State leaders urging the governor to call special session to allow for virtual meetings to continue

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Starting this week, state leaders are forced to hold all meetings in person and cities are already starting to cancel their city council meetings due to COVID-19 concerns.

“This is gonna happen. It’s gonna happen again and again and again until we get virtual meetings,” said Adam Graham, The Village City Council Member- Ward 3.

Just a day after Senate Bill 661 expired, The Village City Council is already feeling the effects.

“We had a council meeting called for Monday, our regular meeting. We had a couple of council members that were exposed to Covid and staff. With that expiring, it did not give us the ability to meet virtually on Monday so we had to cancel our second meeting in a row,” Graham said.

Senate Bill 661 was passed back in March and signed by Governor Kevin Stitt– which gave public bodies the ability to conduct business virtually.

Graham was not the only person calling for a special session to extend the exemptions to the open meetings act.

After two House of Representative members announced they had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Rep. Mickey Dollens telling News 4 the same.

“The provision to allow all levels of government to conduct business virtually must be extended,” Dollens said.

And even before that, Rep. Emily Virgin held a press conference last Tuesday.

“There’s no reason that we should force public bodies and the citizens participating in these meetings to revert back to physical meetings when this provision has served everyone very well during the time of Covid,” Virgin said during the press conference.

Virgin tells News 4 a special session is necessary.

“If it were something, a limited special session to deal with this, I think it’s absolutely doable. Frankly we just need to cut through the excuses,” Virgin said. “I think it would pass. It’s a common-sense measure.”

The governor’s office sent News 4 this statement in response–

“Public bodies across the country from Congress to the local level have been safely meeting in-person using the same health precautions that have been in place at businesses, churches and schools for months.
The governor agrees with the Oklahoma Press Association that a special session is not necessary and encourages public bodies to continue to offer virtual attendance and live streaming as authorized under the existing Open Meeting Act and to take the same reasonable public health precautions that are in place across the country.”

“For the governor to ask us to continue to operate as normal is irresponsible,” Graham said.

OG&E was supposed to be at the now canceled Village City council meeting to address some of the residents who went without power for up to two weeks as a result of the ice storm. They’re now expected to be at the next meeting.

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