State ARPA spending starting slowly, but likely ramping up this fall (Capitol Update)

It looks like the legislature is pointing toward late September or early October to go back into special session to appropriate part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Congress passed ARPA in March 2021. My understanding is legislators would like to appropriate a large portion of the funding before the end of October. The deadline for allocating the funds is December 31, 2024, and the recipients must fulfill their obligations under their proposal and spend the money by December 31, 2026. There should be a lot of ARPA action in the next few weeks. 

The state got off to a slow start allocating the federal funds when the legislature and governor reached an impasse last May. As a result, legislators passed House Bill 3349 appropriating the money to the “Statewide Recovery Fund” from which the funds will first be vetted by working groups and a joint House-Senate committee then appropriated by the full legislature. At the end of the regular session and during a special session called by the legislature in June, legislators appropriated about $247 million of the $1.87 billion allocated to Oklahoma state government. So far, the governor, in recognition that a veto would likely be overridden, has allowed HB 3349 and the individual appropriations bills to become law without his signature. 

Last Wednesday, the Government Transformation and Collaboration Working Group met and approved $44 million total in funding proposals from the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC), and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). All were related to electronic recordkeeping and sharing of digital information. OSDH is requesting funding for a new “Patagonia” electronic health record system that would greatly improve the county health departments’ ability to communicate with each other. Right now, the paper-based sites must fax medical information to one another and other medical providers. In some instances, the same records exist in multiple storage rooms across the system. 

OUHSC would like to implement “Epic Electronic Health Records,” which is considered the industry standard for academic hospitals. Currently, OUHSC is hand-delivering files to clinics on campus and faxing anything that must be sent out to other care providers. In addition to electronic records delivery, having Epic EHR would allow OUHSC doctors access to cutting edge innovations and research from around the country. It would also put them on the same electronic records system currently used by five of the top seven healthcare provider centers in Oklahoma. 

AOC is asking for funding for equipment to implement electronic filing for civil courts, video conferencing options and means to provide live translations for those who do not primarily speak English. All of these and the previously-approved proposals speak to the possibility that ARPA — well spent —- can be transformational for the state of Oklahoma. Legislators seem determined to make it so.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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