Shelton criticizes proposed relocation of civil rights office

State Rep. Mike Shelton believes it is a mistake to relocate Oklahoma’s Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and trim its functions.

Senate Bill 763, which passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week, would move the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement to the Office of the Attorney General and alters its size.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Shelton contended, “We should not take a non-partisan entity like the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and place it under the control of a partisan elected official. I believe the people of Oklahoma need an independent voice on civil rights issues, and the citizens who depend on that independence will be the ones hurt by this move.”

The Oklahoma City Democrat’s press release on the issue said the proposal “would effectively gut the agency’s ability to conduct its core mission.” Shelton  said, “The legislation greatly reduces the size of the enforcement office to the point it could do few if any investigations of civil rights violations.”

He said the change should be opposed regardless of the political party of the individual elected attorney general. “I having nothing against the current attorney general and would have opposed this bill regardless,” Shelton said. “It doesn’t matter if the attorney general is a Democrat or a Republican; the people need a nonpartisan, independent voice to handle civil rights concerns.”

Shelton said he is also concerned about Senate Bill 837, which also passed the House this week. That measure would change state laws regarding the requirements for pursing discrimination claims.

“Because this legislation makes it harder to file discrimination cases, it is closing the door on people who may have been discriminated against,” Shelton said. “Supporters would like to say discrimination is now a part of history, but sadly, discrimination is still happening and we as a state must continue to fight it. During debate, supporters made multiple references to discrimination cases based on race, but the problem is far greater. By making this change, I fear the state is also turning its back on women, the disabled and others.”

Shelton characterized both bills as “misguided” and “mistaken.”