OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Oklahoma House Democrats are pushing back against a Republican supermajority in the Legislature and Republican Governor Kevin Stitt’s lack of action on the dramatic increases in COVID in Oklahoma.
In a statement Monday, the Democrats acknowledged the rapid spread of COVID D-variant across the state just as parents and students are preparing to return to school early to mid-August.
According to the CDC’s data tracker, Oklahoma is ranked 41st nationally with only 40% of our population vaccinated as of information released July 2.
In light of the outbreak, Democratic legislators are calling for a special session to repeal Senate Bill 658 passed in this last legislative session.
HB 658 prohibits public school districts from mandating the wearing of masks, one of the practices that slows the spread of airborne diseases like COVID and even the common flu.
Governor’s refusal to act
One provision in the law makes room for districts to make the requirement as long as the governor has declared a state of emergency. Stitt has already said recently that he has no intention of doing so citing certain “freedoms” that residents should have about whether to have their children vaccinated or wearing a mask.
The law plus Stitt’s refusal to declare a state of emergency leaves school districts in a bind as to how to handle the return to school, which is expected this fall and to keep children safe.
The CDC recommends people 12 years of age and up to receive the vaccine but not children below that age. Their guidelines say “Children between the ages of 2 and 12 should wear a mask in public spaces and around people they don’t live with.”
“What has to happen before we take COVID seriously?” asked House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman.
“We have children in ICU. Our schools are about to open without the ability to protect staff and students, and as cases continue to rise, our vaccination rate is one of the worst in the nation.”
She said that if Stitt was “going to abdicate his responsibility” it was time for the Legislature to take action.
Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-OKC took the Republican majority in the House to task for their “inability to lead and adequately serve Oklahomans.”
“We knew Senate Bill 658 was irresponsible and short-sighted and now we are seeing the challenges local decision-makers are faced with as they do everything possible to keep those they serve safe and alive,” Munson said.
Essential workers’ children
Rep. José Cruz, D-OKC, represents a district made up of essential workers on the southwest corner of Oklahoma City. He said it’s “time to act now before we lose more Oklahomans.”
“I represent some of the hardest working Oklahomans in House District 89,” said Cruz. “When the pandemic first hit, we were the hardest hit. We had the least access to vaccines, and we lost our friends and family.”
He continued, “We value our health because it’s the only way we get up every day to provide for our families.”
“I work very closely with the healthcare industry and frontline workers,” said Rep. Ajay Pittman, D-OKC. “There is so much at stake during this health crisis for our communities of color, including our students, businesses, and tribes.”
Local control matters
Southside Democratic Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-OKC, took on the disjuncture between the common contention by Republicans that they value local control only to overrule local decisions saying that “the lives of our children are at stake.”
“Whether you are for or against any particular health provision, I think we all can agree that decisions are best made by the people directly impacted by them,” said Dollens.
“The time to act is NOW,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City. “Local officials need options. Right now the only option they have is to close school buildings and go virtual. The best instruction is in-person instruction and we must work to preserve that option safely.”
Not only have Republican legislators said that tax-supported local schools cannot make the decision to require masks, some recently called for private businesses to ask the legislature before requiring masks in their private businesses, especially hospitals.
Last Updated August 10, 2021, 2:27 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor