Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
Muskogee Phoenix. Jan. 20, 2018.
One of the cornerstones of freedom must be transparency in government.
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt ordered the results of a 2011 audit of contracting in the cleanup of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tar Creek Superfund site not be released.
Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones has requested a court order him to release the audit.
The audit covered contracting practices of the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Trust, according to the Tulsa World.
The trust oversaw voluntary buyout of homes at the site in Picher and Cardin.
A few people know what the audit reveals. It’s time the public knows.
The public has a right and need to know if the audit:
— Uncovered any impropriety; or
— Shows no impropriety.
Pruitt has since moved on to lead the EPA. That raises a few red flags regarding this audit.
A hearing, open to the public, should be held regarding the merits of releasing the audit.
The public needs the ability to evaluate the court’s reasoning if the court keeps it from public view.
The public has a right to know how government uses taxpayer money.
This audit is no different.
Tulsa World. Jan. 22, 2018.
The Oklahoma Legislature has a lot to do this year, including establishing a sustainable tax base, providing a long-overdue raise to public school teachers and dealing with a long list of needed reforms to state government.
We hope that list doesn’t crowd out another important job: licensing reform.
Lured by the promise of raising state revenue without raising state taxes, the state has allowed a distressing number of occupations to restrict the marketplace through mandated training, testing and licensing requirements.
The Virginia-based Institute for Justice says the state has the 18th most burdensome set of licensing laws in the nation. Oklahoma requires testing, fees and licenses of at least 448 occupations, from abstractors to water lab operators. In between, there are rules covering blacksmiths, jockey agents, and septic tank pumpers. In Oklahoma, you have to do 600 hours of study and pay the state $50 in fees before you can legally provide a facial.
The state’s Occupational Licensing Task Force — ably led by Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorne Houston — has proposed 12 reforms to get the state licensing process under control.
A critical element of the proposal is for the Legislature to include licensing review in its routine sunset review process. The commission proposes lawmakers decide whether to continue licenses only if they meet a compelling public interest, such as protecting the public’s health, safety, fundamental rights or substantial fiduciary interests.
That’s at least a good start on the process. We’d urge consideration of another category: assuring competence in publicly funded occupations that are critical to society.
Much of the work proposed by the commission wouldn’t require new law. The sunset review could be done by a change in legislative rules. Other proposed ideas could be handled by an executive order from the governor.
We congratulate the commission on its work.
Houston, a long time public servant who has seen blue ribbon panels come and go, often to little effect, said her goal was to come up with a report that wouldn’t just “sit on the shelf.”
We concur with that goal. Whether it happens or not will largely depend on what the Legislature does next. We urge them to find the time to move forward with licensing reform this year.
The Oklahoman. Jan. 23, 2018.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has a headquarters to brag about. All it took to get to this point was, oh, about a decade of turmoil, pleading and legislative meddling (and at times indifference).
The new facility, converted from the former Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s office at NE 63 and Kelley Avenue, features gleaming new equipment, wonderful lighting, and plenty of room for the men and women who conduct one of the most important services in state government — determining the causes of suspicious and sudden deaths.
For too long, these professionals were made to work in exactly the opposite conditions, in an outdated, cramped, leaky building that played a significant role in the ME’s office losing its accreditation in 2009 with the National Association of Medical Examiners.
At times, manpower issues resulted in backlogs so great that corpses had to be stacked in office coolers. For a time in 2011, the agency was forced to store corpses in refrigeration trucks, after its 1970s-era cooler broke. “It was not a dignified place,” says Dr. Eric Pfeifer, chief medical examiner.
Despite these troubles, the Legislature did little or nothing to help. For several years, Republicans who control both chambers refused to approve a bond issue to build a new office (or to build or upgrade anything else). In 2010, they finally signed off on moving the office to Edmond, but didn’t provide the funding.
That was followed by a plan to couple the headquarters with the forensics lab at the University of Central Oklahoma, using bonds issued by the Council of Bond Oversight. That idea was opposed by some lawmakers who felt it was the wrong use of a state program, an argument rejected by the state Supreme Court.
Before that plan could go forward, problems with implementation resulted in the bonds not being issued. Eventually came a plan involving the Commissioners of the Land Office, which buys property to raise funds for public education. It bought the City-County Health Department building and subleases it to the ME’s office.
The site provides about three times the space as the old headquarters at a price considerably less expensive than the move to Edmond would have been.
The ME’s office also has solid leadership in Pfeifer, which has resulted in increased appropriations from the Legislature. Stability at the top was lacking for too long.
In 2008, the man who held the top job resigned under pressure, not long after suggesting moving all autopsy operations to Oklahoma City. That idea angered Tulsa-area lawmakers, and the outgoing ME complained about legislative meddling as he exited. His replacement lasted less than a year, hired in May 2009 and forced out in early 2010. (Another top official resigned in 2009 and was hit with sexual battery charges.) Pfeifer was hired in March 2011, after offers made to two other candidates were withdrawn because of questionable backgrounds.
The new office has been operational since December, bringing an end to a drama that had lasted far too long. Here’s to the agency soon regaining its national accreditation, and to many years of having a workspace that matches the quality of the men and women inside it.