Government , Health

Congressional special session held virtually as COVID-19 cases increase

Photo caption: The 7th Osage Nation Congress meets virtually for the 3rd Special Session on Nov. 17, 2020. Osage News Screenshot

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Oklahoma, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress started its third special session on Nov. 17 with 10 members attending virtually to maintain physical distancing.

That morning, Speaker Angela Pratt called the session to order from the Congressional offices and meeting area in the Capitol Building along Pawhuska’s Main Street. The session, like others since the 2020 Hun-Kah Session in March, is being held with Congress members participating by videoconference. Video and audio recordings of the sessions and Congressional committee meetings are live-streamed and available on the Nation’s website for later on-demand access.

In her opening Speaker’s legislative message, Pratt said: “I hope everyone is doing well, I believe that as cases are up in our community and our world, I have asked that the members of Congress attend session remotely for their safety as well as our staff to minimize exposure.”

This is the first Osage Congressional session where all members excluding the Speaker met virtually. In previous regular and special sessions held during the pandemic, some Congress members opted to attend in-person while others attended virtually from home or other off-site locations. Those who attended in-person wore masks and sat at small individual tables spaced out in the rectangular-shaped meeting area, which is the lobby of the former First National Bank.  

Other government personnel allowed in the Congressional office during the session included Congressional Clerk Shana Robedeaux who conducts parliamentary duties for the session and ON Communications employees to run electronic equipment to live stream the session for the public.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear also appeared at the podium to deliver an executive message at the session’s start to give a synopsis of items the Congress members would be considering during the session. Those session items include appropriation bills to fund construction of a new chapel and Wakon Iron community building for the Pawhuska village and a $5 million appropriation bill to replenish the Nation’s Permanent Fund for government operation costs during the two-month shutdowns of the Nation’s Osage Casinos in spring 2020.

The special session items remained under consideration as Congress voted by majority to meet again Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 10 a.m.     

The shift in having a virtual session comes as state and local government officials in Oklahoma restate health recommendations to reduce COVID-19 spread while some cities issued mask mandates one week ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. On Nov. 20, the City of Hominy issued a mask mandate in public places where social distancing isn’t possible and is the first Osage County city to do so.

Other regional Oklahoma cities moving to issue recent mask mandates within city limits include Jenks, Sapulpa and Glenpool in addition to Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

According to COVID-19 data reported by the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center, the clinic conducted 177 COVID-19 tests during the week of Nov. 9-13 with 15 individuals testing positive. The week before (Nov. 2-6), 180 tests were conducted and 16 tested positive.   

State health officials reported the first COVID-19 case in Oklahoma on March 6 in Tulsa County with the patient being a male in his 50s who recently traveled to Italy. On March 25, health officials reported the first COVID-19 case in Osage County. Then-Congressional Speaker Joe Tillman announced the 2020 Hun-Kah Session (held late March through April) would be closed to the public and Congressional rules were waived to allow Congress members to attend sessions virtually.

Tillman and Pratt both noted at separate times as Speaker that having the means to hold sessions virtually is important with some Congress members being in the high-risk COVID-19 demographic due to elder age and health conditions and others opted for remote session attendance because they help care for elderly parents and other family members at home.

In addition to Congressional sessions closed to the public, the Congressional Office remains closed to public access as well with staff and Congress members remaining accessible by phone or email.

For information on Congressional sessions, committee meetings or filed legislation, the Congressional office can be reached at (918) 287-5543 or visit the ON Legislative Branch website at https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/legislative-branch