House and Senate leaders on Monday announced restricted access to the Capitol building in response to the COVID-19 challenge in Oklahoma.
Beginning Tuesday, in order to reduce the potential for community spread of COVID-19, access to the Capitol will be restricted to elected state officials, essential Capitol staff, credentialed press and state officials invited to essential meetings. These restrictions are similar to protocols put in place recently at the U.S. Capitol and other capitol buildings nationwide.
The actions were announced jointly by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, and Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City.
“We consulted public health officials about access to the Capitol building, and they affirmed limited access is the right decision at this time in order to protect the public,” McCall said. “This change protects public health while allowing Legislature to keep working so the government can continue functioning. We will monitor the situation on a day-by-day basis in the event further actions are needed. Oklahomans should know we are fully engaged on this matter and working collaboratively in a bipartisan manner to confront this challenge.”
Republicans and Democrats in both chambers met in rare joint Caucus meetings Monday to discuss the changes and hear from health officials about the state’s ongoing response to coronavirus and COVID-19.
“This is an extraordinary and unprecedented situation happening across the globe,” Treat said. “All Oklahomans should heed the guidance and direction of state and federal health officials to help stop the spread of this virus. These practical and necessary steps are a way for the Legislature, in a bipartisan and bicameral manner, to do our part to ‘flatten the curve,’ while protecting public health and providing flexibility for the Senate and House to continue functioning.”
Despite the limited access to the building, committee meetings and floor sessions can continue to be monitored by the public through live streaming online, and legislation will continue to be publicly available in accordance with existing rules. Additionally, maintaining the presence of the press in the building will allow for continued public awareness of the work being done at the Capitol.
“Right now, the legislature is focused on doing the work of the people in the safest way possible,” Virgin said. “As information becomes available, we will do our best to ensure the public is notified in a timely manner. At this moment, we encourage Oklahomans to stay vigilant and remain proactive by adhering to the recommendations of the CDC.”
The leaders said legislative rule changes to ensure continuity of legislative operations are under consideration for adoption in the near future.
“We are focused on ensuring the critical business of the people is addressed in a way that prioritizes public safety,” Floyd said. “I applaud the leaders and members of both chambers for their professionalism and cooperation during this challenging time.