The weather-shortened first week of the 2020 Legislative Session is over. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss state agency changes that were front and center in Governor Stitt's State of the State address.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the first week of the legislative session began with Governor Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address. In his speech, the governor identified government bureaucracy as the greatest challenge facing the state, and he has moved quickly to begin a process leading to change of agency administrative rules.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, on Monday, the governor issued an executive order where he asked all state agencies to identify those administrative rules that are costly, ineffective, unnecessary and outdated. And we've talked about this before, how there's never really been a comprehensive review of state agency administrative rules and regulations. He is asking the agencies to do just that. They’re to file a report with the Secretary of State's office, the Governor, the Senate President Pro Tem and the House Speaker by August 1st, and then they are to begin a process that every time they consider a new administrative rule of repealing two of those, which they have identified to be problematic.
Dick Pryor: And we've heard that idea somewhere before.
Shawn Ashley: Yeah. This idea of two out for every one in actually goes back at least three years. President Donald Trump, on January 30th, 2017, issued nearly an identical executive order that required federal agencies to review their own administrative rules and regulations and to repeal two existing rules or regulations for every new one that they implemented.
Dick Pryor: The governor also said he wants to continue agency restructuring, which began last year with the legislature giving the governor more power to appoint agency boards and directors while also expanding the legislature's role in agency governance.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, the governor pointed to three specific examples where he would like to see some consolidation take place. He would like to see the Office of Homeland Security rolled into the Office of Emergency Management. Perhaps worth noting, the governor has appointment authority over the director of the Office of Emergency Management. He also talked about rolling the Pardon and Parole Board into the Department of Corrections and the governor appoints the director of the Department of Corrections. And then he talked about combining the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services with the Department of Health and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. The governor appoints all three of those executive directors as fate would have it. But really, this goes to his Medicaid plan, and something we talked about to Governor Stitt, pointing out that there are 10 agencies that receive Medicaid funding, three of which would be involved in this consolidation here.
Dick Pryor: An interesting development in the first week. Legislators have talked about how cordial last session was and how they would like to see bipartisan cooperation continue again this year. Then, the first bill put to a vote on the House floor was divisive. It was an abortion bill. The bill would revoke the medical licenses of physicians who perform abortions, except in cases where the woman's life is threatened. And it passed.
Shawn Ashley: That's right. And it's really the first time in several years that I can remember such a substantial piece of legislation being considered during the first week of the legislative session. And there's no doubt that abortion is one of the most divisive issues within the legislature. Now, this bill was originally carried over from the 2019 legislative session. That's what allowed it to be heard so quickly. And the way the House handled this piece of legislation was that it was scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, which was Rose Day, an annual pro-life rally day. But of course, because of the weather, the legislature was closed on Wednesday and Rose Day was canceled and that moved its consideration on Thursday. During debate of the measure on the floor, Democrats raised the concern that this bill likely would face a legal challenge, that it was probably unconstitutional. But its author, Representative Jim Olson, pointed out that medical licensing is generally left to states to decide, and that sort of gets to the heart of the division here. On one hand, you have states’ rights. On the other hand, you have those who say there are other ways, other policies, that could be considered which would help decrease the number of abortions in the state of Oklahoma. I can almost guarantee you that Representative Olson did not talk to House Democrats before he asked that this measure be brought to the floor.
Dick Pryor: And so that may indicate some of the division we see coming in this legislative session is the fact that the abortion bill was the first bill, an indication that there will be more social issue bills this session or is it more of a one-off?
Shawn Ashley: I think there will be a number of social issue bills to be considered. This, after all, is an election year. So often those social issues or other controversial measures often come to the top and are considered by lawmakers as they begin to look toward their elections later in the year.
Dick Pryor: All right, Shawn, thanks.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, email us at news@KGOU.ORG or contact us on Twitter @KGOUnews. You can also find us online at KGOU.ORG or ECAPITOL.NET. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.