By Sen Ron Sharp
Everyone’s dedication to protecting themselves and those around them is paying off. We’re flattening the curve, which will allow our state economy to start back up and help get people back to work.
This has been an extremely difficult time but over the next month please continue practicing social distancing and careful hygiene. Everyone is excited to get out and catch up with friends and do all the activities they’ve been missing out on, but the virus is still out there.
We’re still seeing a high number of new cases every day. If we’re not careful, it can easily get out of control. We must respect it and continue putting the well-being of those with suppressed immune systems and the elderly above our own needs and wants.
Having said that, though, Gov. Stitt and state health officials are leaving it up to local communities to decide whether to begin opening certain non-essential businesses. Oklahoma has met all current White House guidelines to do so and has the scientific data of state health leaders to begin this process. On Wednesday, he announced his three-phase Open Up and Recover Safety (OURS) plan.
The first phase will allow cities to allow personal care businesses (like hair and nail salons, spas and pet groomers) to open on Friday, April 24 by appointment only. Some cities are choosing to keep these businesses closed until May 1 as originally planned based on the health needs of their communities. As they open, continued social distancing and good hygiene will be required. Customers must wait outside the business until the time of their appointment. On this same date, state parks and outdoor recreation areas also could be reopened.
Then starting on May 1, places of worship, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, sporting venues and tattoo parlors can reopen if social distancing and sanitation guidelines are maintained.
Until mid-May, schools, organized sporting events, camps, bars and visits to nursing homes and hospitals will be prohibited.
With the oil field and other industries suffering job losses, I wanted to remind everyone that we have many employers around the state with job openings. You can search the statewide database at https://okjobmatch.com.
I’m also relieved to say that the federal government finally authorized the states to begin issuing the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments to self-employed individuals and those who don’t otherwise qualify for regular unemployment benefits. The Oklahoma Security Employment Commission (OSEC) will begin dispersing payments this week. They have updated their website for this brand-new program to allow applicants to apply directly online at https://ui.ok.gov. Previously, one had to be denied regular unemployment before applying for PUA but not anymore.
If you’re among the Oklahomans who went back to work on Friday or will be this coming Friday, you’ll still receive unemployment benefits for the time you were unable to work. If you return to work fulltime, keep your unemployment claim open online and don’t certify a weekly claim. However, if you’re only working part-time, you’ll need to continue certifying your weekly claim and report your weekly gross earnings to receive partial benefits.
In closing, I had the pleasure of carrying four executive nominations in the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
The committee approved:
Dr. Laressa D. Beliele, Newalla, to the State Board of Behavioral Health Licensure, to serve a three-year term ending October 31, 2022, succeeding Carol Stevenson;
Dr. Kelly Collins, Choctaw, to the State Board of Behavioral Health Licensure, to serve a three-year term ending October 31, 2022, succeeding herself;
Dr. Canaan Crane, Shawnee, to the State Board of Behavioral Health Licensure, to serve a three-year term ending October 31, 2022, succeeding Thom Balmer;
Johnie D. Fredman, Shawnee, to the State Board of Behavioral Health Licensure, to serve a three-year term ending October 31, 2022, succeeding Deborah Moran.
On Thursday, the Senate Energy Committee approved the nomination of Laura Worthen-Lodes, Edmond, to the Air Quality Advisory Council, to serve a seven-year term ending June 15, 2027, succeeding herself.
The Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee also approved Darrin Humphrey, Choctaw, to the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission and Glen Smith, Edmond, to the State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. Darrin will serve a three-year term ending June 30, 2022, succeeding Robert Manchester while Glen will serve a six-year term ending June 30, 2025, succeeding himself. These are outstanding individuals, and I look forward to presenting their nominations next before the full Senate.
If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Ron.Sharp@oksenate.gov or call me at (405) 521-5539.
Senator Ron Sharp , a Republican, represents Senate District 17 and was first elected in 2012. The district includes Shawnee, McLoud, Harrah, Jones, Choctaw and Luther. He is up for re-election in 2020. He is Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Senator Sharp also serves on the Transportation, Appropriations, and Energy Committees. Plus, he is on the Education Sub Committee on Appropriations. Senator Sharp also serves on the Transportation, Appropriations, and Energy Committees. Plus, he is on the Education Sub Committee on Appropriations. Senator Sharp was an educator in the Shawnee Public Schools for 38 years.