OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans who disregard the state Capitol’s mask mandate are being treated with “kid gloves,” the president pro tem of the state Senate said.
“Compliance is hard to come about when you’re trying to exercise your constitutional right of being up here and redress(ing) your grievances with the government, so we’re trying to handle it, (but) we’re handling it right now with kid gloves and not try(ing) to have to get troopers and others involved in accosting people who are not compliant,” said state Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “I strongly encourage that you follow the rules in place to be able to respect the health of others in the building.”
Ahead of the Feb. 1 start of session, leaders announced face coverings must be worn inside the Capitol when social distancing is not possible.
The mask requirement is supposed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 during the four-month session and protect staff and visitors who must be in the building, but haven’t yet been given access to the vaccine. Elected lawmakers are exempt from the rule.
But less than a week into the session, Republicans are facing criticism for not enforcing the building’s masking requirement following the first big public gathering last week that saw dozens of abortion abolitionists gather. They sang and chanted loudly as they stood together in Senate space. Few wore the required face coverings.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said when she left a committee meeting Wednesday, she had to walk through a crowd of visitors who were not masked.
She complained to a sergeant-at-arms, who is tasked with maintaining order and enforcing rules, and later to the Senate’s Republican floor majority leader.
Floyd said she’s “very concerned” that visitors are not complying with the rules mandating masks in all state buildings.
“If it’s not going to be enforced, and if people are not going to abide by that order, then we’re going to have to make some corrections in how we do things up at the Capitol,” she said.
Treat also said he was approached by a Democratic senator who complained about the maskless gathering, and he directed the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to try to intervene. But, non-compliance does put the sergeants “in a difficult spot.”
Treat, who has received his COVID-19 vaccination, said there’s been “tremendous compliance” from Senate leadership. And there has been “very good compliance” wearing masks from senators until they sit at their desks.
Senate protocols allow lawmakers to take off their masks while sitting at their desks where they can properly distance, he said.
“I’m proud of the way the members handled it,” he said. “We had some member of the public who chose not to comply, and we’re trying to get greater compliance there.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.