In Oklahoma, unelected licensing boards have the power to keep people out of their desired professions. But reform is underway to make Oklahoma licensing boards more accountable to the people and less prone to being dominated by special interests.
Licensing boards are typically comprised of several members who set standards that professionals must meet to work in a particular field. Oklahoma has several laws on the books that require the governor to select licensing board members based on a list of candidates provided by the current board — but limiting who the governor may choose cuts against democratic accountability and tightens the grip of special interests on these boards.
If one of these boards takes an action the people dislike, how do Oklahomans hold the board accountable? There’s no election for the Board of Nursing, Board of Examiners of Psychologists, or any other licensing body. Licensing boards are insulated from accountability, yet they exercise government power by regulating professionals in their respective fields. Unelected, unaccountable individuals cannot lawfully be given the power to set policy free from supervision or political accountability.
Ultimately, as the state’s chief executive, the governor should be held responsible for selecting board members, but the current law unreasonably limits who the governor may appoint. As that law now stands, he can potentially shift the blame to an unaccountable board if it takes actions the public dislikes.
In addition to the lack of democratic accountability, most boards in Oklahoma are composed of incumbent businesspeople who have an incentive to keep out new competitors. The state laws that created these boards require that those currently practicing in the industry or who already have a business interest in the regulated field occupy most of the board seats.
In some cases, current state law requires the governor to fill a board vacancy from a list of people provided by special interest groups, which tend to favor more regulation and higher barriers to entry for new professionals.
Some boards have seats reserved for members of the general public, presumably as a check on the potential conflicts of interest. But those public seats are often occupied by people who may still have a financial stake in keeping out competition.
The good news is that an easy solution can help diminish improper industry dominance on the licensing boards and promote democratic accountability.
In January, Sen. Julie Daniels introduced six bills in the Oklahoma Senate that would eliminate the requirement that the governor appoint board members based solely on the recommendation of current members of the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision, Oklahoma Board of Nursing, State Board of Examiners in Psychology, State Board of Pharmacy, State Geographic Information System Council, and Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Board. Just this week, three of these bills passed out of committee and are now heading to the full Senate for a vote. Of course, the governor is free to seek input from current board members, others in that professional community, and the general public. But legislators in Oklahoma — and other states with similar laws — should support measures that ensure the buck stops with the governor.
This op-ed was originally published by The Oklahoman on February 11, 2022.