DHS still exists.
That's the first thing Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials want the public to know in the aftermath of Oklahoma voters' overwhelming approval of six state questions that have generated as many questions as they have provided answers.
“Our county offices are still open today to provide benefits to people who need them,” said Sheree Powell, DHS spokeswoman.
Public confusion about the status of the agency was created by ballot language that called for amending the state constitution to abolish the “Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services” and position of agency director.
While references to the agency and its director were eliminated from the constitution by Tuesday's vote, the agency and its director still exist in state laws so they will continue to operate, officials said.
The agency's governing commission will dissolve. That will take place once election results are certified Tuesday and filed with the secretary of state.
The DHS director will then report to the governor.
Under state law, the governor and legislative leaders will appoint four citizen advisory panels to oversee DHS operations. The panels, made up of five members each, will look at four separate areas — children and family issues, developmental issues, aging issues and the agency's administration.
Spokesmen for the governor's office and House and Senate leaders said officials will move as quickly as possible to make the appointments.
John Estus, spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele, said Steele will be consulting with Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon, since Steele will be leaving office, and hopes that joint appointments can be made.
Some officials have expressed concerns that the new advisory panels will be duplicative of the work being done by three existing advisory panels — the State Council on Aging, Child Care Advisory Committee, and Advisory Committee on Services to Persons with Developmental Disabilities.
State Rep. Jason Nelson, who helped draft DHS reform legislation, said lawmakers likely will look to members of the new advisory panels for advice on what to do about the older panels.
Voters also approved two state questions involving property taxes Tuesday.
Those changes will become effective Jan. 1.
After that date, all intangible personal property will be exempt from ad valorem property taxation and county assessors will be prohibited from raising appraisals of agricultural land and owner-occupied homes with homestead exemptions by more than 3 percent a year.
Public schools and vocational-technical schools are expecting to collectively lose about $55 million a year in funding once the measures take effect next year, according to Jeff Mills, director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“They (schools) cut programs, they cut staff, they cut their expenses. That's all they can do,” Mills told The Associated Press.
Voters also approved a measure that will remove the governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain nonviolent offenses.
Pardon and Parole Board parole recommendations currently pending before the governor will still require her approval for inmates to be released, said Terry Jenks, director of the agency.
Beginning with the December parole board meeting, however, nonviolent offenders approved for parole by the board will not require the governor's approval, he said.
Steele and state Sen. Josh Brecheen, authors of the Senate joint resolution that prompted the public vote on parole changes, said the Legislature next session should work to address issues concerning Pardon and Parole Board safeguards raised by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.