Osburn Files Legislation to Reform Merit Protection System

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OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Osburn announced today he is filing legislation aimed at providing transparency, accountability and consistency to Oklahoma’s hiring and compensation systems.

The bill is intended to streamline hiring to ensure the state is recruiting the best employees to serve taxpayers. By updating the current state employment classification system, the legislation will provide consistency to state employee compensation. The reforms will also streamline the discipline process to ensure state employee basic rights and eliminate the possibility of political influence, while eliminating unnecessary steps and easing agency human resource management burdens.

“As a member of the House Special Investigation Committee, I’ve been alarmed at the toxic work environment that exists in some state agencies,” said Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond. “Employees should be able to report mismanagement or areas of concern within agencies without fear of retaliation.”

 Oklahoma currently has more than 33,400 state employees. Of those positions, 67 percent are classified and 33 percent are unclassified. Classified employees typically receive greater protections than unclassified staff, who may be hired and fired at will. Oklahoma has far more unclassified employees than surrounding states, where unclassified staff comprises anywhere from 1 percent of the workforce in Arkansas to 17 percent in Colorado.

“I am pleased to be working with Rep. Osburn on this important and timely legislation,“ said bill coauthor Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City. “These updates to our current classification system will help ensure that Oklahoma has a strong system to recruit, select, and maintain an effective work force.”

Oklahoma’s Merit Protection System was created in 1954 and transformed into its current form in 1982. It has not been substantially updated or reformed in more than 30 years.

 “Historically, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association has promoted a strong and fair state employee merit system within agencies. It is critical that state employees are hired or terminated based on their qualifications and performance, and not because of who they know,” said OPEA Director Sterling Zearley. “State employees must have assurance that they can do their jobs and report any agency concerns without fear of reprisals. Employment practices based on merit are good for state employees and taxpayers. We appreciate Rep. Osburn and Sen. Floyd for working on legislation that will result in fair and efficient employment practices and OPEA will support them to get it passed.”

“The changes I’m proposing to the merit protection system will bring Oklahoma in line with other states,” said Osburn. “The reforms will also provide a long-overdue update to the structure and strengthen protection for whistleblowers along with agencies’ internal auditors. It takes Oklahomans on every level to make government work well, and this bill will help employees speak freely at the first signs of alarm.”