Senate Bill Language Would Expand Powers Of Attorney General

Thursday, April 7th 2022, 1:43 pm

Language from a House bill looking to expand the powers of the Attorney General’s office popped up Wednesday morning in a Senate bill. 

Rep. Sherrie Conley’s (R-Newcastle) HB 4015 initially failed to get a hearing on the House floor. 

The language of HB 4015 replaced the language of a law enforcement training measure, SB784. 

When this happens, lawmakers say a bill is “shucked.”

The State Powers Committee then passed SB784 5-to-1 with the new language, which will allow the Attorney General’s office to investigate discrimination complaints at public schools or at a state university. 

“I’m here today to give a civil rights appeal to Oklahoman, to an Oklahoman, and that be a top-level appeal,” said Rep. Danny Williams (R-Seminole). 

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office of civil rights currently investigates housing and discrimination complaints. 

The measure is connected to HB1775, a bill that went into emergency effect after passing last session. It restricts discussions of race and gender in Oklahoma classrooms.

The State Board of Education was responsible for creating rules for the law, including how to process complaints. 

Since September, the state board has only received three complaints of HB 1775 violations. Two were unsubstantiated, one is under investigation. 

But the state board received 500 public comments while creating the rules. 

“We had 500 comments, but we had no credible records. we had a lot of talk about critical race theory, but no evidence. we had a lot of smoke, but no fire,” said Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa). 

SB784 authorizes several key changes. 

The AG’s office will have the power to receive and investigate complaints and conduct periodic compliance reviews to ensure schools are complying with the law. 

The measure would create the 15 person Oklahoma Education Commission to research how to improve the quality of remote and distance learning education. 

A lawsuit filed in October seeks to overturn HB1775, saying its unconstitutional. 

Rep. Williams said he would not accept an amendment to expand the bill to include private schools that accept public money. 

The State Department of Education and the Attorney General’s Office both declined to comment on Thursday’s vote.