Submitted by State Senator James Leewright
The Coronavirus situation in Oklahoma is changing nearly hourly, impacting all our lives in numerous ways. As of Wednesday morning, the Oklahoma State Health Department had confirmed 29 COVID-19 cases in our state. Health officials have recommended no gatherings larger than 10 people, and many businesses and public facilities have announced closures in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.
Schools will remain closed for two weeks following the week of spring break, and OSU announced plans to continue holding classes online only through the end of the semester.
On Monday, both chambers 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. After those meetings, leaders from both parties held a joint press conference to announce several actions to better protect 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. Although access to the building may be limited, please take full advantage of our official Senate website during this time, oksenate.gov, to follow legislation and access streaming audio and video of all committee meetings and floor sessions.
The Legislature approved emergency legislation to ensure temporary changes within the state’s Open Meetings law for local and county governments, boards and commissions to utilize teleconferencing and videoconferencing for meeting the required quorum. The public must still be given access to those meetings via telephone or other electronic methods, but the entire point is to facilitate social distancing and help limit spread of this virus. These changes will only remain in effect until November 15, 2020, or until the Governor declares the state of emergency to be terminated, whichever occurs first. The governor moved quickly to sign the bill into law on Wednesday.
The State Election Board on Wednesday announced an election emergency declaration that will require County Election Boards to accept resolutions adopted by school districts, municipalities, technology districts, and counties to move their April 7 elections to another date. Regular and statutory elections could be rescheduled on June 30, the next available election date. Special elections could be rescheduled for any election date allowed by law.
You may have seen in the news or social media that a Senate staffer tested positive for COVID-19 this past week. Given the nature of the workspaces and the interaction this individual may have had with others, health professionals recommended testing and self-isolation. I want to stress a private lab was used, and any cost is being billed to each individual’s insurance. As of mid-week, all members and staff were working remotely—but the point is, work continues. We are tending to the business of our citizens while minimizing potential virus spread.
There’s now a state website that includes links for COVID-19 information and resources ranging from health information, help for small businesses, unemployment aid and much more. Just go to covidresources.ok.gov.
I thank you for the privilege of being your voice at the State Capitol. If you have any questions or concerns about legislation or other issues at the state level, please feel free to call 405-521-5528, or email James.Leewright@oksenate.gov.