Wednesday, June 21, 2023

State of Emergency declared in storm-affected counties (and the drama that led to it)

After severe storms blasted through the state late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, knocking power out to hundreds of thousands of customers and causing major damage in much of the northeastern part of the state, there was widespread expectation for a quick declaration of a state of emergency by the governor. This would relax some regulations and restrictions to enable swifter response by government emergency agencies and relief organizations, as well as trigger consumer protections laws against price gouging, et cetera.

What happened next was chaos.

The hang-up? The Governor is out of the country at the Paris Air Show, a highly-touted aerospace event that Oklahoma has regularly sent delegations to for industry recruitment efforts.

No problem. When the Governor is out of state, the Lieutenant Governor becomes acting-governor in his stead. Problem is, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell is also out of state at the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association Annual Conference in Georgia.

As The Oklahoman's Dale Denwalt noted, the Oklahoma Constitution puts the Senate President Pro Tempore as third-in-line (House Speaker is next). However, it seems that there was a tremendous punt of miscommunication - or total lack of communication - from the Governor's office regarding the status of acting governor during his absence.

According to Treat, prior administrations proactively communicated when the governor or lieutenant governor were out of state — giving the senate president notice when he was in charge. However, Treat asserted that the Stitt administration has started handling such situations differently.

"Something changed last year where they don't do that anymore, and we just get notified via email, 'Hey, FYI, the governor was out of state these days. You were acting governor these days,'" Treat shared.

Lieut. Gov. Pinnell says that the emergency declaration couldn't be issued until the conclusion of an assessment from the state's emergency management agency that was not completed until yesterday:
This unfortunate situation could have been resolved by better communication (and perhaps scheduling?) from the Governor's office. In the future, even if there is no formal, legislative reform to the process, there should be some sort of public notice posted when the governor has to transfer authority temporarily.

I'm posting three press releases below in the order they were initially released yesterday. First, at 2:08pm, Gov. Stitt called on [Acting Governor] Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat to sign an executive order to declare a state of emergency in his absence. Second, at 2:43, Treat issued a press release saying that he had signed the order, along with some fairly pointed words about Gov. Stitt. Third, at 3:32pm, Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced that the state's price gouging statute had been triggered by the emergency declaration, and called for reforms to be made to the acting-governor/emergency declaration process.


OKLAHOMA CITY (June 20, 2023) - Today, Governor Kevin Stitt called on the Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat to sign Executive Order 2023-18 declaring a State of Emergency in Creek, Delaware, Harper, Mayes, Pawnee, Payne, Rogers, Tulsa, Wagoner, and Choctaw counties following recent storms across the state. This declaration has been ordered following the most recent reports from the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, who has been working closely with local jurisdictions as they survey the storm damage and debris, including damage to public buildings, infrastructure, and utilities. Since Thursday, an emergency waiver has been in place allowing for size and weight exemptions for power crews assisting in power and storm recovery.

“My heart goes out to the Oklahomans impacted by last weekend’s severe weather, and the many people still overcoming the aftermath of those storms,” said Governor Stitt. “The State, including the Oklahoma Department Emergency Management and Homeland Security continues to be responsive through emergency declarations, waivers, and requests to impacted areas to restore power, protect critical infrastructure and to get Oklahomans the resources they need during these trying times. I am thankful for our emergency response teams and power crews who are working tirelessly to restore utilities in the affected areas.”

The State has been fielding requests from local jurisdictions for power generation for water and waste treatment plants, including emergency communication centers across the impacted areas. At this time, the state has met all requested generation needs. Out of more than 350,000 outages reported early Sunday morning after storms passed through the state, only approximately 150,000 outages remain statewide. Governor Stitt has been in close communication with the Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s CEO who has reported more than 2,700 power crews have been working around the clock on restoration, and power crews from as far as New Jersey have been deployed to assist.  The State is also working with local gas supply companies to supply generators to ensure Oklahomans will continue to have a stable gas supply. 

“I want to thank the State for declaring a state of emergency in Tulsa as our city continues to grip with the aftermath of the June 18 storm,” said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum. “With this declaration, Tulsa will be able to further assist our residents with this disaster and align resources to seek federal reimbursement. I want to thank my fellow Tulsans for your perseverance and resilience during this trying time in our city.”

