Claudia Conner, the agency's deputy director and general counsel, said federal laws now protect all state employees. The state's merit protection system is outdated and no longer needed.
“The classified service has become antiquated,” she said.
Terminating a classified employee is a lengthy process, she said.
The committee voted 13-11 to pass SB 1124. It now goes to the House Calendar Committee, which will decide if it gets a hearing.
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, the House sponsor of the measure, said the Oklahoma Compensation and Unclassified Positions Review Board recommended the changes.
He said the status of an employee's job should be based on effort and work.
“It shouldn't be based on politics,” he said. “It shouldn't be based on who you know.”
Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and a member of the seven-member review board, was the only member to vote against the changes for the Tourism Department.
He said changing workers to unclassified eliminates certain job protections and could promote cronyism by agency heads.
Deby Snodgrass, the Tourism Department's executive director, said about 60 percent of the employees in her agency are unclassified.
“They would tell you that there is no difference in our hiring process, in our disciplinary process, in our review process, whether you're classified or unclassified,” she said.