The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is requesting a one billion-dollar increase in funding. DOC officials say the funding is long overdue.
The $1.53 billion budget includes plans to increase staff pay, build two new medium security prisons and expand rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates.
DOC Spokesman Matt Elliott told KGOU, some state prisons are in need of things like locks and sewage system repairs.
“This is just a result of the neglect that corrections has dealt with in this state for years,” Elliott said. “If we want to keep sending people into prison, we need to invest proportionately in that system. We can’t just keep cramming people in."
Last year, the agency requested $1.6 billion dollars for similar repairs. The state legislature approved $485 million.
Subpoenas from three separate investigations into possible financial mismanagement at the Oklahoma State Department of Health came to light this week.
On Thursday, a House investigative committee issued subpoenas to Preston Doerflinger, acting director of the Department of Health, Denise Northrup, acting director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, and Chris Benge, chief of staff for Governor Mary Fallin.
The committee is looking into what role Oklahoma Department of Health officials played in the apparent mismanagement of at least $30 million dollars.
The committee is also interested in Fallin’s line item veto of HB1019X, the budget bill passed by legislators during the special legislative session.
“They want to know when the decision was made to line item veto that bill and who was involved in that decision,” eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley said.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider. Your inside look at Oklahoma Politics and Policy. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the state budget is still hanging in the balance but agencies are moving forward. The Department of Corrections has submitted a budget request of $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2019. That's more than a billion more than the department received this year.
Shawn Ashley: That makes it one of the largest budget requests that the legislature and the governor will receive for fiscal year 2019 and it's more than three times what they received for the current fiscal year. It marks the second time Director Joe Allbaugh and the Board of Corrections have decided to make such a large proposal. A year ago the director said that this was what was needed to get the agency up to speed after years of neglect. And he repeated those same sentiments earlier.
Pryor: This will not be the only request for more money. In this budget climate, how is this kind of request being received by lawmakers?
Ashley: It varies from lawmaker to lawmaker. Some will advocate for this request and others like increases from the Department of Education. In other cases though, as we saw during the special session, there are a number of lawmakers who think that the state is spending enough, or more than enough money and that something should be done to rein in that spending.
Pryor: The House Special Investigation Committee is looking into the situation at the health department where there have been claims of financial mismanagement. Subpoenas have not been issued.
Ashley: For the first time in many years. A legislative committee has issued subpoenas. These subpoenas look for a variety of information that may reveal financial mismanagement at the State Department of Health. And those who may have been involved in it.
Pryor: Are the investigators looking into anything else?
Ashley: Yes. That's a rather interesting aspect of these subpoenas. Not only do they ask for information related to the financial management of the agency, they also ask for information related to the line item veto of House Bill 1019X, the budget bill passed by legislators during the special legislative session. Basically they want to know when the decision was made to line item veto that bill and who was involved in that decision. They also asked for any information that may be revealed in documents at the Department that show any participation in rallies that were held at the Capitol expressing support for additional funding for the health agencies that were affected by the special session consideration.
Pryor: So what are they looking for?
Ashley: Well, it's really hard to say. They simply are looking for the information at this time. You may recall during the special session that a number of concerns were raised by certain lawmakers that the agencies were directly involved in the rallies for example. In bringing people out to the Capitol to advocate on their behalf to get this additional money.
Pryor: What are agencies supposed to do in response to legislation?
Ashley: Well, most every state agency has a legislative liaison who works as a bridge between the agency and lawmakers when they're considering legislation related to those agencies. And in fact they are really prohibited from lobbying like a professional lobbyist, a private lobbyist might do. But there are some people who are expressing concern and have expressed concern over a number of years that that some legislative liaisons are in fact lobbyist on behalf of the state agencies. Senator Robert Standridge, a Republican from Norman, for example has proposed a piece of legislation that would do away with legislative liaisons. The legislature then would have to interact directly with the agency director or other employees if they were dealing with legislation.
Pryor: Pre-filing has begun for legislation that will be heard in the regular session which begins in February.
Ashley: We're about nine weeks from the start of the regular session and there will be a couple of thousand new pieces of legislation filed for consideration then. Lawmakers have until December 8 to request legislation to be drafted for the regular session and we're starting to see some of those bills. But the real flow of bills has not yet begun.
Pryor: There is an impending second special session, with the expectation by the governor that legislators would be working on the fix for the budget hole in the interim, so they would be ready to pass legislation when they return to special session. Does that appear to be happening?
Ashley: It's hard to say. You know when the first special session ended I think lawmakers were convinced they had done the best that they could. If there are discussions taking place now they're being done quietly and behind closed doors. We haven't heard of any real efforts towards a particular agreement. So time will tell. We'll have to wait and see.
Pryor: All right Shawn, that's Capitol insider. Remember to listen to Capitol insider on Friday afternoons at 5:45 and on Monday mornings at 7:45 on KGOU. Until next time I'm Dick Pryor.
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