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State Question 765: Dissolving DHS?


In just one week Oklahomans will head to the polls not only to decide on our next president but also on six state questions. 

More on all State Questions here.

Before casting ballots, we thought we’d take a look at State Question 765.

The measure relates to “abolishing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.”

State Question 765 will appear on the back of your ballot in the top right corner.

The main point of confusion for many is the word “abolish.”

State Rep. Jason Nelson, (R-District 87) said, “When it talks about abolishing, really it means abolishing the way it’s been run and allowing the legislature to implement a new way of operating the agency. It’s to increase the accountability to the public.”

Nelson is just one of the lawmakers who worked on the legislation.

He said a “yes” vote does not mean DHS will be dissolved, it means the commission which currently makes most of the decisions will be eliminated.

If passed, the governor would be the one to appoint a director and legislators would help appoint four bipartisan panels to oversee the areas of administration, child and family issues, aging issues and disability.

Those panels will then make recommendations to lawmakers.

“You’ll have more people looking at smaller sections of the agency,” Nelson said. “If they see a problem, they’ll be expected to say something.”

Those opposed to the measure were not available for an interview but said, if passed, SQ 765 would result in less publicly-available information.

Opponents said decisions would be made between the governor and the director, behind closed doors, rather than in meetings with open records.

Nelson said in response, “Decisions were being made by the commission to do nothing. What did the public learn from that?”

We tried to talk with the Department of Human Services about the state question, however, they said because of state ethics laws, they are not able to comment.

Rep. Nelson has posted more about State Question 765 here.

More on all State Questions here.

Officials with the Department of Human Services said they are getting a lot of questions from employees and residents around the state.

They have sent all employees a fact sheet answering the most common questions which is posted below.

Questions regarding State Question 765

This communication does not express an opinion on SQ 765.

From the Oklahoma State Election Board website, this is the exact wording of the state question:

STATE QUESTION NO. 765 LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM NO. 362

The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. These entities were created under different names by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the Oklahoma Constitution and given duties and responsibilities related to the care of the aged and needy. The measure repeals these sections of the Constitution and consequently, removes the power of the Commission of Human Services to establish policy and adopt rules and regulations. Under the measure, the Legislature and the people by initiative petition retain the power to adopt legislation for these purposes.

The measure adds a provision to the Constitution authorizing the Legislature to create a department or departments to administer and carry out laws to provide for the care of the aged and the needy. The measure also authorizes the Legislature to enact laws requiring the newly-created department or departments to perform other duties.

SQ 765 does not contain information about House Bill 3137, which was passed during the last legislative session and was signed by the Governor. This legislation gives the Governor the authority to select the OKDHS Director with confirmation by the Senate. According to the bill, the Director will assume the duties of the Commission and will serve at the pleasure of the Governor. HB 3137 also creates four five-member citizen advisory panels that will develop recommendations to improve programs and administration, as well as provide advice and information to the Director on policies and practices. HB 3137 will become effective on November 7, 2012, if SQ 765 passes.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Will OKDHS cease to exist if SQ 765 passes?
A: No. Oklahoma statutes contain many sections of law that define the duties and responsibilities of the agency. HB 3137 also makes multiple references to the continued existence of OKDHS. If passed, SQ 765 will not change these duties and responsibilities in statute. Regardless of the outcome of the state question, OKDHS will continue to exist as a state agency and its rules and policies will still be in effect on November 7th.

Q: Should employees come to work on November 7th if the state question passes? Will they continue to get paid?
A: Yes, all employees will continue to report to work as usual and will be paid in the same manner. 

Q: Will agency contracts with vendors and providers still be valid and will they continue to be paid if the state question passes?
A: Yes. Contracts between OKDHS, its vendors, providers, contractors, agents and partners will still be enforceable and compensation owed to these entities will be paid, regardless of the outcome of the state question. 

Q: Will the Commission meet in December if the state question passes?
A: No. The Nov. 1, 2012 meeting will be the last meeting of the Commission before the vote on Nov. 6th. 

Q: Will the Advisory Committee for Developmental Disabilities Services, the State Council on Aging, and the Advisory Committee for Child Care continue to exist if the state question passes?
A: Yes. The state question and HB 3137 do not address these advisory committees. These committees have their own statutory requirements and will continue to exist and function unless changes are made to those specific statutes. 

Q: While at work, can employees lobby for or against a State Question?  
A: No. OKDHS employees, while at work or acting in their official capacity, must be careful not to pressure (coerce), direct, or command any co-worker, client, vendor, or agency-partner into participating in any type of political activity as a result of these or other types of political communication. This would include asking a co-worker to vote for or against any ballot issues. Ballot issues (state questions) are treated the same in law as partisan elections, so the same rules governing conduct and political activity apply.