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Top Leaders Re-Elected, House Republicans Kill COVID Rules On Organizational Day

Oklahoma House GOP

Oklahoma lawmakers met Tuesday for a constitutionally required organizational day ahead of the session’s official start Feb. 1.

Ahead of a joint meeting, the House and Senate met separately to elect leaders. Atoka Republican Charles McCall was easily elected to another term as Speaker of the House. Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Bristow) nominated McCall, noting he led the chamber through up and down budget years, legislative turnover, and the pandemic.

"Members, I would argue that what we’ve seen the last four years is that Charles McCall, like many of the great presidents, not only did a great job in office, but also rose to the occasion to meet the demands of the challenging times," Hilbert said.

In the Senate, Oklahoma City Republican Greg Treat was again elected president pro tempore, his nomination seconded by Minority Leader Kay Floyd. Treat called on senators to truly serve Oklahomans, recognize their dignity and ask good questions.

"In heeding the words of Ted Lasso, or Walt Whitman if you prefer, be curious, not judgmental. We are only informed as our best questions. Iron truly does sharpen iron," Treat said.

"Ted Lasso" is an Apple TV+ show about an American football coach who winds up coaching an English soccer team.

Tuesday’s meetings also included adopting rules for the session, and policies related to COVID-19 were notably absent from 85 pages for the House. Democrats offered several amendments to change that, including one from House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) that would make masks part of the dress code while the governor has an emergency order in effect.

"By not doing what the governor’s asking Oklahomans to do, to not do what medical experts are asking Oklahomans to do, we are setting a terrible example for the state of Oklahoma today at a time when our state is suffering more than ever from this pandemic," Virgin said.

Gov. Kevin Stitt's emergency order requiring masks in state buildings does not apply to the legislature. Many Republican lawmakers were seen not wearing masks during Tuesday's proceedings.

Republicans led the way in tabling a total of four virus-related amendments proposed by Democrats, including one to renew a provision for members to participate in meetings virtually. Rep. Andy Fugate (D-Oklahoma City) said it had a slight change from last session.

"It does have one difference, a key difference, and that is a member must be physically present here at the capitol building, but at a time of COVID, I think it’s important we all look at ways that we can protect ourselves and protect our constituents back home," Fugate said.

House Republicans also tabled amendments offered by Rep. Mauree Turner (D-Oklahoma City) to use gender-neutral language in the chamber's rules and to create an inclusive dress code.

And eCapitol reported Tuesday that Treat has dismissed the notion of a special session to let local governments hold virtual meetings, saying that can be fast-tracked during regular session.

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