Whether the dates of birth of public employees should be an open record dominated discussion Saturday at the annual Oklahoma Sunshine Conference. The issue has become a hot topic in state and local governments lately because of legislation and legal rulings related to news reporters’ requests for public dates of birth, which are presumed open under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
A Dallas-based journalist and attorney told conference attendees about a years-long legal battle in Texas over the same issue. The Dallas Morning News in 2006 made an open records request for a state payroll database that included state employee dates of birth. The state refused to release the dates of birth, so the newspaper sued the state to obtain those records. Numerous Texas courts since have granted the newspaper access to the database under the state’s Public Information Act, but the state has appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which hasn’t ruled on the case. Like many newspapers across the country, reporters for The News use the dates of birth found in public records to background public employees. Without dates of birth, it is impossible to differentiate people with common names. "It’s not just an issue of open government and good government. It’s one that actually does, in my opinion, imperil the ability for news organizations to do the type of reporting that is really important to the public interest,” said Paul C.