Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday gave Gov. Kevin Stitt another 30 days of expanded powers granted under a catastrophic health emergency declaration to deal with COVID-19.
Under state law, the declaration of a health emergency gives the governor powers including waiving regulations that could hinder the public health response, mobilizing the National Guard and reallocating up to $50 million in state funds for the response.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said Stitt needs those powers so first responders continue getting information about people infected with the coronavirus they may be interacting with, so the waiver of an unemployment waiting period can continue and so the state health department can add hundreds of contact tracers.
Minority Leader Kay Floyd noted the extension is contingent upon Stitt submitting a written report of how he’s used his powers under the catastrophic health emergency thus far.
"What happens if the governor does not respond by submitting the information that we’ve requested within the two business days?" Floyd asked Treat during floor proceedings.
"I would stand ready to stand before this body and terminate the extension of the [catastrophic health emergency] if that happened," Treat said.
The extension passed the Senate 43–4. It passed the House 73–24, where it was largely opposed by Democrats, including Oklahoma City Rep. Forrest Bennett.
"On the one hand, we are opening the state, suggesting that the powers that be think that the emergency is largely over. And on the other hand, we’re being asked to extend these powers another 30 days. So, my question is, which one is it?" Bennett said.
Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said Stitt has used his powers wisely so far.
"Nobody in here knows what’s coming as we move to reopen this economy. Nobody. And I believe what protects citizens is to continue to give these powers," Echols said.
Lawmakers are also seeking more information about how the Stitt administration has spent federal COVID-19 response funds and are considering a bill to require daily reports.