IMPLEMENTING changes that might make a meaningful difference at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is like turning a ship at sea — it takes a while. But the effort is under way, we think in the right direction.
A couple of developments last week speak to this point. One was the appointment of one of DHS's most vocal critics at the Legislature, state Rep. Richard Morrissette, to be the No. 2 man on the House budget subcommittee on human services.
Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, has in the past offered legislation that would split up the mammoth DHS, arguing that it's presently too big and too varied to do the job adequately across the board. Indeed DHS is huge, responsible for such things as elder care and food stamps and, most importantly, the state's foster children.
The latter has put DHS and its governing board under klieg lights in recent months. The deaths of children who were in the state system, and systemic breakdowns in some of those cases, have lawmakers and others taking a closer look at the agency. Testimony by some DHS commissioners showed they weren't all that engaged in oversight of the agency, which produced more criticism and prompted Morrissette to publicly quiz several commissioners about the deaths of kids.
On the appropriations subcommittee Morrissette will replace Republican Rep. Jason Nelson, who was named by Speaker Kris Steele to be subcommittee chairman. Steele said he knows Morrissette “won't be shy about putting forth bold ideas. When it comes to DHS, that's precisely what we need.”