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Capitol Insider: Group Of Lawmakers Requests Changes In Oklahoma Vaccination Requirements

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As the state of Oklahoma is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, a small group of state lawmakers is urging the governor to change the rules regarding vaccinations for health care providers. Details in this week's Capitol Insider.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashely. Shawn, coronavirus cases are surging in more than 40 states, including Oklahoma, due to the Delta variant and lagging vaccination rates. As of just a few days ago, the State Department of Health reported that forty-six point-six percent of Oklahomans aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated. Now, a group of 20 House Republicans, led by Representative Sean Roberts from Hominy, is urging Governor Stitt to prohibit vaccination mandates for health care workers in Oklahoma. First, why are they doing this? And second, is that prohibition likely to happen?

Shawn Ashley: The lawmakers say in the letter to Governor Stitt that health care workers are left to choose between taking a vaccine authorized for emergency use or risk losing their jobs. This, they wrote, goes against liberty and justice for all. And they wrote, “If we do not protect the individual's right to choose what goes into their body, we no longer live in a free society.” Now you ask, is it likely to happen? I really don't think so. You may recall Governor Stitt issued an executive order in late May that prohibited state agencies from requiring masks and vaccinations for those entering state buildings, including employees. However, that executive order had an exemption that agencies primarily involved in medical patient-facing activities, including research participation areas and facilities where patient care is the primary function. In other words, he allowed state-operated health care facilities to require staff to be vaccinated. I doubt he would then treat them one way and the private sector another. Also, two bills, one from the House and one from the Senate, had vaccination prohibitions in them. Those bills made their way to the Senate, but neither was considered. So, it seems unlikely that a bill could be passed even if a special session was called.

Dick Pryor: Right. Representative Sean Roberts has also requested an audit of the 2020 Oklahoma general election results in Oklahoma County and two other randomly selected counties. Obviously, his focus is on Oklahoma County. We've seen this election audit talk by Republicans in other states and there is an audit ongoing in Arizona. Why is Representative Roberts doing this?

Shawn Ashley: Well, Roberts said in a press release, Oklahomans have the right to know their election results can be trusted. In the letter to the state election board secretary, he stated, “every citizen deserves to have faith in the integrity of the election process and its outcome.” And he said it's his responsibility as an elected public servant to assure constituents that Oklahoma elections are safe and secure. And as you noted, he pointed to alleged fraud in states like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, none of which has been proven by numerous court cases and recounts.

Dick Pryor: Oklahoma has had an exemplary election process for many years. How has Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax responded to this request?

Shawn Ashley: Ziriax said the audit was not justified and inconsistent with state law. He noted none of the federal or state candidates requested a recount in the 2020 general election. And he noted that when recounts were requested in a Senate primary runoff election and an Edmond city council election, those recounts bore out the results of the original election counts. Ziriax also pointed out that the audit Roberts requested is not permitted under state law. Roberts indicated the audit he would like would consist of a registration and votes cast audit, a vote count and tally audit, election voting systems audit and a reported results audit. But a state law passed in 2019 only allows a manual or electronic examination of a limited number of ballots by a county election board secretary.

Dick Pryor: So the audit in Oklahoma is likely not going to happen.

Shawn Ashley: That does seem to be the case.

Dick Pryor: Oklahoma remains years behind the curve in implementing Real ID, and that has contributed to significant delays for Oklahomans obtaining or renewing their driver's licenses. Now there's a new person in charge of fixing this big problem, Jay Doyle. What's he going to do about it?

Shawn Ashley: Doyle will be leading a small team charged with identifying the problems within the current process and establishing a long-term solution to address them. Remember, the legislature prohibited the state for nearly 10 years from complying with Real ID. We began in 2017, but that process has been fraught with problems since then.

Dick Pryor: All right. Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and 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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