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ME's office has to hope for favorable ruling by Oklahoma Supreme Court

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: June 3, 2013
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Building a new state medical examiner's office didn't have to be this difficult.

After the office lost its national accreditation in 2009, due in part to the poor condition of its cramped and outdated building, legislators could have approved a bond issue to pay for a new facility. This would have been a responsible use of taxpayer money, especially given the important work done by the ME's office. But it never happened.

So a different plan was formulated, one that would fund construction through a higher education bond program traditionally used to pay for such things as dormitories or classroom buildings. The University of Central Oklahoma requested the funding, because plans are to build the office close to the UCO campus, and school officials expect there to be plenty of interaction between it and the nearby Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's forensics lab.

But all the projects are on hold due to a lawsuit filed in January by an Oklahoma City attorney who objects to building and equipping the ME's office with funds intended for higher ed projects.

The agency that would issue the bonds has asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to determine whether projects in the program are constitutional. The head of the agency did tell the court last week that he believed the funding package should be given the go-ahead. But the only opinion that counts is the high court's, and that may be a while in coming. Arguments before a court referee are set for late June.

If this plan gets spiked, the medical examiner can forget about getting a new building any time soon because Republican legislative leaders loathe bond issues for any cause. Pay as you go is their mantra, which apparently plays well with the conservative base. But it does nothing to solve the lingering and significant problems the ME's office confronts every day.