Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation Wednesday that puts the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission under the attorney general's office.
Backers of Senate Bill 763 said the move will save tax dollars through the consolidation of shared administrative services while continuing to protect citizens from discrimination and human rights violations.
The measure, which takes effect Nov. 1, creates the office of civil rights enforcement in the attorney general's office.
It will assume the functions, duties and responsibilities of the Human Rights Commission.
“Protecting human rights is an important function of government and I support the goal of eliminating discrimination,” Fallin said. “Merging the responsibilities and duties of the Human Rights Commission into the attorney general's office will result in cost savings and will better serve to elevate the mission of protecting human rights.”
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he hopes for a smooth transition.
“The objectives of the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission and its focus on civil rights fit well with our mission as the state's attorney to defend the rights of Oklahomans,” Pruitt said. “We take seriously the responsibility to protect the citizens of our state, and plan to fulfill that obligation with efficiency and professionalism.”
Critics of the move said it would get the independent commission caught up in politics.
The attorney general might be hesitant to prosecute certain cases if alleged violators were campaign contributors or possible contributors, they said.
Fallin proposed the merger in the budget she presented to lawmakers this year. She said it would increase efficiency in state government and would help chip away at the projected $500 million budget hole for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The Human Rights Commission has about a dozen employees. It received $571,258 in state appropriations this fiscal year; that same amount was appropriated to the attorney general's office for the 2012 fiscal year.