New group is formed to look at human rights complaints in Oklahoma

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: June 12, 2012

A new group was formed Monday over concerns that discrimination complaints involving employment and housing issues will be overlooked after the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission disbands this month.

Many of those meeting at Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters represented agencies that opposed last year's measure approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Mary Fallin that eliminated the agency and placed its duties with the attorney general's office.

Senate Bill 763 moved the commission's responsibilities to the office of civil rights enforcement in the attorney general's office, with the agency to begin operations July 1.

It was part of Fallin's plan to consolidate several agencies.

“If you want to file a human rights complaint, you're out of luck,” said Neil McElderry, vice chairman of the nine-member Human Rights Commission, which will have its last scheduled meeting Wednesday.

AG office makes plans

The attorney general's office is working on details on how people can file complaints with the office of civil rights enforcement, said Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

“We're hoping to put a complaint form online or have a phone number and have all of that laid out before July 1 so that people will know where they need to go if they're having an issue,” she said.

The attorney general's office is finalizing plans on staffing its office of civil rights, Clay said.

It's unknown how many employees will be needed and how many of the commission's staff will be transferred to the attorney general's office, she said.

“We'll be announcing the director and staff and all of that in the coming days and weeks leading up to that,” Clay said.

Decision defended

The governor's office defended the consolidation.

“The governor feels merging the responsibilities of the Human Rights Commission into the attorney general's office elevates the mission of protecting human rights as well as saves tax dollars and ensures government resources are used efficiently and effectively,” said Aaron Cooper, Fallin's press secretary.

The Human Rights Commission has 11 employees, according to the state finance office. The agency received $531,270 this fiscal year. Some employees applied with the attorney general for a spot with the office of civil rights enforcement.

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