The Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce selected Ardmore as one of several cities in the state to host a workers' comp seminar to explain changes within the law. Among those speaking to area business leaders Tuesday was Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a former businessman.
Pruitt said one of his focuses was relating to businessmen on how to work with the AG's office to prosecute fraud. Pruitt said since he has taken office in 2010, workers' comp and Medicaid fraud has dropped 62 percent. He also encouraged businesses to be proactive in collecting data to aid in prosecution, and was supportive of reforms.
"Changing the characteristics of the system is very important," Pruitt said.
The significant change to the system is that it will change from a judicial system to an administrative system, similar to 48 other states. Pruitt said under the judicial system, workers' comp had become an industry, and with new changes, it would place power with the stakeholders, business owners and employees.
"I authored workers' comp legislation in 2000 and 2001 geared toward this reform," he said. "I'm glad to see we have crossed the finish line."
Addressing businessmen regarding changes in workers' comp is one of many items that have kept Pruitt among the busiest men in state government. The state is involved in several cases regarding its sovereignty, including two issues with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt said one of the cases before the Western District Court is regarding the Freedom of Information Act. The state is attempting to get correspondence from the EPA in regard to cases to determine if the agency has collaborated with environmental groups to determine policy.
"We have been very suspicious because of a case regarding the Clean Air Act," Pruitt said. "Our initial request identified individual cases."
The EPA refused the request, because, in the agency's opinion, it was too broad. The request was pared down to regional haze and was once again refused, which has led to legal action.
"If there is a collaborative effort, we will take additional steps," Pruitt said.
Another issue is that of regional haze, which was heard in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. The state lost on a 2-1 vote and is considering whether to petition for a re-hearing or move to the Supreme Court. The issue involves the rights of the state to determine its best action for combating regional haze under the Clean Air Act. The state had submitted a plan to clear visibility in one trouble spot within the state, the Wichita Mountains. Former EPA director Lisa Jackson replaced the plan with a federal plan which would cost utility companies $2 billion to $2.5 billion. Those costs would, in due course, be passed along to utility customers.
The issue Pruitt and the state have with the ruling is that regional haze is an aesthetics program, which Congress has said can be balanced between cost and benefit.
"Congress has set a standard of cooperation with the states, and the 10th Circuit did not consider it," Pruitt said.
Those issues have drawn support from other states, Pruitt said. As the Attorney General described it, there are several issues affecting the states in their relationship with the federal government, which Pruitt says has become abusive in recent years in terms of dictating its agenda.
"Federalism is a real concept, grounded in our Constitution," Pruitt said. "What we deal with in our office is giving life to that. It's important for our work."
Pruitt cited the issues with Medicaid as an example of the federal government's aggressive stance toward the states in the implementation of policy. Other issues were in the environment, spending and regulations as well as hydraulic fracturing.
"I am disturbed by a disrespect for the law," Pruitt said. "We have the President in several instances saying, 'I can't wait,' and enacting law. It defeats the structure of the Constitution."
Pruitt said agencies have, in effect, become the fourth branch of the federal government, and some have worked toward broadening their power without respect or consideration for the law or their own rules in place.
"When you have an agency that says we can do things our way — they don't say that — but this is how they act," Pruitt said. "They have rules, and ignore it."
Pruitt said his office is one in which he and his staff live consequential lives in that they face challenges that affect people and the way they live their lives. And with all the challenges to state sovereignty that must be addressed, public safety remains a focal point of his job.
Pruitt said Oklahoma is one of four states in which violent crime rate has increased. As AG, his job is to make sure the victims' families are comforted and receive justice, and that those responsible are held accountable.
One key to enhancing public safety is spending time on crime prevention and budgeting accordingly for it. He cited New York City as an example. It has decreased its number of homicides from 2,300 per year to 400 through a focus on prevention and paying attention to the small crimes as a way of influencing positive change overall.
"We have substantial momentum," Pruitt said. "Oklahoma is truly on the rise, and it's exciting. But if you don't pay attention to the issues like roads, infrastructure and crime prevention, it will be lost."