Oklahoma Legislature Passes Emergency Measures

Apr 7, 2020

Oklahoma lawmakers passed several bills on Monday to fill a budget shortfall and give Governor Kevin Stitt emergency powers during the health crisis.

Three bills that passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate would take $500 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to fix a $416 million hole in the current fiscal year budget.

The governor has only indicated he will sign one of them, but delayed a Monday afternoon meeting of the Equalization Board to declare a revenue failure, which means he could veto two of the bills.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat wears a mask during session on April 6, 2020.
Credit Oklahoma Senate

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat says the future of the measures lies with the governor, but lawmakers didn't want to harm state agencies by not funding them.

"The cuts would be tantamount to 25 percent, and we didn't think that — during this time when people are already hurting — it would be good to pull those monies out of education, health care and roads and bridges," Treat said. "Ultimately, the power resides with the governor's office whether he wants to sign or veto."

The legislature also overwhelmingly voted for a resolution giving Stitt the authority to redirect state employees and resources, including up to $50 million in funding.

House Floor Leader Jon Echols says the powers given to the governor are very broad and only last for 30 days.

"This is the equivalent of the Oklahoma War Time Powers Act," Echols said. "This would institute a health care emergency, meaning the governor would have the ability to suspend rules necessary and even laws necessary in responding to the health care emergency."

The Oklahoma City Republican says this will relax some notification requirements for first responders, create additional hospital bed capacity and allow former nurses to return to work.

The governor is required to notify leadership if he suspends any rules or laws, and if he spends or moves funds of more than $50 million.