Thursday, May 21, 2009

Government Agency Accountability Bill Headed to Governor for Signature

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation preventing agency officials from using regulatory threats to pressure citizens into engaging in political activities is headed to Gov. Brad Henry to be signed into law. (Video Link)

“Anyone who can revoke your license and prevent you from earning a living should not be allowed to use that power for political purposes,” said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “This legislation will penalize any state official or bureaucrat who tries to abuse his or her power.”

House Bill 2176, by Nelson, makes it illegal for any chief executive officer or other administrative head of a state agency to use licensing authority (and the threat of revocation or nonrenewal) to pressure citizens into acting on the official’s behalf by “directly or indirectly” requesting “support or opposition” to legislation impacting the agency.

“While citizen input is crucial to the legislative process, Oklahomans should not be coerced into any political activity or lobbying efforts,” Nelson said. “We need the honest opinion of citizens, not the second-hand views of a bureaucrat.”

The bill also creates penalties for state agencies that fail to file reports required by the Oklahoma Program Performance Budgeting and Accountability Act.

“Most of our fee-based agencies are supposed to file financial reports with the state, but many never do and there’s no penalty for noncompliance,” Nelson said. “If a small business owner refused to submit information to those same agencies, they would not hesitate to punish that individual. We need to hold our state agencies to the same standard.”

Under the legislation, any state agency failing to comply with reporting requirements would face significant financial penalties. First violations could result in the loss of 1 percent of an agency’s fee revenue, 2 percent of fee revenue for a second violation, and 5 percent of fee revenue for subsequent violations.

Agencies that repeatedly violate the law could ultimately be forced to pay for an outside firm to conduct an independent audit of the agency.

House Bill 2176 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously and cleared the state Senate today. It now goes to the governor to be signed into law.
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