Senate Notes

 

On April 2, Governor Stitt declared a health emergency in all 77 Oklahoma counties in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This gives the governor broader powers during this health emergency, including the ability to waive statutory or regulatory requirements as well as the ability to coordinate a cohesive statewide response among city and county health departments.

Among other things, the declaration gives him the authority to allow health care professionals who have left the workforce to quickly rejoin the front lines against COVID-19. It also will better protect first responders by helping them manage their personal protective equipment (PPE) and letting them know if the home they’re being dispatched to has someone there who has tested positive for the virus while still protecting patient privacy. Letting first responders have this information before they arrive will help them use their PPE more efficiently.

The Legislature was called into a special session on Monday, April 6. to approve this declaration. As chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, I’ve been working hard to help us prepare for the challenges still ahead and I believe this emergency declaration is absolutely necessary.


The other piece of business to deal with is the shortfall in the current budget caused by the economic fall-out from the pandemic. Throughout this process, we’ll be working to limit the number of members and staff in the chamber to follow CDC recommendations for the safety of all involved. Reporters, serving as the eyes and ears of the public, will have access to the press gallery, but will also be encouraged when possible to take advantage of streaming audio and video. 

The governor also expanded orders that had first been implemented for counties that had positive COVID-19 cases to include all 77 counties, and those provisions will remain in place through the end of the month. This includes the temporary closing of some businesses, including those that are “high-touch” such as hair salons and barbershops, as well as entertainment venues like museums and theaters. Elective and non-emergency surgeries and dental work will be postponed until April 30. “Safer at Home” for those over 65 and with serious health conditions is also extended through the end of the month.

Federal aid to individuals, families, businesses and state and local governments will be coming soon after passage of the $2 trillion CARES package. It includes $150 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments, including at least $1.25 billion for Oklahoma. There will be direct checks to adult individuals for $1,200, $2,400 for married couples and an additional $500 for dependents as well as four months of increased unemployment insurance to those who lose their jobs in response to the crisis. 


These actions are all positives, but the truth is, things are going to get worse before they get better. Take care of yourselves. Take care of your neighbors. Serve those most at risk. We are the people who created “The Oklahoma Standard.” Let’s show the world again what loving our neighbors looks like. Above all else pray. With God’s help, and working together, we will get through this.

I am honored to serve you in the Oklahoma State Senate.  If you have a question about a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (405) 521-5541 or by email at [email protected] 

 

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