The Second Session of the 57th Legislature concluded its business on Friday, May 22 both in regular and special sessions.
First, we concluded our special session, which was necessary since the Governor invoked the state’s Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act (CHEPA). This is the first time in our state’s history that we’ve had to invoke this act. The CHEPA gave the Governor broad powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing him to use necessary resources to ensure hospital beds and medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE) were available to those needing them. We first approved the CHEPA on April 6 and extended it on May 5.
Our legislative action on Friday allowed the CHEPA Act to expire on May 30. This makes sense now that COVID-19 hospitalizations are down below 100 in Oklahoma and we are on track for Phase-3 re-opening on June 1st. If it becomes necessary to extend emergency powers again, we will have to convene a second special session to do it.
In regular session, we took up seven bills that were passed by a majority of the House and Senate but were vetoed by the Governor. We voted on Friday to override the vetoes, and those bills now become law.
These measures cover a variety of issues, including requiring state agencies to be transparent in sharing information with legislators and not allowing our state agencies to charge the Legislature additional fees on top of the appropriations they receive to conduct the state’s business. The veto overrides for HB4018 and SB1002 passed overwhelmingly and will help provide rural broadband access for all Oklahoman’s.
This legislation is more important now than ever before, especially as more kids are learning from home and more adults are working from home.
The governor did sign many bills into law this week. Among those are a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for state retirees in six of the state’s pension plans, including teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement, public employees, and justices and judges. The COLA is based on the number of years individuals have received retirement benefits from the state.
Those retired for five years or more as of July 1, 2020 will receive a 4 percent increase in monthly pension payments. Those retired at least two years but not five will get a 2 percent increase. It has been 12 years since state retirees last received a COLA.
In that time, we were appropriating money to build the solvency of the plans and to improve the unfunded ratios. A COLA was necessary, however, to help retirees keep up with the rising cost of health insurance premiums and other living expenses. I was glad to help secure this benefit for them.
The Governor also signed my House Bill 3398, which requires state and national background checks for teachers at their next certification date and for other education employees by July 1, 2022. This closes a loophole that has allowed thousands of people to work in public schools without criminal background checks. Many non-classroom employees, as well as teachers hired before 2010, have never had such background checks. This is an important protection for our students.
As a friendly reminder, the voter registration deadline for the June 30th primary election is June 5th. And the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is Tuesday, June 23rd. You can register or request an absentee ballot online by going to www.ok.gov , or by picking up an application at any tag agency, library, or the Tulsa County Election Board downtown. Absentee ballots for the June 30th primary must be received by the Election Board by 7pm on June 30th.
Finally I want to congratulate Sand Springs own Sherry Durkee for being named the 2020 Oklahoma Associations of School Administrators (OASA) District 5 Superintendent of the Year. Sherry is a great leader and one of the hardest workers I know. She is a good friend, and is always available when I need to discuss legislation or issues that may affect our public schools. Thank you Sherry for all you do for our students!
Until next time then, I can be reached at Jadine.Nollan@okhouse.gov or at my Capitol office by calling (405) 557-7390. God bless.