Last Thursday, Speaker of the House Kris Steele publicly announced his support of the proposal to apply open records and meetings laws to the Legislature.
In Oklahoma, with the exception of the Legislature, government entities must follow a set of laws designed to ensure public access to the proceedings of government. This is one of our most important statutes because it helps to ensure your right to know how your taxpayer dollars are being spent.
These laws dictate that no governing board can take action without taking a vote in public and with certain exemptions, the documents held by the board may be accessed by the taxpayers.
When the Legislature passed these laws, they exempted the Legislature. This means that the important transparency laws that apply to school boards, city councils, county commissions, public trusts and state agency boards do not apply to the Legislature.
I firmly believe it is only a matter of time before this law is applied to the Legislature as well. The obvious hypocrisy of the unequal application is too apparent to be defended by even the most determined advocates of the status quo.
Since this bill was introduced last year, Speaker Steele has been very open to considering the proposal and providing support so it could be studied in a deliberative manner. Last year, he gave the green light to our Government Modernization Committee to hold a hearing considering the possible implications of the law’s enactment.
The committee heard testimony from OSU professor Joey Senat and Delaware State Senator Karen Peterson. Senat described how the law is working well in other states, and Peterson told about her recent successful effort to create the law in Delaware. Specifically, Peterson described how the law actually made the legislative process more efficient and explained that while it provided increased transparency, it did not lead to increased cost. Senat stated that Oklahoma is one of just three state legislatures that are explicitly exempted from open records laws.
Following the study, applying this reform in Oklahoma took another step closer to reality when State Senator David Holt announced that he would also sponsor this type of legislation in the State Senate. Holt’s statement demonstrates that there is support in both legislative chambers for the proposal.
Since the bill was sponsored, the Oklahoma press has been a great ally. News stories and editorials have greatly enhanced the chances for passage.
During the past few weeks I have been working with the Speaker to draft a final version of the proposal. It won’t contain everything on my wish list if I could draft the perfect proposal, but it will go a long way towards building on last year’s far reaching and transformative legislative transparency changes. I look forward to presenting this bill in committee during the next few weeks.
I don’t think there were many who thought the effort would be successful when it was first sponsored, but I really believe that because of the commitment and effort of all of those mentioned in this update, that the bill will at the very least win the approval of the House during this year.
State Representative Jason Murphey
2300 North Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
1(405) 557-7350 (Office)