“This State of Emergency will be key in the coming days as we continue to work with our emergency management partners across the state and at FEMA to identify damages in the impacted areas and determine whether aid may be available to assist communities,” said ODEMHS Director Mark Gower. “We’re grateful to all the responders, power crews, emergency managers, voluntary agencies, and others who have stepped up yet again to help Oklahomans.”

Executive Order 2023-18 will remain in effect for 30 days.

Senate Pro Tem Treat Signs Emergency Declaration for Eastern Oklahoma
Pro Tem Treat signed executive order within the hour of finding out he was acting governor

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 20th) – Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, today signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for eastern Oklahoma after storms ravaged parts of the state over the weekend, leaving some still without power.

The pro tem was notified he was acting governor by the Governor’s Office around 1 p.m. today.

He began reviewing the documents the governor’s office prepared at 1:40 p.m. and signed it before 2 p.m. – prior to the governor’s press release calling on the pro tem to sign the state of emergency.

Pro Tem Treat has yet to hear directly from Governor Kevin Stitt regarding the emergency declaration, but has been in communication with Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.

The pro tem became acting governor today as both Governor Kevin Stitt and Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell are both currently out of state. He signed the executive order within the hour of finding out he was acting governor.

According to the Oklahoma Constitution, when both the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state, the power then falls to the Senate President Pro Tempore.

The state of emergency is for Choctaw, Creek, Delaware, Harper, Mayes, Pawnee, Payne, Rogers, Tulsa and Wagoner counties.

Pro Tem Treat said he acted immediately upon being informed he was acting governor.

“I personally witnessed the damage and devastation of the storms as I drove back to Oklahoma City from Catoosa yesterday,” Pro Tem Treat said. “It was clear that people in eastern Oklahoma are struggling and need all the support the state can give them during this time. Impacted Oklahomans are still without power and heat indexes are exceeding triple digits. This action will relax laws and regulations on the shipping of goods for emergency use, allow agencies to have more purchasing powers, among other measures in order to bring much needed relief. It also automatically triggers the state’s price gouging statute that way Oklahomans aren’t being taken advantage of by individuals who are trying to charge more than necessary for goods and services. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with our neighbors as they continue to recover after this storm.”

The executive order will remain in effect for 30 days and can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.

Drummond announces price gouging statute in effect for Eastern Oklahoma, calls for reforms of emergency response procedures

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 20, 2023) – Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced that today’s declaration of emergency for eastern Oklahima in the aftermath of Saturday’s storms has now triggered activation of the Emergency Price Stabilization Act. After the declaration was delayed for so many days, Drummond is also calling for reform of certain emergency response procedures. 

The impacted counties are Choctaw, Creek, Delaware, Harper, Mayes, Pawnee, Payne, Rogers, Tulsa and Wagoner.

“As a result of this declaration of emergency, Oklahoma can act proactively to protect consumers instead of simply waiting for them to be scammed by unscrupulous actors,” he said. “I greatly appreciate the leadership of Acting Gov. Treat, coordinating with the professional staff members of the Governor’s office, to ensure Oklahoma consumers receive the greatest possible protection.”

Drummond said the days-long lack of action highlights the need to reform certain emergency response procedures. 

“While I understand there are many measures the Governor can employ in times like these when out of the state, an emergency declaration can only be issued by a Governor who is physically within the state of Oklahoma,” Drummond said. "However, there is no requirement for the Governor to notify the Lieutenant Governor when traveling out of the state. There is similarly not a requirement for the Lieutenant Governor to notify the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, or on down the line of succession. We have seen the unnecessary delay and confusion this creates, all at the expense of Oklahomans struggling to cope with emergency circumstances."

Drummond said it would take a simple change in law to require better communication between high level officials in the line of succession. 

“My fellow Oklahomans in the Tulsa area have been suffering a great deal and deserve the utmost focus and attention in times like these,” Drummond said. “I hope the Governor and Legislature will work to ensure Oklahoma families and businesses don’t experience similar delays when future disaster strikes.”

Drummond also encourages citizens to be on the lookout for contractor fraud and to report suspected fraud by calling toll free 833.681.1895. 


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