Monday, Sept. 13, 2021
Capitol Watch

Biden’s Vaccine Order Met With Defiance, Hostility and Praise in Oklahoma

Paula Smith, a therapeutic and certified medical aide at the Fort Sill Veterans Center in Lawton, received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 9, 2021. Smith was one of 20 employees at the facility who opted to get the vaccine during the center’s first clinic. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

By Trevor Brown | Capitol/Investigative Reporter

President Joe Biden announced last week that he is ordering a new vaccine mandate that will cover about 100 million American, including thousands of Oklahomans.

Biden’s executive order will specifically require vaccinations for all federal workers and millions of private-sector federal contractors and health-care workers. It will also require private employers with 100 or more employers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly.

Not surprisingly, the news was met with a mix of condemnation, frustration and praise in Oklahoma. And also not surprisingly, the debate was split sharply along party lines.

Gov. Kevin Stitt set up a potential battle over the issue as said in a statement that “as long as I am governor, there will be no government vaccine mandates” in the state.

“It is not the government’s role to dictate to private businesses what to do,” he said. “Once again President Biden is demonstrating his complete disregard for individual freedoms and states’ rights.”

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who Stitt recently appointed, also signaled that the state will fight the order in court.

“My office will vigorously oppose any attempt by the federal government to mandate vaccines,” he said in a statement. “We are preparing litigation to stand up for our rights and defend the rule of law against the overreach of the federal government.”

Republican legislative leaders were also united in opposition to Biden’s move.

“President Biden is about to see the U.S. Constitution still matters in Oklahoma,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, called the order “a gross overreach” by Biden and stated that getting vaccinated should be a personal choice even though “the vaccines are safe and effective.”

But Democrats placed the blame squarely at Republicans, including Stitt, for not being more proactive to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said Biden’s order “showed us that there are leaders in America that don’t believe COVID has to be our ‘new normal.'”

“I understand that nobody likes a mandate, but if Republicans want to find someone to blame for the president’s actions, they should look in the mirror,” she said in a statement. “Last November, when 1,400 Oklahomans had died of COVID, our caucus asked Governor Stitt what his plan was to keep that number from getting to 2,000. Today, 10 months later, more than 8,000 Oklahomans have died, and we are still waiting on a plan from the governor.”

What do you think? Should there be a mandate for federal, health care and private businesses to have their employers vaccinated? Let me know know your thoughts by emailing me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

The Top Story

Imad Enchassi, Muslim imam and professor of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma City University, prayed for the safety of Afghan people during an interfaith service at the Oklahoma City National Memorial on Aug. 31, 2021. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

As Oklahoma Prepares to Welcome Afgan Refugees, Many Question Linger

A Catholic organization responsible for refugee resettlement and leaders of the Oklahoma City Muslim community are preparing for hundreds of displaced Afghan families to arrive in Oklahoma.

But Oklahoma Watch‘s Lionel Ramos reports that questions of when they might arrive, how many are coming, where they will be housed and how will Oklahomans great them remain unanswered. [Read More]

Tweet Watch

Oklahoma lawmakers are learning more about how they’ll be able to spend $1.9 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds earmarked for the state.

Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, tweeted this graphic after lawmakers met for several hours last week to preliminarily discuss how they’ll recommend spending the money. The eligible uses fall into five categories: supporting the public health response, responding to negative economic impacts, premium pay for essential workers, revenue loss and investments in infrastructure.

I reported earlier in Oklahoma Watch that lawmakers and the governor must decide how to spend the money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026. So expect to see a lot of differing opinions, and probably some heated debate, on how this big pot of money should be spent between now and then.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • Gov. Kevin Stitt is coming under fire for removing two members of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board shortly after a majority of its members voted against his interests on Medicaid managed care. [The Oklahoman]
  • As Oklahoma hospitals remain inundated with patients, one state lawmaker is also hospitalized with COVID-19. A state capitol source on Thursday confirmed Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, had been hospitalized but no other details about his condition or location were immediately available. Hardin was among Republican lawmakers over the summer to oppose vaccine mandates by businesses and hospitals. [The Daily Ardmoreite]
  • Oklahoma hospitals have transitioned to some crisis standards of care as COVID-19 inundates emergency rooms and intensive care units, and the substantial strains on the hospital system are manifesting in myriad ways that aren’t limited to COVID-19 patients. [Tulsa World]
  • The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is appealing a temporary injunction that is now blocking the enforcement of the state’s new law against school mask mandates. [Tulsa World]
  • Two members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board have been repeatedly targeted by district attorneys from across the state in an attempt to keep them from hearing cases of prisoners who are trying to have their sentences shortened. [The Frontier]

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