The Oklahoma Legislature met Monday in a historic special session to approve Gov. Kevin Stitt’s expanded health emergency declaration, which gives the governor additional authority to respond to COVID-19.
HCR1001x allows the governor to centralize state and county health department response efforts, to purchase necessary equipment or supplies up to $50 million and to waive certain laws and rules for the purpose of the pandemic response. It also allows him to mobilize the National Guard to help respond to the health emergency. The declaration lasts 30 days from the date of issue.
The governor was required by law to call a special session of the Legislature for the purpose of affirming or denying the expanded health emergency declaration.
Monday’s proceedings operated under strict public health protocols, such as restricting access to the Capitol and allowing no more than 10 people in any room at any time. Sixteen House members voted remotely from their districts under a House rule allowing remote voting during the pandemic.
State Rep. Garry Mize (R-Guthrie) attended Monday’s historic special session.
“While Monday was a very unusual floor session for us all, we fulfilled our constitutional requirement to meet following the Governor’s health emergency declaration, which we passed,” Mize said. “The health emergency declaration allows the Governor very broad powers that are necessary for a pandemic response. If, at the end of the 30 days, the Governor still needs these powers to appropriately respond to the pandemic, the Legislature will again consider affirming the health emergency declaration.
Mize added: “Now more than ever, it’s important that the Legislature has procedures in place allowing us to fulfill our duties to the citizens of Oklahoma. I’m grateful to our House leadership who worked together to develop safety precautions to protect ourselves and limit the spread of COVID-19.”
The Legislature adjourned special session to the call of the chair, which would allow it to return to special session to revoke or change the powers granted to the governor within the next 30 days, if needed. The Legislature will also consider next fiscal year’s budget at a later time.
“Under the Oklahoma Constitution, the only required duty of the Legislature is to appropriate a budget,” Mize said. “Lawmakers have been working together to develop a budget for next year, and we will return to the Capitol and take that up when we have reached an agreement.”
“Although the House may be in recess for the time being, we’re continuing to work from our homes in our districts to answer constituent questions and provide vital information to our communities. The Capitol may be closed, but we are still working.”