Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

November 11, 2012

State question will not impact SORC closure

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — With the passage of all state questions earlier this week in Oklahoma, it has resulted in some confusion from many citizens on what changes will take place with the government at that level.

Included is what comes with voter approval of State Question 765, which changes much of how the Department of Human Services operates, according to DHS Communications Director Sheree Powell. There are also those not sure if it means anything for a recent Oklahoma Commission for Human Services decision regarding the closure of it’s two disability care institutions.

“We’ve been fielding a lot of questions,” said Powell, who even has had to respond to those working for DHS, wondering if they still had jobs or would be paid. “It has caused a lot of confusion with people.”

Powell noted how wording on the ballots led many to believe several misconceptions along the lines that the governing body would cease to exist, when in fact all it does is change who makes the decisions. She said many people don’t realize that this question was actually a part of state House Bill 3137, introduced earlier this year, and while it takes DHS out of the state constitution, they are still operating.

In effect, it dissolves the commission, but every thing that DHS offered through their various services will still continue as before with the new director, Ed Lake, making the call on decisions, said Powell.

As for the vote on November 1, the decision to close the former state schools still remains set in motion since it happened before the question was open at the polls, said Powell. In other words, the transition toward community-based care is still expected to happen with a closure date of no later than April 30, 2014 for SORC and August 31, 2015 for NORCE.

“What this state question has done is transfer all of the power of the commission into the director of DHS,” said Powell, adding how the legislature also has the power to change or bring back departments discontinued. “Currently all our roles and responsibilities stay the same unless state statutes change.”

Powell also pointed out that the advisory boards that would in some ways replace the commission would also not have the power to reverse closure of the facilities and this goes for any decision made before the question passed. Their role would be to offer advice to Lake in various areas like the disability services  division.

This basically means that nothing about the question would allow the vote to be overturned or changed, said Powell. Lake is also held accountable by having to answer to Gov. Mary Fallin, who can replace him with state senate approval, and any further changes would need to be introduced by legislators.

“It doesn’t have any effect on any previous decisions, you go with the laws at the time,” said Powell. “The advisory boards will not have any voting authority or power, they are strictly advisory.”

The final vote total for State Question 765 was 708,035 in favor and 474,518 against, equal to 59.8 percent. All questions will become official Tuesday, Nov. 13.