Oklahoma legislators consider making themselves subject to openness laws

Oklahoma legislators could be subject to open records and open meeting laws for the first time ever under a bill expected to be voted on soon in the state House.
BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Published: March 11, 2012
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The people who make Oklahoma's open government laws might soon have to follow those laws for the first time.

When legislators approved the state's open records and open meeting laws in 1977, part of the compromise to get the laws passed was to exempt the state Legislature.

House Bill 1085 would bind state lawmakers by rules similar to the open records and open meeting laws. It is expected to be voted on in the House soon, and if it passes there, will go to the Senate.

The bill's author, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said it would be appropriate if the measure was addressed during Sunshine Week, March 11-17.

Sunshine Week is a national effort to promote open government.

Oklahoma's open meeting law requires advance notice be given and agendas be published for meetings of school boards, city councils and every other public body in the state other than the Legislature. The open records law allows anyone to get a copy of most public records.

Murphey and State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, both saw those laws in action while working with municipal governments. Before joining the Legislature, Murphey was a city councilman in Guthrie, and Holt worked as chief of staff for Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

Both said they took the laws for granted until they saw what happened when they no longer applied. Oklahoma is one of three states that exempts the Legislature from its open records law and one of seven that exempts it from the open meeting law.

“It was a bit of a climate change coming to the Legislature,” Murphey said. “It just didn't feel right. It seems like one of those situations where the boss doesn't know what the employee does. People don't know what the Legislature is doing.”

Hard to track issues

Holt authored a similar bill in the Senate this session. It is dormant, but the Senate is expected to take up Murphey's bill if it passes the House.

Holt said he was shocked when he saw how little notice was given before legislative hearings. The scheduling makes it virtually impossible for interested voters to follow legislation, he said.

“Committee and floor schedules are often distributed with less than 24 hours notice,” Holt said.

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