Supporters of a petition drive to repeal Oklahoma's permitless carry law fell about 22,000 signatures short of their goal. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss what happens when the law takes effect November 1, as well as the new Department of Health Commissioner and pay raises at the Department of Human Services.
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, the supporters of the initiative petition drive to repeal the state's permitless carry law did not get enough signatures to put repeal on the ballot next year as they wished. They finished more than 22,000 signatures short. The so-called "constitutional carry" law will go into effect November 1. What will the law do?
Shawn Ashley: The "constitutional carry" law eliminates the need for individuals to obtain a permit to open carry or concealed carry a handgun in the state of Oklahoma. The bill itself also makes some minor statutory changes throughout Oklahoma's weapons law to better clarify in some cases where a person can and cannot carry a gun. But it doesn't open up any new areas where someone can. The key is the elimination of the permit. At the same time, an individual who wants to obtain a permit will still be able to do so. And that may be necessary if you're going into another state that still requires a permit to open or concealed carry.
Pryor: Around the country, some businesses, including Wal-Mart, are making policy changes designed to limit access to guns or ammunition. How is the Oklahoma business community reacting to this permitless carry law?
Ashley: The business community has been a little reluctant to embrace it. They haven't openly opposed it, but they've expressed concerns and reservations about about such a thing taking effect. We're seeing national businesses like Wal-Mart and others taking a position that they're encouraging their customers not to carry weapons into their stores anymore, and we'll have to see what effect that has.
Pryor: National polling shows a huge majority of Americans want some restrictions on access to guns--mostly heightened background checks--and that extends across party lines. Are there any other legal or legislative efforts underway to address this issue in Oklahoma?
Ashley: Well, we're still some time from the start of the next legislative session and the one bill we have seen that we've previously talked about would prohibit red flag laws in Oklahoma, which would allow guns to be taken from a person if they were perceived to be a threat.
In terms of limiting access to guns, we really haven't seen much legislation in that arena. But given what has happened the last few months with the effort to repeal "constitutional carry," we could see legislation that does exactly that--that proposes a repeal of "constitutional carry"-- or other limitations, enhanced background checks and things of that nature.
The problem will be those bills likely will not get heard. And the reason is the legislature has staked out its position as supporting "constitutional carry" and access to weapons in the state of Oklahoma.
Pryor: New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show Oklahoma has the second highest medical uninsured rate in the nation. Now this comes as Governor Kevin Stitt has appointed a new Commissioner of Health, Gary Cox. Cox comes from the Oklahoma City-County Health Department where he was executive director. How do you think the operation of the Department of Health will change?
Ashley: Commissioner Cox comes from a county health department that has been responsible for implementing the programs which were put forth by the state health department. But at the same time, Commissioner Cox has looked under the hood, if you will, at the State Department of Health. In the scandal that rocked the department back in 2017, he was the chair of a task force appointed by then-Governor Mary Fallin to make recommendations to help right that ship. So in a way, he has already begun working on making the health department a better operation.
Most importantly, I think, since that scandal, the Department of Health has operated with two different interim commissioners. A permanent commissioner will provide stability to the agency and they can begin focusing on their work.
Pryor: Pay increases are coming for 3,700 DHS [Department of Human Services] employees. How much more are they getting and who's getting it?
Ashley: It looks like those raises will amount to about 13.7 percent. That is about $10.8 million overall. And these raises are going really to the front line people--the people who work in the county offices and other agency offices scattered across the state.
Pryor: Thanks Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
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