Oklahoma’s Open Records and Open Meeting laws have some “significant defects” that inhibit access to information and the public’s right to know, a freedom of information expert said Saturday. Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, pointed out half a dozen areas that could be improved in Oklahoma’s laws when he skimmed through the text Saturday morning during FOI Oklahoma’s 2011 Sunshine Conference. FOI Oklahoma is a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes openness in government and access to public information. Sunshine Week, which starts today, is a national initiative aimed at promoting discussion and awareness about open government and freedom of information. Everything should be open unless disclosure would cause significant harm, Freeman told close to 50 public officials, journalists and concerned citizens who gathered at The Oklahoman for the conference. Exceptions should pass a harm test and include a reason why they are exempt, he said. “That is missing in most instances from your law in Oklahoma,” he said. “You have broad exceptions which do not recognize that basic principle.” Freeman’s job is to give legal advice about freedom of information issues to anyone who asks, including government agencies, journalists and the public. His agency, which includes one other person, is a unit within New York’s Department of State. Freeman issues legal opinions and judges often follow them, he said. He said the attorney general sends freedom of information issues to him. Freeman said his agency is rare among states in the U.S. He said if a day passes and he didn’t upset a public official, it means he didn’t go to work. However, his agency has developed credibility and respect by being impartial, he said. Freedom of information is not only a legal requirement, it’s also an ethical obligation, said Joey Senat, coordinator of Sunshine Week for Oklahoma and a member of FOI Oklahoma’s board of directors. Many people aren’t aware of their rights, Senat said — having an agency like Freeman’s to turn to would be a big help. He said Oklahomans often have trouble getting their local district attorneys to take freedom of information issues seriously and don’t know who else to turn to. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said he liked the idea of an open government office like the one in New York. He said he would talk to people about the possibility of creating one here. “I think that’s something we ought to do in the state of Oklahoma.” Other speakers at the conference discussed legislation relating to the public’s right to know and ways to use the state’s open meeting and open records laws. Some bills that have been introduced would be detrimental to the public’s right to know, said Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association. House Bill 1797, which would ban texting while driving, also includes language that would prohibit someone from viewing or copying a record from the Department of Public Safety before paying for it. The bill would prevent people from looking at a record to make sure it contains the information they want or from copying down the information they want unless they first pay for it, sight unseen. State Rep. Jason Murphey, R- Guthrie, received the Sunshine Award for promoting openness in government. Murphey said several bills would promote open meetings and open government, including a bill he introduced that would require the legislature to comply with the state’s open meeting and open records laws. Murphey said technology has helped many agencies provide easier access to information. “We just have to keep pushing,” he said.