By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor this week signed into law five measures that will help the Legislature keep much better track of how taxpayer money is spent and better monitor programs and services. The bills represent historic government reform.
State agencies have at times worked against the Legislature trying to pass common sense reform. Not all agencies have been responsive to the Legislature in showing transparency in expenditures. This will ensure the agencies answer directly to the state’s chief executive and his cabinet.
The governor will have hiring and firing authority over five of the largest appropriated state agencies: the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Transportation Department and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The governor also will have appointment power of five members on each board, pending advice and consent of the Senate. The Legislature will be able to appoint four members – two by the speaker of the House and two by the Senate president pro tempore. The Legislature also will have the ability to remove these agency heads with two-thirds of the vote.
The House this week also passed a bill to create the Office of Government Accountability. This office would hire 15 financial examiners who would routinely audit agency budgets and spending and evaluate the effectiveness of agency programs and services. One of the problems we’ve had with term limits in the Legislature is we have so many new members it is incredibly hard for them to come up to speed on the more than 60 agencies that receive state dollars and each of their budgets and programs. This office would help by providing detailed information to help inform our decisions as we budget the state’s money each year.
The House passed several other bills this week of note.
House Bill 2502 will give classroom teachers a $1,000 tax credit when they buy their own classroom supplies and or for renewal of their teacher certificates.
House Bill 2632 is known as the Patients Right to Pharmacy Choice Act. This bill evens the playing field for our local pharmacies and their customers. It establishes an advisory council of professionals with expertise in pharmacy to oversee pharmacy benefit managers. PBMs currently enjoy benefits such as access to lower-priced drugs, reimbursements after sale and they have been accused of using anti-competition and deceptive marketing tactics that disadvantage our smaller, local pharmacies.
House Bill 2304 will provide a 4 percent cost-of-living increase to retired teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement officers, justices and judges and public employees. The increase would take place January 1, 2020. It has been more than a decade since our retirees have had a COLA. With rising health care and other living costs, this is needed.
This is third-reading deadline week, meaning all bills have to be passed out of their chamber of origin in order to stay alive this session. House members have heard hundreds of bills this week and last, staying many late nights to consider each piece of legislation. I’ll provide the number of bills we passed in next week’s column. Next, we will consider Senate bills while that chamber considers House bills.
As always, I would love to hear from you about these or any other issues. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.