Birth date bill would cripple watchdog ability

THE OKLAHOMAN EDITORIAL Modified: February 24, 2010 at 4:11 am •  Published: February 24, 2010
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.


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