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Oklahoma lawmaker exemption keeps public in the dark on records

BY JOHN ESTUS Modified: March 17, 2010 at 8:33 am •  Published: March 17, 2010
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/> Walke agreed, and said while crafting the Open Records Act, he found many lawmakers "just didn’t like the idea of oversight.”

Parts of Oklahoma’s judicial branch also are exempt from open records and meetings laws.

Support for inclusion
Oklahoma lawmakers in recent years have worked to open many legislative meetings to the public despite not being required to by the Open Meeting Act.

Rodger Randle was Senate President Pro Tempore when the Oklahoma Open Records Act passed in 1985. Asked this week why lawmakers never included themselves in that act, Randle chuckled and said: "We’re not a dumb group.”

Randle, a Tulsa Democrat, later said: "I can’t imagine a reason in the world why we wouldn’t want legislative records to be open today.”

Randle cited records that would show how lawmakers are interacting with lobbyists, such as calendar entries, as records that should be opened.

Some states with legislatures included in open records acts allow lawmakers to keep secret certain records that relate to the crafting of policy. Randle said there is merit to keeping those records secret.

"That in essence is akin to a client-lawyer relationship,” Randle said. "You need to allow policymakers an opportunity to freely debate options in the process of coming up with a proposal.”

Oklahoma’s Open Records Act wasn’t without controversy when it passed. Numerous government agencies viewed it as burdensome. Some filed lawsuits attempting to block the law.

"It is going to be a very bothersome new law,” former Broken Arrow Public Schools Superintendent Clarence Oliver said in 1985, according to The Associated Press. "I am not sure that they (legislators) are aware of what kind of Pandora’s Box they have opened.”

Walke said including legislators in the Open Records Act would go a long way to strengthening it.

"At the time when it first passed, I think it was among the best in the country,” Walke said. "But it didn’t take long before everybody in the world wanted an exemption, and they started throwing in little phrases here and there that really weakened the thing considerably. Today, I would say it’s a much weaker vehicle than it was at the time.”


Candidates for governor

want Legislature in act

At FOI Oklahoma’s annual Oklahoma Sunshine conference Saturday, all six gubernatorial candidates vowed to support possible future legislation that would include the Legislature in the state Open Records Act. The candidates are:


• Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, Democrat


• Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso


• Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Democrat


• U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City


• Robert Hubbard, Republican


• Roger Jackson, Republican

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