By Rep. Mike Sanders
Five government accountability measures passed committee this week that would allow the governor and the state Legislature more direct appointment authority over agency directors and boards.
House Bills 2479, 2480, 2481, 2482 and 2483, by House Speaker Charles McCall, would give the governor direct appointment power over the executive directors of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services. These five agencies receive a large portion of state appropriated dollars, yet their boards do not have to directly answer either to the current executive or to lawmakers elected by the people.
The governor’s appointments would be subject to advice and consent of the state Senate. The measures also would give the governor and the Legislature the ability to rebalance the boards, giving the governor four appointments and the Legislature four appointments to each board – two from the House and two from the Senate. The measures also would allow for an impeachment and conviction process, much like the federal government has.
Under our current system, board members are appointed to a term and not by the state’s top executive. Nor do the boards have legislative oversight. In other words, people elect an executive, but then that person is forced to work with boards that are appointed by a previous administration. It would be five years before Gov. Stitt would have enough appointment power over the Board of Corrections, for instance, to make any real changes in the direction of that board. Citizens have no authority to fire agency board members. They do, however, have the ability to elect lawmakers and the governor. With that election power they should also get more accountability over how their money is spent.
On the health care front there are several bills I want to highlight.
One is Speaker McCall’s bill that would give doctors serving in rural areas a $25,000 income tax exemption. House Bill 2511 recently passed in the Appropriations & Budget Committee. This bill would help recruit doctors to serve in our rural areas where they are most needed by allowing them to claim the first $25,000 of their income as tax free.
Another is House Bill 1902, that would increase the Medicaid nursing home reimbursement rate to improve the quality of care for our nursing home residents. It also would improve staffing ratios, increase staff training, and incentivize nursing homes to improve care using a pay-for-performance model.
Several more of my own bills have passed committee and will be heard on the House floor soon. One is a bill that will allow retired firefighters to come back as volunteers without it stopping them from receiving their current pensions. Another is a bill that will grant a sales tax exemption to the Oklahoma American Legion. This organization helps our veterans in so many ways, and it should enjoy the same tax-exempt status as other groups of similar mission.
In future columns, I’ll give greater detail on each of my bills.
This week was the deadline for bills to be heard in committees in their chamber of origin. We now have two weeks to hear all House bills on the floor. Then we will begin hearing Senate 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.