OKLAHOMA CITY — One of the most bizarre legislative sessions in state history ended — maybe — Friday night as lawmakers adjourned but left open the possibility of returning if something (such as more vetoes by Gov. Kevin Stitt) comes up.
“It has been a very unusual session, and thank you all for working as hard as you had even when we have been at home,” said Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
The session that began Feb. 3 and was interrupted for more than a month by the COVID-19 pandemic has included a highly publicized fight between the state’s gaming tribes and Stitt over compact renewal and fees and a budget spat between the Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.
The latter resulted in lawmakers’ overriding of Stitt’s vetoes on four budget-related bills.
Two lawmakers and some staff members were sickened during the COVID-19 outbreak. The epidemic caused legislators to give Gov. Kevin Stitt unprecedented powers under the little-known and never-before-invoked Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act.
Also unprecedented were legislative proxy voting and a change in the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act so public bodies could meet by video or conference call.
Amid all of that, the Republican legislative leaders sued the executive branch to force Stitt to declare a revenue failure for fiscal year 2020 so reserve funds could be tapped to plug budget holes.
But the most action came earlier this week when Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed a $7.7 billion fiscal year 2020 budget bill and three supporting bills, only to have lawmakers override those vetoes within hours, showing cracks in the relationship between the two branches of government.
Lawmakers sailed a few darts in Stitt’s direction on the way out the door but also sent him some legislation he wanted. Most notably, they approved an array of mechanisms to fund his proposed SoonerCare 2.0, a form of Medicaid expansion set to begin on July 1.
One piece of that puzzle — tapping into the annual tobacco settlement payments — would require a vote of the people.
The same funding streams could be used for the expanded Medicaid proposed by State Question 802, but that would require separate legislative action.
Stitt might not be as pleased with the cost of living increases for state pensioners that was given final approval by the Legislature on Friday. He also might not be keen on one of the Legislature’s final acts.
Rather than adjourning “sine die” — a Latin phrase meaning final adjournment — lawmakers adopted a resolution that would allow them to come back any time before the May 29 constitutional deadline for adjournment. That forces Stitt to either sign or veto all legislation presented to him with time remaining for lawmakers to return for another override.
In fact, House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, advised House members to be ready to return next Friday for just such an occasion.
Friday was eventful in the House and Senate but not overly dramatic. Besides the SoonerCare 2.0 measures, the House spent two hours passing and sending to the governor a bill that would allow a woman who has received an abortion and her close relatives to sue the abortion provider if they decide, after the fact, that the woman was not provided sufficient informed consent.
Also passed was legislation barring so-called red flag laws, which allow preemptive action to confiscate the guns of people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
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