Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Pandemic precaution protocols for 2021 legislative session announced


Pandemic precaution protocols for 2021 session announced

OKLAHOMA CITY (January 29th) – Pandemic precaution protocols for the 2021 legislative session were announced Friday.

To protect against the spread of the COVID-19 while preserving legislative functionality and public access, the Senate and House of Representatives will each:

  • Continue livestreaming all proceedings online.
  • Reduce committee room and legislative chamber gallery capacity to accommodate social distancing while strictly enforcing capacity limits, with committee seating first reserved for committee members and staff followed by the public.
  • Establish committee overflow spaces throughout the building where committee proceedings will be broadcast in areas conducive to social distancing.
  • Allow forms of remote voting upon approval of additional legislative rules once session begins.
  • Continue the mask policy of masks should be worn where social distancing is not possible.
  • Provide regular testing of members and staff.
  • Prohibit public gatherings in legislative chambers, committee rooms and hallways.
  • Limit floor appearances by the public.
  • Continue regular and extensive cleaning, keep doors open where possible, increase availability of hand sanitizer, and display additional protocol and precaution signage throughout legislative space.
  • Utilize a socially-distanced seating chart for joint sessions.

In addition, the Oklahoma State Department of Health made COVID-19 vaccinations available to all legislators earlier this month as part of its planned second tier of vaccinations. By early in session, a large majority of the Legislature will have been vaccinated in the interest of continuity of government.

The protocols will be regularly evaluated and are subject to change during session.

The 48-member Senate will allow remote voting for committee and proxy voting for floor votes.

“These protocols allow the Legislature to function without interruption while maintaining safety and access for members, staff and the citizens we serve,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David, R-Porter. “Shutting down the Legislature or public access to it were not options, so we developed a comprehensive, bicameral approach that is reasonable and allows the people’s business to safely continue.”

The 101-member House will allow remote voting for committee votes. Floor votes can occur from desks on the fourth floor or from a designated members-only area in the fifth floor chamber gallery in order to reduce the number of members on the floor for social distancing flexibility. Plexiglass dividers have been installed on desks in the House chamber, where two members sit at each desk as opposed to one member at each desk in the Senate.

“Functionality, safety and transparency are all accounted for in these protocols,” said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “These are the same types of practical precautions legislative bodies and organizations of all kinds are using worldwide. It won’t be typical, but it is the right thing to do until the pandemic subsides enough to resume normal operations.”

The protocols were developed by legislator working groups led by David in the Senate and Echols in the House. The groups consulted with public health professionals and reviewed protocols at other legislative bodies to set the policies, which were recommended to and approved by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, in the Senate and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, in the House.

“I appreciate the work of my Democratic and Republican Senate colleagues, as well as Senate staff, for their work on pandemic preparations,” Treat said. “The threat from COVID-19 is real and should be taken seriously by all Oklahomans. With these protocols, we are taking steps to protect the health and safety of those who work in the Capitol and those who may visit. With that said, I still encourage those who do not need to be at the Capitol to remotely follow the work of the Legislature.”

Senate protocols can be viewed here.

“We are taking the pandemic seriously. These are significant, responsible changes that I applaud my colleagues for developing,” McCall said. “If you need to be at the Capitol, you can be here safely. If you do not need to be at the Capitol, you can still view all proceedings online and contact your legislators anytime.”

House protocols can be viewed here.

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