NewsOK reporter Bryan Dean chatted with State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, and State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, about open meetings requirements for the state Legislature Wednesday afternoon.
Murphey and Holt began working on a bill to subject the state Legislature to open meeting requirements last year.
You can join Bryan’s open record Q&A’s on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 2:30 p.m. and submit your questions about legislation and public access in Oklahoma. Read the complete chat transcript here.
Why is passing something like this a challenge? What is the opposition you have heard?
Murphey: Last year, some expressed concern that if the media could access legislative email that the media might distort the exchanges or take them out of context.
Others are worried about their schedules becoming public and presenting a security threat.
Holt: In general, the general opposition to transparency comes from a fear of the unknown. Most legislators have never served at a different level of government in Oklahoma, and the concepts in the Open Records and Open Meetings acts are just foreign to them. So it's Jason and I's role to educate them and get them more comfortable with it.
Sen. Holt, you worked at the city while MAPS and MAPS for Kids were implemented. These are both feathers in the cap for Oklahoma City government. How did conducting meetings in public affect these initiatives?
Holt: I think the wisdom of elected leadership is never going to surpass the collective wisdom of the public. You only benefit from that collective wisdom if you operate in public and allow everyone who is interested an opportunity to make suggestions.
Specifically, MAPS experienced a lot of change due to open meetings. I think you see the same thing currently with MAPS 3. That's a good thing.
It also provides legitimacy to the final decision, if people have an opportunity to speak their mind and be heard, even if ultimately their specific preference is not adopted.
The public and the media are allowed into the House and Senate while they are in session, so if you could, explain where the problems are with the current rules that apply to the legislature?
Murphey: Notice isn't codified and they are thus subject to arbitrary and capricious change. This would add a level of permanence to the notice process.
What about caucus meetings of political parties at the Legislature? Would they be open under the proposed bill?
Murphey: No. :( The politics are that we had to exempt them to have a chance at passage.
What is the reasoning there? Why are some legislators against having caucus meetings open?
Holt: Caucus meetings are not open under the bill. A year ago I proposed in a different bill that I introduced that caucus meetings at least be posted (kind of like an executive session). Not that they would be open, but at least the public would know that a majority of the Senate or House were meeting and where. But that was deemed a nonstarter, too.
Murphey: Many legislators believe the caucus needs to hammer out the issue and hear all viewpoints and feel that those viewpoints will not be expressed if the meeting is public.