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Lawmakers Affirm Stitt's Declaration of Health Emergency over COVID-19

stitt_2020_state_of_the_state.jpeg
Robby Korth
/
StateImpact Oklahoma

State lawmakers granted Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt broad powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by approving on Monday his declaration of a statewide health emergency.

House Majority Leader Jon Echols said it is essentially the state version of the War Powers Act, but there are two checks to Stitt’s new abilities.

"This declaration only lasts for 30 days. … There always has to be a check to power, even people we trust," Echols said. "And, this legislature is not going to adjourn sine die in the special session. We’re going to adjourn to a call of the chair, which means we would have the ability to revoke the granting of these emergency powers at any time."

The emergency declaration lets Stitt waive laws that hinder the COVID-19 response and appropriate additional state funds, among other things.

In the House, the vote was 99–1, with Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) the lone holdout. Hardin noted while the House approved a "catastrophic" health emergency consistent with wording in state law, Stitt did not include that term in his declaration.

"My fear is that by declaring this a ‘catastrophic ‘ health emergency, the next time we declare a catastrophic health emergency, the people will ignore it," Hardin said.

Echols said he does not expect Stitt will declare a statewide shelter in place order under the health emergency.

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