Democrats in the Oklahoma state legislature advocated Tuesday for a convening of a special session to extend emergency rules allowing for virtual open meetings to be held more easily, and renewed their calls for a statewide mask mandate order from Gov. Kevin Stitt.
"In March, in the name of public safety, we passed legislation to protect Oklahoman’s lives and the ability for public bodies to function without the risk of spreading COVID," said Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Virgin of Norman. "These aren’t my words. These are the words of the Republican leaders who supported this legislation."
Senate Bill 661, which relaxed rules to make virtual or remote meetings of public bodies easier to legally hold during the pandemic, is set to expire on Sunday.
Virgin called for a convening of a special session of the state legislature.
"There are no plans for a special session at this time by the Legislature," said Aaron Cooper, a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City).
John Estus, a spokesperson for Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), indicated the same.
"The existing Open Meeting Act still allows for virtual meetings even after Nov. 15, and countless public bodies nationwide - from Congress on down - have been safely meeting in person using reasonable health precautions," Estus said. "Across the state and country, businesses, restaurants, bars, churches, gyms and more have been open in person for months under reasonable health precautions, and Oklahoma public bodies can function in person under those precautions, too." (The Open Meetings Act allows attendees to participate virtually if a majority or quorum is present in person.)
At her capitol press conference, Virgin also slammed Stitt for not implementing a statewide mask mandate like governors of other states have done in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
"If the governors of surrounding states and other red states like Utah can make this decision, you can too. It's time to stop the political pandering. It's time to stop worrying about getting reelected. It's time to do what's right to save the lives of Oklahomans," Virgin said. (Moments after Virgin spoke, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, announced that state's first partial mask mandate.)
"The governor is, frankly, running out of excuses for his failed leadership, and Oklahomans are dying as he does. What we're seeing in Oklahoma is simply unacceptable and shows a disregard for human life," Virgin said.
The idea of a statewide mask mandate for Oklahoma has been endorsed and/or recommended by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Dr. Dale Bratzler of OU Health, Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department, the Republican mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and the Trump White House.
Virgin's comments were made three hours before Stitt was scheduled to hold his first COVID-19 press conference in three weeks.