FAMILIARITY breeds contentment — to a point.
Before state Sen. Howard Hendrick was hired to run the Department of Human Services in 1998, the head of a search committee looking to fill the position noted how important it was for the director to be familiar with the workings of the Legislature.
Hendrick wound up replacing another former state senator, George Miller, and served until earlier this year in the wake of one of the biggest sets of challenges facing the agency in its history.
When Hendrick, R-Bethany, got the job, the name of another lawmaker was in the hopper along with a longtime DHS employee then serving as the agency's legislative liaison. Although a national search for Miller's replacement was launched, the homegrown Hendrick got the job after the search committee's chairman noted the advantages of hiring a former lawmaker.
Oklahoma history is rife with filling agency and university jobs with former legislators. Sometimes it's worked out better than at other times. Hendrick had many positive accomplishments, but it was clearly time for a change.
Indications are that the next DHS director will not have spent any time in the Legislature. This may have its disadvantages, but it's far outweighed by the level of professionalism that an “outsider” can bring to the job.
Lawmakers obviously have a role in reforming DHS, but we'd prefer that one of its members not be the person in charge.
So much for trying to hold commercial pet breeders accountable in Oklahoma. A bill approved this week in a state House committee would do away with the Board of Commercial Pet Breeders, which was formed two years ago to regulate large-scale dog and cat breeders. The idea of creating the board was opposed from the start by many breeders who prefer the way things have always been done — and helped make Oklahoma a haven for unscrupulous puppy and kitten mill operators. Once established, the board struggled with leadership issues. This bill would place the board's duties with the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department. Backers say the agency is best equipped to handle the job. Our guess is that instead, the monitoring of dog and cat breeders will become an afterthought in the large agency.
The University of Oklahoma got budget advice last week from feminist activist Eve Ensler. The playwright famous for “The Vagina Monologues” is concerned about potential budget cuts to the Women's and Gender Studies program. Oklahoma doesn't fare well in national rankings of various health and social issues. But we doubt the high female incarceration rates and low use of prenatal care are the result of women not having taken such courses as “Red Dirt Women and Power” or “Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe.” If we want to be serious about improving the plight of Oklahoma women, we should devote our resources accordingly. To address the issue of violence against women, a cause Ensler champions, money could go directly to shelters or law enforcement instead of to academia. Or we could do something about the women and children's residential substance abuse treatment program waiting list, which has hundreds of names on any given day.
Fewer passengers, more safety
A study released this week offers further evidence that graduated licenses for young drivers are a good idea. Researchers with AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of a teenage driver dying in an accident increases significantly when other teens are in the car. Compared with driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver's risk of death per mile driven jumps by 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21. The risk doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21. Oklahoma's graduated license law says teenage drivers can have only one other teen in the vehicle unless someone 21 or older is along for the ride. Given this new study, parents may want to demand that their children keep passengers to a minimum even when the restrictions expire six months after a license is issued.