Legislators question moving State Medical Lab to Stillwater

The stage is set for a political battle over the Oklahoma Medical Lab and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to move it to Stillwater.

State Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, announced Monday he will file legislation in the upcoming legislative session to keep the Oklahoma Public Health Laboratory in Oklahoma City.

Gov. Stitt last week announced plans to move the Public Health Laboratory to Stillwater by the end of the year. State health officials said they would use $25 million in state funds along with federal coronavirus aid funds to move the laboratory into temporary leased space in Stillwater.

“It’s important to keep the Public Health Laboratory in our state’s capital,” Martinez said. “Locating the lab in an already established major medical complex where it can function in conjunction with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation will help in the recruitment of top doctors and other medical staff as well as keep services central for all Oklahomans.”

Martinez said it only makes sense to keep the public health lab close to its overseer, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), and he questions if this is the best use of CARES Act funds.

The Oklahoma Public Health Laboratory provides essential services for state and county health departments, OSDH agency programs and works with private health providers that are consistent with the public health goals of the Oklahoma State Board of Health.

But Rep. Martinez isn’t alone in having some questions and doubts about the move.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, released the following statement on the Governor’s decision to move the state’s public health lab out of Oklahoma City.

“Today, my office reached out to Gov. Stitt’s office to request a bipartisan presentation on moving the public health lab out of Oklahoma City,” Virgin said. “For many members of our caucus and our constituents, the announcement has created confusion and concern. In an effort to unite our government as these plans move forward, it would be helpful if the Governor’s office could provide insight into why this move is best for Oklahomans.

“It is extremely rare for a single person, even a governor, to have the ability to unilaterally make the decision to close, remodel and rebuild a state asset, using millions of taxpayer dollars, without any direct input from the public or state employees who serve the agency. It may be unprecedented in Oklahoma.”

Source: OK House press releases