Gov. Henry vetoes bills cited in probe of legislative misconduct

Gov. Brad Henry today (Sunday, June 6) vetoed two bills related to a pending investigation of alleged legislative misconduct, saying the measures were fatally flawed and not in the best interest of the state. Both measures, Senate Bill 738 and House Bill 2486, addressed operations at the Office of the Medical Examiner (ME).

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is investigating allegations that several state lawmakers concocted a scheme to provide a legislator with a new job at the ME’s office in order to assist the election bid of another official.

On Thursday, Prater contacted and briefed the governor’s office on the probe and indicated pending legislation was involved in the allegations.

Lawmakers passed more than 200 bills in final days of the legislative session and Gov. Henry is currently reviewing those measures to determine which should be signed and which should be vetoed.

In a story posted Saturday on and printed in Sunday’s editions of The Oklahoman, award-winning news reporter Nolan Clay detailed allegations that state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, a south Oklahoma City Democrat, may have vacated her office to allow state Rep. Mike Christian, a Republican, to run in her place.

The Oklahoman story stated that state Rep. Randy Terrill, a south Oklahoma City Republican, is a focus of an investigation by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

Leftwich and Christian are also under investigation. Both of them denied wrongdoing in interviews with Mr. Clay. On Friday and Saturday, Terrill did not respond to the veteran journalist’s request for comment. Prater said evidence indicates Leftwich was to receive a job created in the legislation in return for leaving the Legislature.

Sen. Leftwich’s departure from the Legislature, announced on the last day of the 2010 legislative session, had surprised most Capitol observers.

In today’s statement, Gov. Henry said, “I do not know if the allegations are true or where the investigation will ultimately lead, but I do know the bills in question are not in the best interest of the state of Oklahoma,” said Gov. Henry. “Investigation or not, there is no reason to create and fund the type of new position outlined in this legislation.”

Among other things, S.B. 738 would have reorganized the Office of the Medical Examiner, implementing a number of reforms and efficiencies advocated by Gov. Henry and others to put the state agency back on track.  However, the legislation also contained a provision calling for the creation of a new agency “transition coordinator” with a salary of $80,000.   

“S.B. 738 contained many important reforms to help get the medical examiner’s office back on track, but buried within the legislation was a highly-paid, new position that is entirely unnecessary in the operation of the agency.  Because of that fatal flaw, I had no choice but to veto the bill,” said the governor.

To salvage the reforms in the legislation, Gov. Henry said he would urge the governing board of the ME’s office to administratively adopt as many of the proposals as possible until the next Legislature can act.

The governor also vetoed H.B. 2486, a measure that transferred money from a state law enforcement account to the ME’s office, presumably to fund the new position.

In his veto message, Gov. Henry said the bill was not part of the state budget agreement and did not provide justification for the transfer of funds.

The governor did sign into law today one bill affecting the Office of the Medical Examiner.  Senate Bill 1337 authorizes the agency to relocate near the University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Science Institute in Edmond.

Following are the unedited veto messages sent this afternoon to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations by Governor Brad Henry’s office: 

This is to advise you that on this date, pursuant to the authority vested
in me by Section 11 and 12 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution to
approve or object to legislation presented to me, I have VETOED House Bill
2486. This legislation transfers funds from an existing state account to a
state agency without any justification for doing so or any explanation
about the ultimate use of the funds. This transfer was not part of the
state budget agreement and does not contain sufficient information to
merit approval.

This is to advise you that on this date, pursuant to the authority vested
in me by Section 11 and 12 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution to
approve or object to legislation presented to me, I have VETOED Senate Bill

“This legislation contains many important reforms and efficiencies,
but it is fatally flawed because of one  provision. SB 738 creates a new,
duplicative and unnecessary position, agency transition coordinator, at the
salary of $80,000, but does not justify the need for the post. At a time
when the state has been forced to cut many important programs and
services, the creation of such a position  cannot be justified or

“Because SB 738 contains many other positive provisions to help
make the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner more efficient and
effective, I will urge the agency’s governing board to administratively
implement as many of those proposals as possible until the matters can be
addressed in statute by the next  Legislature.”

Watch Patrick B. McGuigan discuss the investigation on News9.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.