WHEN an employee of the city of Oklahoma City got suspended last summer after it was learned federal grant funds may have been mishandled, the city wouldn’t release his date of birth to an Oklahoman reporter who sought to further investigate. Thus began a saga that has reached the state Capitol, where lawmakers appear all too eager to make it more difficult for such information to be released to the public in general and the media in particular. Reporter Bryan Dean wanted Ed Martin’s DOB in order to differentiate him from any other Ed Martin. The city cited two exemptions to the state’s Open Records Act in denying Dean’s request. A short time later, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said the city should supply dates of birth because there was no specific exemption allowing them to be kept confidential. Then Edmondson backtracked in a formal opinion that left it up to agencies to determine whether dates of birth should be released. In late December he visited the issue again, this time saying birth dates of public employees are presumed open records. Clarity at last. Or not. Now the Legislature is involved. Last week the state Senate voted 44-0 for a bill that would keep public employees’ dates of birth confidential. The bill’s author, Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, turned to an old reliable — the fear of identity theft — in selling her bill. Making dates of birth available, Leftwich said, would make it easier for a person to have his or her identity stolen. We could picture other senators, who always pay strict attention to every bill. "Did someone say identity theft? That’s easy — I’m against it!” If only it were true that access to dates of birth swings the door wide open for those wishing to steal an identity. In fact, experts in the field will tell you that these sorts of criminals feast not on public records or birth dates, but on such things as stolen mail and lost or stolen wallets. Why should the public care about this issue? Because birth dates allow reporters to determine whether an elected official has paid his taxes, or whether a school teacher has been to court for a violent offense or a sex-related offense. Unless a name is unique, a date of birth is vital to the process of sorting these things out and keeping the public informed. If this bill were to become law, it would cripple the media’s ability to fulfill its critical role as watchdog for the public — the men and women who pay the salaries of these city, state and federal employees. The state Senate clearly has no qualms about that. Perhaps the state House will.