OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A bill that aims to “broaden” the requirements for a potential candidate for the role of State Commissioner of Health passed on the Senate floor Monday, March 14.

Senate Bill 709, authored by Senator Paul Rosino, R-District 45, would exempt the potential candidates from current requirements if the candidate has at least a master’s degree and has managerial experience with state agencies or large projects.

“I want to be clear, these changes do not eliminate any existing qualifications, just rather broadens their requirements to allow more flexibility who leads the State Department of Health,” said Sen. Rosino while SB709 was being heard on the Senate floor.

Current Oklahoma state law requires the State Commissioner of Health to meet at least one of the following qualifications:

1. Possession of a Doctor of Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;

2. Possession of an Osteopathic Medicine Degree and a license to practice medicine in this state;

3. Possession of a Doctoral degree in Public Health or Public Health Administration; or

4. Possession of a Master of Science Degree and a minimum of five (5) years of supervisory experience in the administration of health services.

Sen. Rosino said SB709 would allow Oklahoma to act in a similar way as hospitals across the state and country do, where they allow administrators or CEOs who aren’t physicians to have leadership roles.

However, SB709 received some criticism on the Senate floor.

“I’m very concerned about this change,” said Senator Carri Hicks, D-District 40. “I understand that it broadens the pool of candidates for this particular appointment, but as we are still involved in a large health crisis that has rocked the state in many ways, not only the state but the nation and the world. I think it is very concerning that we would be potentially considering a candidate to lead our public health agency who has no background or experience related to health care. So I have to be a ‘no’ for this change today and I hope you all will consider the ramifications of this particular vote.”

“I understand that we have a manpower shortage in the state in many areas, lots of different areas, and I know that this existed before the pandemic, and the pandemic has done nothing in our healthcare system except exasperate that problem, but I also know that one thing the pandemic showed us was the need to have qualified, experienced medical professionals who are giving us information and data so that we know what to do with that,” said Senator Kay Floyd, D-District 46. “Lowering the requirements, the education requirements and the experience requirements, of one of the highest standing commissioners in the state is unwise at this time.”

Despite that concern, SB709 passed on the Senate floor with a 31-15 vote. It will now go to the House for further consideration.