Back in session: OK Legislature returns tomorrow

Drew Butler

The Oklahoma state legislature will be returning to the Capitol Monday. The Legislature has been working remotely since March 17 when a staffer tested positive for COVID-19. They will be returning for a special session to vote on the emergency health declaration, then moving into regular session to address a pending state revenue failure.

Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, said the return comes with new policies and procedures brought on by the ongoing pandemic. She said everyone will get their temperature taken upon arrival which will serve as roll call and legislators and staffers will only be let into the building a few people at a time.

“We are immediately to go to our offices and watch proceedings over a live feed that shows us everything that goes on in the chamber,” Townley said. “Then when we vote, they’ll bring us in eight at a time to the floor.”

The eight representatives plus the Parliamentarian who records the votes and the Chair will limit the number of people to 10 at any given time.

In a session review released April 2, Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, said the state is facing a $219 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year and an estimated $450 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. Townley said the gap in the budget comes from losses of tax revenue due to the combination of a drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll be getting into the rainy day fund because there’s so much that we depend on in our economy that’s just gone right now,” Townley said. “Our number one industry is energy, number two is aviation, and number three is tourism. And guess what, we aren’t getting any of that revenue right now.”

Townley said times like these show the need within the state to strengthen its other industries.