Pederson Issues Senate Review
Mike Seals - June 8, 2020 10:30 pm
Sen. Roland Pederson
I’ve been pleased with our state’s process for releasing detailed COVID-19 data regarding cases in our municipalities and counties throughout the pandemic, and like many of you, was taken back by the governor’s announcement earlier this month that the State Department of Health would no longer be releasing this information.
While in the middle of the pandemic, the legislature gave the governor expanded powers so the health department could provide personal health information to first responders and law enforcement officers before possibly coming in contact with someone who has COVID-19. The health department also expanded the data they released under these emergency powers to include statistical virus data based on cities, towns and counties with no personal identifying markers. After the emergency powers ended last month, lawyers for both the health department and the governor’s office made the decision to no longer release this data because they felt it would violate health privacy laws.
Fortunately, Attorney General Mike Hunter quickly intervened and shared his opinion that releasing epidemiological information for statistical purposes is legal as long as no individual person can be identified. I’m very glad the health department has since released this data on their website at coronavirus.health.ok.gov. It’s important that our citizens are able to stay informed and are armed with the most accurate data so they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
I’ve also got some good news for our farmers and ranchers around Carmen and Enid—the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has deferred a couple of road projects along Highway 81 in Garfield County and Highway 45 in Alfalfa County that would’ve severely impacted the wheat harvest. While I’m excited for these road projects to get started, I’m also glad ODOT was able to work around harvest while preparing for the major construction phases of the project. I pray that all of our farmers will have a plentiful and smooth wheat harvest this summer.
Finally, I’d also like to share an update from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) regarding payments for unemployment benefits. As of June 1, 71 percent of the backlog present when the new OESC interim director took over has been processed. More than 50,000 unemployment claims were processed the first week of June, and the backlog of claims needing review is now under 3,000.
It’s encouraging that OESC is diligently working to resolve claims that have gotten caught in the system throughout the pandemic, and my heart goes out to those who’ve been waiting for the benefits for weeks and even months. Please remember, if you’ve filed for unemployment but have not received your benefits, you can always reach out to my office for assistance. We may not be able to get you an immediate answer, but we can help move the process along.
Thank you for allowing me to be your voice at the State Capitol. If there’s anything I can help you with, please do not hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at [email protected] or by calling 405-521-5630.