On Monday, Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, filed three bills in response to the multi-county grand jury’s findings in May concerning the State Department of Health’s financial deception in recent years. The grand jury’s six month investigation found that the agency had been withholding financial information, including a $30 million “slush” fund, from the legislature for several years. The Shawnee Republican said his bills would put into action some of the grand jury’s seven recommendations in order to improve financial transparency among state agencies.

            “Given that Oklahoma just recently recovered from a decade-long financial crisis and many vital state agencies experienced deep budget cuts, it’s disheartening that agency leaders would have done such a deplorable thing. They unnecessarily cut nearly 200 employees, cut vital health services around the state and took $30 million in emergency funds from the legislature that could have been used for other agencies like the Department of Education,” said Sharp. “These bills will put some of the grand jury’s recommendations into action to provide better financial transparency and prevent future deceit and mismanagement.”

            SB 176 requires the State Auditor and Inspector to audit the state Department of Health annually.  It would also require the Health Department, within six months of each audit, to submit findings from an internal audit of all local, state and federal funds to the Auditor and public on its agency website.

SB 177 requires all state agencies to provide on their website each fiscal year a balance sheet and statement of revenues, expenditures and changes in fund balances pursuant to the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) on or before January 1, 2020.

SB 173 amends current criminal embezzlement statutes by making it a felony for public officers, members of the Legislature or any person who receives money or any other thing of value on behalf of or on account of the state to create or possess any public funds which are not reported to the Legislature and are not designated for a particular purpose by a federal grant or state statute. 

“Taxpayers deserve to know how every penny of their tax dollars is being spent by agencies.  There must be total transparency for the legislature and the public to ensure tax dollars are used as efficiently as possible,” said Sharp.  “These measures will improve agency auditing practices, deter other state agencies from hiding funds like the Health Department and ensure the legislature has a clear understanding of the actual fiscal needs of state agencies.”

The measures will be assigned to committee in the coming weeks.  The legislative session begins on Monday, February 4.