House approves civil service reform

Mike Seals - March 14, 2021 10:24 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that modernizes the state employee human resources system passed unanimously in the House on Tuesday.

House Bill 1146, or the Civil Service and Human Capital Modernization Act, is authored by Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond.

“Our state employee human resources system has not been updated in nearly forty years,” Osburn said. “I’ve worked exhaustively the last four years with all stakeholders on this legislation, and we’ve achieved what we consider to be the gold standard in the nation for how state employment systems should work.”

Osburn said the legislation updates human resources processes for about 36,000 state employees. It creates better flexibility for state agencies in hiring, advancing, promoting, rewarding and paying their employees. This saves Oklahoma taxpayers by cutting red tape and creating a much more efficient system, he said.

The measure places all employees into a newly modernized civil service system under the Human Capital Management Division of the Office of Enterprise Services (OMES). Political appointees and employees of the House, Senate, governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and judiciary would not be under the system. Agency directors also would be able to make 5% of their employees, typically upper management, exempt.

Osburn said this is perhaps the most collaborated-on bill of the session – the very definition of consensus legislation. The language in the measure is agreed upon by most, if not all, of the stakeholders, including the House, Senate, governor, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA), the Oklahoma State Troopers Association, Office of Management and Enterprise Services Human Capital Management Division and others. Questions and concerns supplied by multiple agencies, associations and other stakeholders were addressed in recent weeks.

Osburn has been working on the issue since his first legislative session in 2017. He passed similar merit protection reform last year, but it was sidelined because of COVID-19. He said the pause actually allowed him to improve the measure.

“Every party negotiated, collaborated and provided input admirably, and the resulting product is truly one of the biggest state government reforms in recent memory,” Osburn said.

Briefly, this bill:

  • Reduces bureaucracy by consolidating administrative HR functions and taking the handcuffs off state agencies for more autonomy to manage their workforces.
  • Establishes an efficient, unbiased, and fair review process for objections to disciplinary actions.
  • Eliminates “classified” and “unclassified” designations from the state’s personnel management. State employees will simply be state employees.
  • Creates a confidential whistleblower program and an Office of Veteran Placement under HCM.

If signed into law, HB 1146 would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. It would sunset the Merit Protection Commission Dec. 31, 2022.

HB 1146 passed by a vote of 93-0. It now goes to the state Senate where it is authored by President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.


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