In this episode of Capitol Insider KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley unpack executive orders signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt during his second week in office. They also discuss an interesting budget proposal from the Dept. of Corrections.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Governor Stitt is continuing to shape his administration through executive orders. He's now issued four. One Involves lobbyists hired by state agencies.
Shawn Ashley: The executive order issued by Governor Stitt prohibits state agencies from hiring outside lobbyists contract lobbyists to work on their behalf. Governor Stitt said when he first became governor he began looking into this issue and could not find how many agencies had hired contract lobbyist and how much he had paid them. So, in addition to prohibiting prohibiting them from hiring contract lobbyists, he's also asking for that information... Who they've paid and how much, dating back to fiscal year 2015. He said the concern is that some of these contract lobbyists actually work against proposals put forth by the executive branch, and that this is a problem. He said he believed most Oklahoma taxpayers would find that frightening.
Pryor: But they also may have their own reasons for opposing certain actions.
Ashley: Certainly. It seems to be that Governor Stitt does not believe that should be done by a lobbyist. And he indicated he plans to move forward with the idea of prohibiting them from doing so in the long term.
Pryor: The other executive order of particular note is about a hiring freeze for classified employees. First who are classified employees?
Ashley: You know, that's a really interesting question, because they're quite varied, for example, someone in a state agencies finance office, such as an accountant. In other agencies a public information officer might be a classified position holder. But then there are some unique jobs as well that are also classified positions..most correctional officer jobs, child welfare specialists who work with the Department of Human Services. So it covers a wide variety of areas. Some of the general characteristics, however, are that you go through a testing process in order to get one of these jobs. There's a definite career ladder which you can find in state agency rules and in some cases even in statute. Governor Stitt indicated, however, that the current system lacks flexibility.
Pryor: It would also put more employees state employees in at will status.
Ashley: That's exactly right. The other side of that coin is that non-classified employees are at will employees. They can be terminated essentially at any time within the bounds of state and federal law, of course. Classified employees are protected under the Oklahoma Merit Protection System.
Pryor: Shawn, is there another way to address the issue of the classified employees than what's being proposed of the executive order?
Ashley: Yes it appears that there is. For the last several years a number of legislators have proposed bills that would have modified the current merit protection system. So it seems like there might be a legislative approach that could come up as we move through the legislative session.
Pryor: There's been an interesting development in the budget request made by Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh. Tell Us about that.
Ashley: For the second year in a row the Department of Corrections asked for more than a billion dollars in funding. And a big part of that request was $884 million to build two new prisons, and they're looking at using a 2017 law that allow certain public private partnerships, so that these facilities could still be built using private money and working with local economic development authorities, and then the department would lease them from whoever owns that facility in order to be able to house from 5,200 prisoners to about 1,500 prisoners. Now, keep in mind, these aren't exactly new prison beds. The Department of Corrections is over 100 percent capacity, and that would allow them to move move offenders out of day rooms and other spaces where they have crowded them into. But, additionally, the director pointed out that he would like to close four to five antiquated facilities if he's able to get this space built.
Pryor: All right Shawn, thanks. That's Capitol insider. If you have questions e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org 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.