OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State legislators and officials are saying they are dismayed Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed a bipartisan bill that was created to extend state employees’ unused vacation time.

State Senator Frank Simpson, R-Springer, issued comments through Oklahoma Senate Communications, saying he is shocked and disappointed that Stitt vetoed Senate Bill 176, which was unanimously approved by both the Oklahoma Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

SB 176 would have extended the deadline passed in the last legislative session, temporarily increasing state employees’ annual leave accumulation limits and allowing those workers to carry over their unused annual leave beyond the state-allowed cap due to the COVID-19 pandemic until the end of Fiscal Year 2022. The bill would have extended the benefit through the end of Fiscal Year 2023.

“I’m beyond upset and confused by Governor Stitt vetoing this measure to protect the annual leave of thousands of state employees who were unable to take off and use their legally earned time during the pandemic,” Simpson said. “While most of the state was shut down in 2020 and parts of 2021, our state employees worked even longer hours to provide critical state services to the citizens of Oklahoma. This bill simply recognized the unique circumstances of the pandemic and would have given these public servants one more year to use their vacation time. This is the least the state of Oklahoma can do to express our gratitude for the incredible dedication shown by these frontline professionals throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Sadly, the work of our state employees has often been overlooked through this ordeal, and Governor Stitt’s veto is the ultimate insult to them. This bill will not negatively impact taxpayers or state agencies unless our state employees quit from the governor’s inconsiderate veto and unfair treatment.”

Stitt said in his veto message that the legislation would have a negative impact on taxpayers and create a continuing fiscal burden on state agencies. Simpson, however, said Stitt’s argument is completely false and inconsiderate of the state’s 33,000 hardworking state employees. He said a fiscal analysis of the bill shows very little to no impact on taxpayers or state agencies.

Current law allows state employees to accrue a set amount of annual leave based on their years of service. An employee has until December 31 to use any excess annual leave once the cap is surpassed, or it is lost.

The limit is 240 hours for state employees with less than five years of service, while employees with five or more years of service can accrue up to 480 hours.

“Due to working extended hours and weekends and then not being able to take off due to staff shortages, COVID-19 quarantines, and other issues, many state employees will be forced to lose hundreds of hours of annual leave on June 30 when FY’22 ends. SB 176 would have provided state employees one more year to spend their excess annual leave,” a Senate news release states.

House Veterans Committee Chair Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, said state employees serving Oklahoma veterans are among those who will lose leave time because Stitt vetoed the bill.

“I am deeply disappointed in the Governor’s veto of SB 176. The state employees who worked during a very critical time in our history and weren’t able to take their earned leave are now wrongly being punished for serving the people of Oklahoma,” Hardin said. “Among those affected by this veto are medical professionals at our state veterans’ homes. During the pandemic and the subsequent variants of COVID-19, those dedicated professionals worked long hours to take care of our aging heroes. This veto is disgraceful.”

Oklahoma Public Employee Association (OPEA) Executive Director Sterling Zearley was also disappointed by Stitt’s veto.

“We are disappointed that SB 176 was vetoed. Oklahoma state employees have been stretched thinner than ever before since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Therefore, many employees have been unable to use their earned leave due to the critical staffing levels paired with the pandemic response,” Zearley said.