The Legislature last week passed the first bill of the session, and the governor already signed it into law.
Senate Bill 1301 reinstates temporary modifications to the Open Meetings Act allowing once again for virtual meetings among state agencies, boards and commissions.
Last year, during the onset of the COVID pandemic, the Legislature granted virtual meetings, but the act expired in November. This bill reinstates the practice until Feb. 15, 2022, or 30 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency expires. Many of these public bodies are small. So one member having to quarantine could mean the board did have a quorum and could not meet. In Northwestern Oklahoma we also have boards that cover large areas. Being able to meet virtually saves members long drives. Public bodies still will have to post virtual meeting notices and provide access codes to the public so the meetings can be viewed. This ensures openness and transparency. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt if the number of people watching these meetings has increased with this convenient way to observe the people’s business.
This was a busy week at the Capitol with numerous bills passing out of multiple committees. Those measures now are eligible to be considered by the full House. We have until March 11 to pass them to the Senate.
Our Public Health Committee, of which I am a member, passed a bill that would prohibit a person from performing or inducing an abortion upon a pregnant woman unless that person is a physician licensed to practice medicine in the State of Oklahoma who is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. This will protect patients and should reduce the number of abortions performed in our state.
Also this week, we heard an update on COVID vaccinations from state Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed. He said he expects about 33% of the population of Oklahoma not to get vaccinated, but he followed that by saying that about 43% of Oklahomans 65 and older already have received their first dose.
Currently, the Health Department is in Phase 2 of the state vaccination plan. On Feb. 22, they will start vaccinating teachers and staff in state PreK through 12 schools as well as those under the age of 65 that have underlying health conditions. They will continue vaccinations for those over the age of 65, health care workers who work directly with COVID patients and first responders. The general public will be in Phase 4 of the plan. The Health Department only receives vaccine supply information from the federal government one week at a time, so we don’t know yet when Phase 3 or Phase 4 might start. But I will keep you posted as soon as I have the information.