Legislature OKs letting governor’s emergency powers expire

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up its 2020 session on Friday after approving a resolution that calls for sweeping powers granted to the governor under a health emergency to expire at the end of the month.

The resolution calls for powers granted to the governor under the never-before-used Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act to expire on May 30. Those powers include allowing the governor to temporarily suspend laws and regulations that interfere with the state’s ability to respond to the pandemic. It also gives the governor the authority to redirect state employees and other resources, including up to $50 million state funds, from one agency to another, among other things.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the Legislature’s action. Stitt could request that the Legislature return to consider extending the powers again.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate on Friday also voted to override Stitt’s veto of several bills, including measures on funding endowed chairs at state universities and allowing legislators to request documents or information from executive branch agencies.

Among the bills the House and Senate didn’t attempt to override was one Stitt vetoed that would have funded his own Medicaid expansion plan, dubbed Soonercare 2.0. The bill would have increased a fee that hospitals pay to generate about $134 million annually to help fund the state’s share, which is projected to be closer to $170 million.

Without that funding mechanism, it’s unclear how the state would pay for Stitt’s Medicaid proposal, a block-grant-style expansion offered by the Trump administration that would give states more control over Medicaid in exchange for a limit on how much the federal government contributes. If the Trump administration approves Stitt’s proposal, the Medicaid expansion would take effect July 1.

A separate citizen-led traditional Medicaid expansion proposal will be on the ballot in June and will seek to amend the Oklahoma Constitution. If approved by voters, it would would supersede the governor’s proposal, prevent lawmakers from tinkering with it and take effect in July 2021.