Legislature considering proposal to give governor power to pick more agency heads

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Republican leaders have reached an agreement over a plan that would restructure state boards, while also giving the governor more power to hire and fire agency directors.

The proposal is through a series of five bills, all of which passed the Senate and House on Wednesday. The plan to applies to five state agencies:

  • Department of Corrections (HB2480)
  • Healthcare Authority (SB456)
  • Department of Transportation (SB457)
  • Office of Juvenile Affairs (HB2479)
  • Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (HB2483)

According to James Davenport, a professor of political science at Rose State College, the proposal is dramatically different from what’s currently in place.

“When they created the state constitution, they tried to disperse power amongst a variety of institutions and individuals,” Davenport said. “Over time, there’s become the belief a sense that actually reduces accountability because it’s hard to know who do I hold accountable if this board or commission is doing the hiring or the firing?”

Supporters of the bill said it would put a system of checks and balance in place. The five bills include the following provisions:

  • The governor would have the authority to hire and fire the agency leader.
  • Senate would have confirmation authority of the agency leader.
  • State agencies would maintain governing boards, but board members will serve at will and the legislation will include a conflict of interest provision.
  • The governor would appoint a majority of the board members, and the House and Senate would gain appointment seats on the boards.
  • The House and Senate would be able to remove agency leaders by achieving a two-third vote in both Chambers.

“We’ve got to change the way we do government in Oklahoma if we expect more out of our statement; we can’t just have it on the same 1907 frame work, 1920s framework. We’ve got to modernize,” said Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “The status quo is unacceptable. We must change the way we do things.”

However, opponents said there are some concerns.

“We have a board that does not answer to the Legislature. The people of the Oklahoma wanted that in our founding, and I still think they want that today,” said Sen. J.J. Dossett. “They don’t trust us, and I don’t blame them sometimes. That’s why we put measures on the ballot. That’s why we let the people decide.”

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