The Edmond Sun

November 3, 2012

SQ 765 alters DHS appointments

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — State Question 765 is important for the longterm future of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said state Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. Treat worked with Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, in prompting this proposal.

SQ 765 calls for abolishing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, according to the ballot.

Treat said the ballot language of SQ 765 may be confusing because it appears as if DHS would be removed.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re strengthening DHS,” Treat said of separate legislation that would be triggered by voter approval.

The director of DHS would be appointed directly by the governor with Senate confirmation if SQ 765 passes, Treat said. Also, there would be no prohibition by the governor in reappointing a volunteer commissioner to the advisory boards. Singular appointments also would be made by the House Speaker, the Senate pro tempore and the minority leader of each House, Treat said.

“We felt like the whole Legislature needed to take ownership of making sure DHS was going in the right direction,” Treat said.

The current structure of DHS is a commission of nine members serving nine-year terms who only know what the staff tells them, Treat said.

“It gives the appearance of accountability, but there’s really zero accountability with the agency from the commission,” Treat said.

Four advisory boards would replace the commission to oversee the four core areas of DHS and advice the director. Passage of SQ 745 would not only strengthen child welfare, but would add more focus to the Developmental Disability Service Divsion and the Aging Services Division, Treat said.

“Currently with that constitutional agency, we can do very little to change DHS through statute changes,” Treat said. “If this passes, we can take in a much more active role in overseeing the agency.”

DHS has experienced breaches of security and leaks of personal identification information in past years, said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie. Citizens could not hold DHS accountable because it was managed by a board of unelected officials, Murphey said.

The current commission structure became part of the Oklahoma Constitution in 1936.

State Rep. Randy Grau said he supports updating the state Constitution with changes to the DHS board.

“I think we can continue to make reforms that will continue to benefit the people that are being served by that agency, certainly the abused and neglected children,” Grau said.