State government is a strange animal. It can be docile and laid back or turn on you like a wild dog. Last week I got bit, and I’m still trying to figure out why.
Improving government accountability and transparency has been one of my priorities since getting into office. I’ve authored numerous bills to help with this effort, and while I’ve successfully gotten most signed into law, some have ended up road kill and left in the dust.
I was greatly disappointed this past week when two of my bills were on the Senate agenda the last day of Floor consideration and session was adjourned with 20 or so bills left unheard including mine.
What has me beyond puzzled is the fact that both of these bills were recommendations made by the multi-county grand jury last summer after the Health Department financial debacle. After their six month investigation, they made seven recommendations to the Health Department, the Board of Health, the Governor and the Legislature.
1. Return the $30 million appropriation to the Legislature for “the purpose of additional performance and investigative audits” at other state agencies.
The Legislature approved and Gov. Stitt has signed HB 2735, which pulls back the emergency $30 million appropriation that the agency received last year and HB 2736 repeals the requirement that the agency submit a corrective action report to the legislature.
2. “The Department must move to the statewide financial system maintained by OMES and used by the vast majority of state agencies.”
3. Improve the effectiveness of the Oklahoma State Board of Health in providing agency oversight, something the report believes will be improved by the Legislature’s recent change to board appointments.
The Legislature did approve and the Governor signed five bills empowering the Governor to hire and fire the directors of five of the state’s largest agencies including the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (SB 456).
4. Amend Title 21 Section 341 of state statute to consider “the creation or possession of public dollars which are not reported to the Legislature or that are not designated for a particular purpose by a federal grand or state statute” as embezzlement of state property.
My SB 173 would have done exactly this. It passed unanimously from the Senate Public Safety Committee (7-2, the committee’s two democrats voted against the bill for some reason). However, then it wasn’t given a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Why shouldn’t public officials be charged with embezzlement when they hide money or lie to the legislature about their financial standing? The Health Department’s deception cost more than 200 people to lose their jobs and pulled $30 million in emergency funds away from other agencies that could have used it. Since we’ve pulled that funding back, it will be used for legit needs now.
5. Statutory requirement that all state agencies “annually publish to the public a balance sheet and statement of revenues, expenditures and changes in fund balances pursuant to the standards of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).”
My SB 177 would have required this by January 1, 2020. The bill passed unanimously out of the General Government committee and I kept waiting for it to be heard on the Floor. However, the Floor Leader adjourned session leaving mine and several others unheard. The bill was written with input from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the State Auditor and the State Comptroller – all of which strongly supported the legislation.
6. Ensure that state employees — financial employees particularly — have “sufficient knowledge and training within the areas they work.”
7. “The department must return to the federal budgeting system that correctly projects federal grant dollars.”
While this hasn’t specifically been addressed, the Senate did approve SB 271 will require state agencies that receive federal funds to annually publish a list on their website of the funds, what programs they are used for and the qualifications to receive and keep those funds. Oklahoma receives more than $7.4 billion of federal annually. The state Legislature needs to have a clear understanding of this funding to ensure we are allocating state funds efficiently and where they are most needed.
Hopefully, the legislature addresses these important issues next session.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5539.