EDITORIAL: AG office unrightfully engulfs Human Rights Commission
• Office of Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt: 405-521-3921
• Office of Governor Mary Fallin: 405-521-2342
Our View: Oklahoma should make human rights a priority.
The Oklahoma Human Rights Commission is a state agency that investigates complaints of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age. Or, at least it did.
The legislature passed Senate Bill 763 in May 2011 to transfer all responsibilities of the commission to the office of civil rights enforcement, which recently moved to the attorney general’s office. The consolidation will take place July 1.
This consolidation is a dangerous mistake. Justice is threatened by placing a non-partisan entity under the control of a partisan elected official.
Attorney General Pruitt is outright in his right-wing sentiments. At the Reclaiming America for Christ event at the First Baptist Church of Moore last July, Attorney General Pruitt likened the anti-abortion movement to British Parliament member William Wilberforce’s fight against slavery in the 18th century. Attorney General Pruitt was an honorable speaker at the event, as were both U.S. Representative James Lankford and state State Representative Sally Kern http://reclaimamericaforchrist.org/event/reclaiming-america-for-christ-annual-conference/.
Further, the attorney general’s office already oversees multiple units:
• criminal appeals
• general counsel
• medicaid fraud
• the multi-country grand jury
• public protection
• public utilities
• tobacco enforcement
• victim services
• workers’ compensation
• insurance fraud
In two weeks, the office will have yet another unit to monitor within the civil rights enforcement office.
Bestowing more responsibility to an office with limited resources and staff and politicizing discrimination in the process by placing it under the attorney general is disserving to Oklahomans and fails to protect citizens from human rights violations.
Governor Mary Fallin said the consolidation was to save tax dollars and ensure that government resources are used efficiently and effectively.
While most state agencies were asked to take a three to five percent budget cut last year under Governor Fallin’s budget plan, the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission was originally asked to take a 65 percent cut before there was talk about its consolidation.
The attorney general’s office experienced a more than $2 million budget cut last month. Additionally, the office was denied a requested $300,000 in funding to help it take over the Human Rights Commission.
According to the state budget for the 2011 fiscal year, the attorney general’s office operated within a $25.2 million budget. Most of that budget -- $14 million -- was spent on salaries and benefits for the employees in the office. The civil rights enforcement office operated within a $1.2 million budget, while offices like the victims services unit and legal services operated within a $7.3 million budget and a $8.2 million budget, respectively.
But SB 763 also reduced the size of the civil rights enforcement office, allowing for few investigations of civil rights violations.
Similarly, last year Governor Mary Fallin appeased social conservatives in eliminating three gubernatorial advisory councils that dealt with different races and cultures.
Human rights in Oklahoma are in severe shape. In Oklahoma, women earn 76 percent of what men earn. Men of same-sex couples in Oklahoma earn 26 percent less than married men. As of January 2011, only Oklahoma County and the cities of Tulsa, Del City, Altus, McAlester, Vinita and Miami prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for public employees by local government policy. Black workers in Oklahoma were unemployed at more than twice the rate as white workers in 2010.
Clearly, Oklahoma must properly address discrimination that affects many different minorities.
But human rights issues aren’t exclusively for minorities. They’re issues for families, communities and the state. If we continue to politicize human rights, reduce its funding and shrink the size of agencies responsible for addressing human rights issues, we aren’t properly investing in our state.