In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss a whirlwind week at that state capitol. The two discuss the new powers of Oklahoma's governor, new regulations on medical marijuana and controversial abortion legislation.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, there's been a significant power shift at the capitol, with Governor Stitt signing five bills that give the governor the power to hire and fire the heads of five state agencies. This move was a major piece of what Governor Stitt called "the Oklahoma Turnaround."
Shawn Ashley: First of all, not only do the bills give the governor the authority to hire and fire the five state agency heads, the governor now has five appointees on those governing boards, giving him the majority in every case. The House and the Senate have two appointments each, which give them minority authority on these boards. In many cases they did not have any authority at all in terms of these boards and commissions.
The bills also eliminate the statutory expertise requirements for the governing boards and commissions. Now, what that means is that in order to serve on the board of mental health, for example, many of those board members had to have some sort of mental health or health background. That will no longer be the case. Anyone can be appointed to any of the nine governing board positions for each of these five agencies. Those appointees also can be removed by the governor or the legislature, their appointing authority, with or without cause.
But even more interesting, I think, is the fact that the legislature has the authority under each of these bills to remove the executive director of those agencies with a two-thirds vote. In other words, the legislature now can essentially impeach an agency director.
Pryor: Governor Stitt has signed the medical marijuana regulation framework bill, also called the Unity Bill. Why was this necessary?
Ashley: It puts in place that regulatory framework, everything from how the marijuana is grown and tested, to how it's packaged to be sold to consumers. More than a year ago when we talked to StateImpact's Jackie Fortier. She talked about how State Questions 788 legalized a whole new industry in the state of Oklahoma. And that was exactly true. This is a whole new arena. It's growing quickly and this provides the framework.
Pryor: Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat has made a change in his anti-abortion trigger bill. He filed a floor substitute that proposes a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment that says there is no right to abortion in the Oklahoma Constitution. Why did he make that change?
Ashley: Well, this has been an ongoing dispute in the legislature now since this legislative session began, a debate between how far lawmakers want to go with abortion regulations. And, as we've talked about, there's been a split take place in the pro-life movement in the state of Oklahoma. On one hand, we have those like President Pro Tem Greg Treat who are pro-life advocates and who recognize that under current law and under the Supreme Court decisions that all they can do is impose certain regulations on abortion in the state of Oklahoma. But there are another group of individuals in the state and in the legislature who are abortion abolitionists. They want to see abortion outlawed in the state, regardless of what the federal government says and what the courts say. I think this change in the bill, which was passed on Thursday, reflects that ongoing dispute both in the state and in the legislature.
Pryor: Spring break is upon us. What's up next at the capitol?
Ashley: Well, lawmakers themselves will be taking a bit of a spring break. The House and the Senate are scheduled to meet only Monday through Wednesday. This really reflects an incremental change that has been happening at the Capitol. When I first arrived here most of the members of the legislature had grown children of their own. Many of them might have been grandparents. So the issue of spring break wasn't such a big deal. But we have more members today who are parents themselves of school age children.
This is also a transition week in the legislative process. Having just met the deadline for bills to be heard in their chamber of origin, those bills now in the opposite house have to be assigned to committee. And it's going to take the floor leaders a few days to do that.
Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at email@example.com or contact us on twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.