The Oklahoma House has narrowly passed a bill that supporters say will force the association that oversees high school athletics to be more transparent and accountable.
The House approved the reform bill 51-38 on Wednesday.
“I urge you — for the kids of Oklahoma, for the parents of Oklahoma — to vote ‘yes’ on this bill,” said its author, state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville.
Opponents called the bill both unnecessary and improper government intrusion upon a private organization.
“I am not for growing government control. I am not for expanding government control,” said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner.
House Bill 2730 now moves to the state Senate.
The passage of the bill was the latest blow to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.
The association had fought for defeat of the bill, urging school administrators to call their state representatives immediately. The association contends it should make any reforms on its own.
Last fall, coaches and parents complained during legislative hearings about the association’s decisions.
Also, in October, the state Supreme Court slammed the OSSAA for arbitrary and capricious actions against a football team.
“This Court has permitted the OSSAA, in the guise of a voluntary association, to govern the affairs of secondary school athletics in Oklahoma with near impunity. No more,” Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote for the majority in the 40-page opinion.
She wrote that an organization interwoven so tightly with the public school system is not truly voluntary.
Supporters of the bill pointed repeatedly to the Supreme Court decision during a debate on the House floor Wednesday.
Supporters also brought up that the association’s former executive director embezzled almost $500,000 before he was caught in 2009.
Supporters also complained the association has brought legislative intervention on itself because of its arrogance in its treatment of people.
“We’re not going to sit on the sidelines any longer,” said Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore. “That’s not the way it should be. When you read the Good Book, that’s not the way God asked us to act.”
The OSSAA oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12. It makes decisions on the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility.
The bill will force the association to follow the state Open Meeting Act, the state Open Records Act and the state Administrative Procedures Act, its supporters say.
It also will force the association to get a performance audit every five years, supporters say.
Specifically, the bill prohibits a school district from belonging to a school athletic association unless the association agrees in writing to follow those three laws and to get the performance audit.
OSSAA officials insist they already follow the Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act. Critics insist the association does not.
The impact to the association of following the state Administrative Procedures Act is in dispute.
OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley warned school administrators that all OSSAA constitution, rule and policy changes will be subjected to an expensive and lengthy approval process involving the Legislature and governor.
The bill’s author, Rep. Cleveland, said the impact to the OSSAA does not go that far.
This Court has permitted the OSSAA, in the guise of a voluntary association, to govern the affairs of secondary school athletics in Oklahoma with near impunity. No more.”
Justice Yvonne Kauger,