 or more.
- Press will be permitted in the enclosed press gallery above the House Chamber, and will be required to maintain social distancing within the gallery.
- The House Chamber public gallery will be closed.
- Live-streaming video online of floor and committee proceedings will continue.
Earlier Thursday, Gov. Kevin Stitt released his latest executive order, which declared a “health emergency” and statutorily triggered a special session of the Legislature for 8 a.m. Monday. Under the same statutes in Title 63, the Legislature must confirm the health emergency, which grants the governor broader powers to spend state money, suspend regulations and coordinate response from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Senate discusses its plan
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) meet with media via Zoom videoconference around 3:30 p.m. Thursday and revealed details of the Legislature’s plans for next week.
“I am supportive of the health emergency and believe the governor does need those expanded authorities during these extraordinary times,” Treat said. “We also have to deal with the revenue shortfall. We anticipate the (State) Board of Equalization meeting Monday, coming up with those final numbers and then us having to backfill (the current hole).”
The Board of Equalization, a group of statewide officials that reviews and certifies state revenues, is set to meet at 1 p.m. Monday via Zoom conference. It had previously been scheduled for Tuesday, April 7.
Treat said he does not expect the Fiscal Year 2021 budget to be completed next week, and the time it will take to address the Fiscal Year 2020 revenue failure will depend on whether an active bill in the appropriate title of law can be found to suspend rules and expedite the process.
“Right now, it’s unknown if we are going to be in one day or four days next week. I think it’s an unknown either or,” Treat said, disclosing the Senate’s preference regarding the estimated $219 million revenue failure for this fiscal year. “I think our druthers in the Oklahoma State Senate (…) are that we completely fill it to make sure we don’t cut services for the people of Oklahoma.”
Treat said the Senate will move more slowly than usual, with groups of lawmakers entering and exiting the floor to maintain social distance while bills are being considered. He said all proceedings will be broadcast online, and he said the Senate would consider briefing media each morning as a way to provide more information to the public.
“These are serious times, and we are taking it seriously in the Senate making sure people’s health is protected because we go back out in the communities,” Treat said.
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(Update: This story was updated at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, April 2, to include information from Treat’s press conference. It was updated again at 4:20 p.m. to include additional information.)