The Oklahoma Labor Commissioner, Leslie Osborn, has a record of working for the state's economic growth. Last week speaking to the Grove Rotary Club, she said access to
health care is a key consideration for businesses along with quality education.
Osborn says Oklahoma has the rail and highway system businesses are seeking, but "We lose when it comes to health care and education." She currently chairs the Department of Commerce’s automotive steering committee, which is working on recruitment of diversified manufacturing businesses to the state.
Oklahoma is one of 14 states that continues to reject federal funding to expand Medicaid. That position is said by some to have hurt rural hospitals and left many without access to health care.
Osborn said she believes an initiative petition known as State Question 802 is likely to be on the 2020 election ballot. It would expand Medicaid in Oklahoma by accepting federal dollars and providing services to certain low-income adults with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Since 2013, Oklahoma has not wanted to expand Medicaid by establishing a health insurance exchange and, therefore, has rejected billions of federal dollars.
Prior to her election as Labor Commissioner last November, she served for 10 years as a member of the House of Representatives. In that role, she was the first woman to chair the Judiciary Committee where she authored the workers' compensation reform bill which lowered costs for many Oklahoma businesses. In 2016, she was the first woman appointed as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. At that time, the state faced a $1.2 billion shortfall and when she opposed cuts to the Human Services Department she was removed by her party from that position.
Speaking about her removal she has said, "Being relieved of my duties as chair only reinforced my desire to fight the good fight for Oklahomans who want to see destructive partisan politics, bickering and pettiness replaced with constructive conversations, fresh ideas and bold initiatives."
She told Rotary members she believes state tax cuts "went too far." She noted those cuts lead to an average cut of 45 percent for each state agency. "That's hard to fix."
"We have to invest in our teachers and education system...We have to have access in rural areas to health care including Emergency Rooms and physicians."
"Oklahomans across the state have told me they are utterly disgusted at the divisive way we conduct our business at the State Capitol. Only when we come together will we turn the tide of status quo behavior and face the reality of our situation," she says.
Osborn thinks that the criminal justice reform that reduced many felonies to misdemeanors was "unrealistic. We let the prisoners out on a wing and a prayer." She noted that without funding job training, GED help, substance abuse help and mental health access, the state can't expect former prisoners to succeed. "We have to fund their path to be better citizens."
In discussing her department, Osborn pointed out that the Labor Department does not deal with union issues because Oklahoma is a Right to Work state. instead, she says the main issues involve enforcement of state child labor laws, enforcement of the wage and hour laws and working with business and governmental entities on safety issues.
Osborn said that employing children under the age of 18 requires different employee guidelines. She said her department reaches out to businesses to help educate businesses on how to comply with state requirements.
She noted that many of the wage and hour disputes handled by the department involve lower wage earners. "The average payout is $900." She said last year about $1 million was awarded through the Administrative Law judge system.
She also pointed out that the agency is responsible for workplace safety for the public sector including city, county and state employees as well as schools and universities. These entities are not covered under the federal OSHA regulations.
Other areas covered are inspections and licensing for asbestos, amusement rides, elevator and escalators, alarms, locksmiths, alternative fuels and welders.
"Our job is to help ensure fairness, equity and safety in Oklahoma workplaces through ethical behavior, conscientious guidance and loyal service to Oklahoma's employers and employees. Additionally, the department provides oversight and regulation for key industries ensuring the protection of the public."