MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

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February 14, 2013

State Senate panel approves agency merger plan

— OKLAHOMA CITY —  Two state agencies dealing with alcohol and narcotics that have a total of nearly 200 employees and combined annual budgets of more than $21.5 million would be merged under a pair of proposals approved Thursday by a Senate committee.

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved two measures that would merge the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs with the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission. Consolidating both agencies into the new Oklahoma Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement would result in cost savings and a consolidate administrative functions, said Sen. Clark Jolley, who sponsored the bill and joint resolution calling for the merger.

"This is something that's been suggested eight times in the past 10 years," said Jolley, R-Edmond. "It may work. It may not."

The proposed merger is part of a broader push by members of the Republican-controlled Legislature to streamline and ultimately reduce the cost of state government. The Legislature last year consolidated a handful of state agencies into the newly named Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

The ABLE Commission has about 50 employees, while the OBNDD has more than 140 state workers. Besides a reduction in some of those positions, Jolley said the agencies also could merge some of the two agencies' existing locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and McAlester.

Telephone messages left with ABLE's executive director and for a spokesman with OBNDD were not immediately returned.

Jolley's plan would require a vote of the people to create the new agency, since ABLE's existence is outlined in the Oklahoma Constitution.

Sen. Ralph Shortey opposed the bills, arguing that OBNDD's function of targeting drug dealers and traffickers was far different than the more administrative functions of ABLE, which generally deals with restaurant and bar owners and compliance with liquor laws.

"The ABLE Commission serves an entirely different function than OBN does," said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City. "The bureau of narcotics is going after the bad guys, the really bad guys."

While Jolley acknowledged ABLE deals primarily with "the nerdy side of crime and law enforcement," he said those functions would be handled by an administrative bureau within the new agency dubbed the Alcohol and Prescription Compliance bureau, which would also oversee the state's prescription drug monitoring program.

Both measures now head to the full Senate Appropriations Committee, which Jolley chairs.

Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, the House sponsor of the two proposals, said the state has "far too many" state agencies, boards and commissions, especially when compared to states of comparable size and budgets.

"It's a moral imperative of us to do right by the taxpayer and start reducing the size of government with some commonsense consolidations," Murphey said.

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