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Capitol Insider: State Government Adapts To COVID-19


As the first person at the State Capitol tests positive for COVID-19, state officials and agencies change their workflow to keep government open. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss a momentous week at the Capitol.



Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider. Your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. And we're working remotely. Shawn, there's been a lot of fast motion at the Capitol over the last few days. How are lawmakers and the governor changing their methods of hearing, passing and approving bills at this time?

Shawn Ashley: Well, it was a long month this week at the State Capitol, no doubt. On Monday, the House of Representatives, realizing that they would need to stop working in the legislature for a while, passed a resolution to allow proxy voting. Now, what this does is allow the members of each caucus to report to a designee how they would vote on certain bills when it comes time, somewhere down the line to vote on measures. Now in the House, there'll still be floor sessions, but their goal is to reduce the number of people who would be there if those floor sessions have to take place in a time when we're still social distancing. On Tuesday, both the House and the Senate passed a measure modifying the Open Meeting Act, and this is to allow local governments like city councils and state agency boards and commissions to continue to meet while we are practicing social distancing. It allows for telephonic and video conference meetings to take place, but it also ensures that the public will still be able to participate in that. Those meetings will be recorded. On Wednesday, Governor Kevin Stitt signed that piece of legislation, so it now takes effect. For now, the legislature is adjourned indefinitely. We'll have to wait and see when they decide to come back and take up any measures, either like we're used to them doing all of them on the floor or this proxy process in the House.

Dick Pryor: How are agencies adapting, especially in order to comply with social distancing?

Shawn Ashley: Well, when Governor Kevin Stitt issued his executive order declaring a state of emergency, one of the components of that order was that agencies prepare to work remotely. And that's what we're seeing a number of them do. The Department of Wildlife Conservation, for example, has essentially shut down its main office as well as its field offices and have their staff working remotely. The State Auditor reported on Thursday that her office had shipped shifted to 100 percent remote work. And we're also seeing that in a number of other agencies. The Department of Human Services, which has a lot of public contact, is urging people to use their various online services. And if they need to visit with a person in the agency now, they can only do that by appointment.

Dick Pryor: Shawn, General Revenue Fund collections were already forecast to come in under the estimate by almost 5 percent. The financial picture is not going to improve, with many businesses now closed and increasing numbers of people staying home or not employed at all. What will the state do as revenues continue to fall?

Shawn Ashley: Well, Governor Kevin Stitt indicated in an interview with Oklahoma State Medical Association director Dr. Larry Bookman that he is prepared to tap the state's Rainy Day Fund. There's approximately $800 million in that fund, a portion of which could be utilized for the current fiscal year and a portion of which could be utilized for the upcoming fiscal year that the lawmakers and the governor are just getting. Beginning the process of early writing that budget, there's also $200 million in the Revenue Stabilization Fund that was established in 2019. So that gives them approximately a $1 billion cushion with which to work. But as Secretary of Budget Mike Mazzei has pointed out and the governor has pointed out, when you really look at that one million dollars, it's only a little more than a month's worth of expenses for the state. So. they're going to have to be very judicious in how they deploy that money.

Dick Pryor: Shawn, Thanks.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, email us at news@KGOU.ORG or contact us on Twitter @KGOUnews. You can also find us online at KGOU.ORG or ECAPITOL.NET. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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