Oklahoma veterans sites could expect unannounced inspections if bill becomes law
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 7:32 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma State Department of Health would conduct unannounced inspections of the state's seven veterans centers if a measure that cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday becomes law.
The measure comes after reports of neglect and abuse at Oklahoma veterans centers and an interim legislative study on the issue.
Senate Bill 629 by Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, passed by a vote of 18-0 and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The interim study found a lack of outside oversight of the agency that runs the centers, Simpson said.
While a federal agency contracts for inspections of the centers, no one accountable to the residents of the state is involved, he said.
"The public Health Department brings that accountability back in an additional level of oversight," Simpson said.
He said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs inspection process focuses more on programs and procedures, while state Health Department inspections would focus on implementation of things such as treatment for pressure ulcers.
Officials at the centers know in advance when the federal inspection will occur, but state inspections would be unannounced and could take place during off hours and days, Simpson said.
When the state Department of Health was removed from the process in 2003, veterans lost some rights, such as having their grievances addressed in a timely manner and having a hearing and appeals process when they are evicted from the centers, Simpson said.
If the measure is passed in its current form, at least one unannounced inspection at each center will be done each year, said Mark S. Newman, Oklahoma Department of Health Office of State and Federal Policy director.
Alcohol and drugs: In unrelated action, the panel passed measures that would consolidate the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control with the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, calling the new entity the Oklahoma Commission on Alcohol and Drug Enforcement.
The panel passed the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 17, by a vote of 16-1. The measure, by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, would require a vote of the people. The measure now heads to the Senate floor.
OETA assets: The panel also passed SB 867, also by Jolley, which would transfer the assets of the Oklahoma Education Television Authority to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education if OETA is abolished.
Jolley said the state needs a backup plan so it won't lose millions of dollars worth of assets if officials decide not to continue the state agency.
Critics say broadcasting is not a core government function. Supporters say OETA is an invaluable asset, especially in rural areas.
Meanwhile Wednesday, a measure that would gradually reduce the amount appropriated to OETA won approval from the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
House Bill 2218, by Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, would reduce appropriations each fiscal year until June 30, 2020, when the authority would receive no direct appropriation from the Legislature. The authority would be free to raise money through other methods to remain in operation.
The House Calendar Committee will now decide whether the bill advances to the House floor.
Accounting degree program: The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed SB 59 by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, which would require the state regents to create a bachelor's program in accounting at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.
Langston University currently offers an accounting program in Tulsa.
The measure heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Oklahoman Reporter Michael McNutt contributed to this story.
Veterans Affairs hires deputy for its office
The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs hired Danny Stewart as its deputy director, the organization announced Wednesday.
Stewart, a Navy veteran, will begin March 18.
He has been the director of the Oklahoma State Accrediting Agency since 2008, where he oversaw education and training programs for those enrolled under the G.I. Bill.
The department recently announced John McReynolds as its executive director.
The agency has been under fire in the past several months after reports of a veteran who was scalded and died at one of the state's veterans centers.
It has pledged a reorganization to address problems.
- SHANNON MUCHMORE, World Staff Writer
Original Print Headline: Panel advances bill on veterans site inspections
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Sen. Frank Simpson: His bill allowing unannounced inspections of the state's veterans centers heads to the full Senate for consideration.