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Agreement struck to give governor power to pick more agency heads

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In this Feb. 4, 2019, photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures as he delivers his State of the State address in Oklahoma City. Republican legislative leaders reached agreement Tuesday, March 5, for expanding the governor's power over agency directors. The agreement hands new Gov. Stitt a major policy victory early in the legislative session. [AP PHOTO]
In this Feb. 4, 2019, photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures as he delivers his State of the State address in Oklahoma City. Republican legislative leaders reached agreement Tuesday, March 5, for expanding the governor's power over agency directors. The agreement hands new Gov. Stitt a major policy victory early in the legislative session. [AP PHOTO]

Following weeks of closed-door negotiations, Republican leaders have reached agreement over a plan to restructure five state boards, while also giving the governor hiring power over agency directors.

House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said at a Tuesday news conference that they expected a package of five bills to move quickly through each chamber.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, who was also at the news conference, endorsed the proposal.

“We should have these (bills) on my desk next week,” Stitt said.

The proposed legislation would give the governor five appointments to agency boards, while the Senate and House would each have two. The impacted agencies would be the state Department of Transportation, the Health Care Authority, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Last week, a House committee advanced similar legislation while the Senate advanced bills that would remove the boards entirely.

“Something this transformational takes some time to negotiate,” said McCall, R-Atoka.

Dozens of Republicans attended Tuesday’s news conference, indicating support within the majority party. Democrats, who were not in attendance, quickly criticized the proposal.

“We have reached a point where the term ‘government accountability’ has lost all meaning,” House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said in an emailed statement.

“By taking away the decision-making power of our boards, we are moving decisions from a venue that falls under the Open Meetings Act and is in view of the public to a venue that is literally behind closed doors and lacking transparency. This plan isn’t about providing transparency. It is about acquiring power.”

Stitt said a check on the governor’s power would be achieved by allowing the Legislature to remove an agency director with a two-thirds vote, which is part of the proposal.

Giving the governor more hiring authority would allow the executive branch to have greater impact on improving efficiency and accountability within state agencies, Stitt said.

“This is so we can deliver results, make sure dollars are on target,” said Stitt, who had made agency reform a central part of his first-year agenda.

Treat said the proposal also includes Senate confirmation on agency hires.

“We had to work out a few details,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “But both sides have been honest brokers.”

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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 ›

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