Oklahoma House OKs Bill To Strip Power From Local Officials

May 15, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House narrowly approved a bill on Thursday to strip some power during health emergencies from mayors and other local officials.

The bill would make several changes to the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, conferring broad authority on the governor and others during health emergencies if the Legislature agrees.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Among the changes the bill makes is to strip local officials of the authority to separate ill or exposed people, issue vaccinations and take other steps to prevent, manage and contain health threats. Instead, it would give the governor the power to delegate local officials certain authorities.

The bill also would require the governor to notify the Legislature of specific powers he is seeking and for the governor or a designee to meet at least twice weekly with members of the House and Senate while the emergency is in effect.

Conflicts have arisen in Oklahoma during the coronavirus outbreak over local stay-at-home orders stricter than state guidelines. The state’s attorney general and a U.S. attorney both warned Norman Mayor Breea Clark last week to lift an order in Oklahoma’s third-largest city that prevented large gatherings inside places of worship after the governor had said churches could reopen.

Tulsa Rep. John Waldron, a Democrat, said on the House floor that that he had spoken with local officials who are concerned about the bill.

"This is from Joe Kralicek of the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Authority," Waldron said. "In his words, 'this bill is dangerous.' I talked to County Commissioner Karen Keith. She said, 'Absolutely opposed. Tulsa and OKC kept our COVID numbers down because of our aggressive local control.'"