There are at least two camps in Oklahoma: those who believe the government is not doing enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus and those who believe the government is overreacting to the pandemic. Regardless of which camp you are in, the truth is we can see clearly the nations and states that have adopted stricter sets of prevention measures have fared better than those with more relaxed measures. I generally look for the middle-ground on issues, but the middle ground for this pandemic looks to be only marginally better than doing nothing at all.
Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist who lived in the 1600s and is famous, in part, due to an argument called “Pascal’s wager.” Pascal argues a rational person should not only live as though God exists, but also seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, a person will experience only a few losses like worldly pleasures and luxury, etc. If God does exist, however, that person stands to receive infinite gains (Heaven) and avoids infinite losses (an eternity in Hell). Basically, Pascal argues, bet on God’s existence and one stands to gain much more than that person will lose.
I bring this up not to debate the religious and theological nature of this wager or to make light of it (and, yes, I believe God exists). Pascal’s wager is a beneficial illustration for us to begin to navigate our stances in regard to the coronavirus pandemic. We have it much easier than Pascal, though, because we know the coronavirus pandemic actually exists. If we wager the coronavirus pandemic is a real threat and do things to decrease exposure, we will be much better off in the end. If we do not believe this pandemic is a real threat and live our lives as normal, we are flirting with disaster.
The conundrum facing the Governor and other leaders is how do we contain the virus without submarining the economy even more? We know other countries like South Korea have virtually halted the spread of coronavirus and with comparatively less impact to their economy by banning travel, following strict social distancing guidelines, swift testing, quarantining those tested, following up on positive tests and tracing those the infected have exposed, and then quarantining those potentially infected people. We have been at a disadvantage because tests have been scarce, but fortunately, tests are becoming more available in our state with both OU and OSU now testing in their labs.
It is time to screen widely. I was relieved when Oklahoma Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge mentioned a partnership with Google yesterday in the Governor’s press briefing where Oklahomans can self-report their symptoms via a link on their phones. This would give the state the ability to see in real-time who are presenting symptoms, locate the possible infected people, instruct them to stay home, and get a test to them quickly.
This will be incredibly helpful to all of us, BUT ONLY AS LONG AS OKLAHOMANS FOLLOW QUARANTINE AND SOCIAL DISTANCING GUIDELINES. We are in this boat together and we need to protect each other. Be a good neighbor, take Pascal’s wager and bet on the pandemic being real and severe. Then, follow the CDC guidelines by self-quarantining when you feel bad, social distancing when you feel fine, washing your hands often, and observing coughing and sneezing etiquette. How we react to this pandemic on a personal level either will pay large dividends to the state and its citizens or incur large losses.
I fully expect local and state leaders will soon be calling for more extensive and more limiting actions. Until then, be rational, wise and responsible. Be willing to do everything you can to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned to “the call of the Chair” on Tuesday, March 17. This means the legislature will be resuming session at some point in the near future, but not this week. Amid all of the uncertainty with the coronavirus pandemic and the oil power play from the Russians and Saudis, your state legislature must focus on what it is constitutionally required to do—and that is to pass a budget.
The state cannot spend more money than it has, which is a stark contrast to our federal government that habitually borrows money for deficit spending. Our state constitution requires a balanced budget each year, and rightly so. If you have been keeping up with the price of oil and gas drop and watching the stock market fall, you can imagine how tough it is to predict how much money the state will have next year—yet a budget must be set.
Generally, budget negotiations between the House, Senate, and Governor start to really heat up in May, but we started in earnest around two weeks ago. With the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic, we have no idea when the legislature will be able to meet again. Solidifying the budget early is crucial and it is the right thing to do. All parties have been working together well and we are closing in on a budget to get us through these tough times ahead.
I encourage all of you to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously and be vigilant. Area doctors report a number of tests from our district are still pending results. Our vigilance now will have a direct effect on how many people in our district are infected later. The reason for “social distancing” is to keep the numbers of infections contained so our hospitals are not overwhelmed. I realize the ideas of quarantine and not congregating in groups of 10 or more are an affront to our concepts of liberty and freedom, but sometimes we need to act in others’ interests instead of our own.
During this uncertain time, it is important to be vigilant, but not afraid. Seek ways to serve others and support local businesses. Be intentional about helping others. You need it and others need it, too! God bless you all.
Our first major deadline passed this week in the Legislature. All bills had to pass in committees in their legislative chamber of origin by Feb. 27 in order to advance.
Deadline weeks are brutal. We heard hundreds of bills in committee this week. I’m thankful that all of my bills passed committee, especially my bill that would end surprise medical billing. This procedure happens when an insured goes in for what they believe is a covered medical procedure only to be surprised by a medical bill from an out-of-network health care provider. My bill would require the insurance companies and the medical providers to come up with a payment solution and leave the patient out of the middle. Having this bill advance out of committee means I can bring the final product to the floor to be voted on by the entire membership of the House.
In total, the House passed 469 House Bills, one House Joint Resolution and one Senate Bill in committees. We’ve passed 26 House Bills or House Joint Resolutions and two House Concurrent Resolutions on the House floor so far and concurred on Senate amendments on one bill carried forward from last year. This is out of 1,381 house bills filed for this session.
Because this is the second session of the 57th Legislature, we were able to carry forward bills that didn’t advance all the way through the legislative process last year. We had 859 House bills or resolutions carried forward, some of which may still be considered.
The next two weeks will be very busy as we now have until March 12 to hear all House bills in the House. Then we will receive Senate bills while they consider bills from our chamber.
On Thursday, this week, I was the presiding officer over the House. This is always an exciting job as it gives me experience at running the speaker’s chair. The House chamber has a set of rules I must not only know but also enforce. The most common action I take is calling the House into order. I can’t tell you how many times I am prompted to call the House to order and ask members to quiet down and focus them on the business being presented. Many members like to use their time on the floor to catch up with other members to discuss various pieces of legislation and I do not blame them for this. With 101 members, this makes for a good deal of noise in the chamber and that noise level must be controlled out of respect to those presenting bills, those questioning bills and those in the gallery and on the floor listening to the bills.
Also this week, I was asked to present a speaker’s bill on the floor that will give doctors who agree to practice medicine in rural and underserved areas a tax credit of up to $25,000 per year. This is an attempt to help us attract more physicians to our rural areas where they are much needed.
We also continue to work with the governor’s office on his Medicaid expansion plan. I’m hoping something will be forthcoming on that front in the near future. Oklahomans want to know the details.
In the meantime, if I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or (405) 557-7327.
Marcus McEntire represents Oklahoma House District 50.