A House committee's decision this week not to kill the idea means there's still a chance the Oklahoma medical examiner's office may eventually get the new building it so badly needs. Here's hoping that happens.
The state of the current office building — outdated and overcrowded — contributed to the ME's office losing its national accreditation in 2009. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Eric Pfeifer has told lawmakers that reaccreditation won't happen if the agency remains where it is today.
The Legislature two years ago approved moving the agency to a site near the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, but provided no funding for the move. Officials at UCO have come up with an interesting proposal — selling bonds through the state regents' master lease program to construct the building on the campus.
Colleges traditionally use the master lease program to upgrade housing facilities and make other renovations. Financing usually covers seven years. In this case, the $42 million building would be paid for through a 30-year bond issue, which would leave the Legislature on the hook for $2.4 million per year during that time.
State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said he was uncomfortable with the length of the plan, that lawmakers would be ceding their responsibility to determine how the project is financed, and that he was concerned it could lead to the master lease program being used for other non-education projects.
We see it as an affordable, creative way for the state to solve a problem that's needed fixing for far too long. The importance of the work of the ME's office — determining the cause of suspicious and sudden deaths — can't be overstated. Lawmakers need to recognize that.
They would do well to recall remarks by Dr. Mary Ann Sens, head of the National Association of Medical Examiners, who toured the office last summer: “It's time to take it from the 1990s into the new century.”