Oklahoma’s health commissioner would not be required to have health care or medical experience if he met other professional qualifications under a bill requested by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Republican state lawmakers are once again proposing legislation to change state law that spells out the experience required to run Oklahoma’s health department.
“The governor wants as much flexibility as possible to recruit the best candidates for state government,” Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said.
After Health Commissioner Lance Frye has resigned in October, Stitt is hiring again for the state’s top health post, a role that has become a revolving door in recent years.
Senate Bill 709 cleared major hurdles in the State Senate where some members were hesitated two years ago to confirm a health commissioner who was not qualified under state law.
Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City’s bill would exempt the health commissioner from current employment requirements in state law if the individual has at least a master’s degree in any field and has experience managing a state agency or large projects.
State law dictates that the health commissioner must meet one of the following requirements:
- Possess an MD and a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma
- Hold a degree in osteopathic medicine and a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma
- Possess a doctorate in public health or public health administration
- Hold a Master of Science degree and have at least five years of supervisory experience in health services administration.
“These changes do not eliminate any existing qualifications,” Rosino told the Senate. “(They) are instead expanding the requirements to allow for more flexibility in the direction of the state Department of Health.”
Asked if the bill could result in Oklahoma having a health commissioner with no health care experience, Rosino said it could happen.
But he said the proposal aligns with the leadership structure of some hospitals where the CEO may not have direct health care experience but have a background in business administration. In those cases, and as is the case with the health department, there are medical professionals in other leadership positions, Rosino said.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said SB 709 is misguided because Oklahoma is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One thing the pandemic has shown us is the need to have trained healthcare professionals giving us information and data so we know what to do with it,” she said. “Lowering the education and experience requirements of one of the state’s highest standing commissioners is not wise at this time.”
Stitt asked state lawmakers in 2020 to change the health commissioner’s professional qualifications after his appointment Gary Cox at work. Although Cox spent decades working in public health, he did not meet state law qualifications.
The state The Senate declined to confirm Cox and legislation to change the professional qualifications of the health commissioner has stalled.
Now, Acting Health Commissioner Keith Reed does not meet the legal requirements to occupy this position on a permanent basis. For 19 years, he rose through the ranks in the health department, but he has a master’s degree in public health, not a master of science, as required by law.
Stitt’s office did not respond to questions about whether the governor was seeking the legal change so he could appoint Reed as the next health commissioner.
The governor has interviewed other candidates for the position, including some who do not meet legal requirements.
SB 709 passed Monday on a 31-15 vote. The bill is now heading to the House.
Additional Capitol Updates
Superintendent of Public Schools Joy Hofmeister, who is running for governorwelcomed legislation recently passed by Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, to reform virtual charter schools.
The head of the state’s top schools applauded Dills House Bill 3644, which updates state law on charter school sponsors, including requiring them to publish detailed public reports on their performance, services provided and oversight expenditures. Under the legislation, sponsors would have to enforce academic performance measures and charter school board members would have to undergo the same continuing education requirements as members of local school boards.
“This legislation would signify significant reform in the oversight of charter school management,” Hofmeister said in a statement. 3644 strengthens existing regulations that enable charter schools to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Dills has a trio of charter school reform bills that passed the House with unanimous support. She said the proposals will ensure that taxpayers’ money is protected and that the state has an accurate and transparent record of how it is spent.
The proposals come after the state multi-county grand jury called for the legislature to strengthen accountability and transparency laws regarding for-profit companies that operate charter schools.
Towards the end of last year’s legislative session, the House passed similar charter school reforms of Dills which were not taken up by the Senate.
Lawmakers interested in Holocaust education
The House moved forward last week bipartisan legislation this would require all public schools to teach Holocaust education in a way that helps children understand the causes and effects of the tragedy and develops a dialogue about the ramifications of bullying, bigotry and discrimination.
The state Department of Education would be responsible for developing and distributing the curriculum to students in grades 6 through 12.
Five Republicans voted against the bill from Representatives John Waldron, D-Tulsa, and Mark McBride, R-Moore. They are: Reps. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont; Tommy Hardin, R-Madill; Wendi Stearman, R-Collinsville; Rick West, R-LeFlore and Tom Gann, R-Inola.
Lawmakers did not respond to questions about why they opposed the bill.
McBride said the opposition may have stemmed from the fact that the legislation stated that Holocaust education “must” be taught, as opposed to “may” be taught.
First session invoice signatures
Stitt signed his first six bills this legislative session.
Perhaps the most remarkable new law is House Bill 4463which repeals part of a law from last year that required the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire 76 new staff members, many of whom are in compliance and enforcement positions.
Saying the agency has made “significant” progress in filling those positions, House Appropriations Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, who authored the legislation, said lawmakers had reached an agreement with the agency to repeal the specific number of positions that OMMA needed to add.
Under the new law Stitt signed, OMMA can hire “additional staff” as needed to regulate medical marijuana and enforce state laws.