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House, Senate committees move bills to give governor more power over agencies

One of Gov. Kevin Stitt's top legislative priorities cleared key hurdles Wednesday as House and Senate committees voted to give the chief executive the power to hire the heads of major agencies.

The Senate approach would dissolve several state agency boards that currently hire directors, while the House would keep the boards intact but strip of them of the authority to pick the top leader.

“Negotiations are ongoing with House leadership,” said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, when asked about the differences between the House and Senate bills.

Treat, R-Oklahoma City, authored the Senate bills that dissolve boards and commissions at the state Health Care Authority, Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Office of Juvenile Affairs.

The bills address the core policy objective of Stitt, who campaigned on a desire to gain more authority over state agencies.

The House bills also give the governor hiring power over those agency directors.

However, instead of removing the boards, the bills would rebalance board appointments between the Legislature and governor.

Stitt said he is fine with the House bills, as long as the board members can be removed at any time by the appointing body.

"I'm also OK with the boards if there is a provision that defines conflict of interest for these appointed board members," Stitt said Wednesday.

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols said the House proposal still gave the governor power over the agencies.

“We are giving the governor appointment authority over the majority of the board when you count the agency director,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who presented the House bills in the Committee on Government Efficiency.

The House bills were passed out of committee mostly along party lines.

During the Senate Committee on Rules, where each of Treat’s bills also advanced along party lines, Senators Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, and Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, expressed concern over a loss of transparency if boards and board meetings were eliminated.

“Even if these boards and commissions are not perfect, they are a method and way that we release financial information, that we release plans and studies, decisions, problems and challenges to the public,” said Kirt. “We rely on that process for transparency.”

Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, called the bills meaningful government reform.

“I have served on two (state) commissions in the last 20 years and in neither case did I feel I was making anything more accountable and transparent,” Daniels said. “In fact, I felt I was part of muddying the waters for where the true accountability should be, with elected officials.”

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Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›