I always look forward to meeting with neighbors and giving a legislative update. In light of the current Coronavirus pandemic, such a gathering now must be postponed indefinitely. However, I still wanted to give you a brief overview of our legislative work.
The Oklahoma Legislature recessed on March 17 after several people at the State Capitol tested positive for COVID-19. Since that time, we have been working remotely from home as have our House staff.
We were called back for a brief special session on Monday (April 6) to vote to approve the governor’s declaration of a Catastrophic Health Emergency for all 77 counties for the next 30 days. We followed CDC guidelines during our meeting, ensuring there were never more than 10 people gathered in one room. Another precaution in place was taking the temperature of each person before entering the building.
The emergency declaration allows state and county health entities to act in one accord and enables the governor to cut through red tape and bureaucracy to purchase needed medical equipment and supplies, as well as assess the needs for hospital beds and personal protection equipment (PPE). The declaration also allows the governor to use the National Guard as needed during this crisis. A system is in place for the Guard to monitor daily with all hospitals to assess healthcare needs, help deliver supplies, and set up surge hospitals, if needed. The Legislature can come back into special session as needed to cease or extend the declaration.
The Legislature also reconvened into regular session on Monday to vote on bills that will help us stabilize the state budget. Due to non-essential businesses being temporarily closed statewide due to the statewide Executive Order, along with the sharp drop in the price of oil and gas, our state has a $416 million dollars shortfall for the current fiscal year. Thankfully, we can utilize the state’s Rainy Day and Revenue Stabilization Funds to cover this budget hole. This action will ensure there are no agency cuts and core services and programs will not be affected in FY’20. We also are working on our budget for the next fiscal year which must be completed no later than May 29th.
We may still take up a limited number of policy bills this year; those are being determined now. In the meantime, I am praying for a quick end to this virus and for a return to health for all who are sick. We will see better days ahead.
God bless each of you,
Representative Tammy West