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Oklahoma Senate bill keeps birth dates private for public employees

BY JULIE BISBEE Published: February 19, 2010
The birth dates of public employees would be confidential under a bill that passed the Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 1753, filed by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, passed with a vote of 44-0. No senators asked questions or debated the bill, which now goes to the House.

Keeping the birth dates of public employees secret violates taxpayers’ right to know the conduct of those who get paid with tax dollars, such as teachers, police officers, state troopers and elected officials, said Mark Thomas, executive director of the Oklahoma Press Association.

"Dates on a calendar do not belong to any single person,” Thomas said. "This is not like a Social Security number, it’s a date on the calendar that we use to decide if somebody can vote, if they can serve in the military and a host of other things.”

Leftwich, a former administrator with the medical examiner’s office, said she filed the bill in reaction to a recent state attorney general opinion that said public employee birth dates are public records unless the agency can prove that releasing the information would violate an employee’s privacy.

Leftwich said the bill protects state employees and no one requested the bill. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association and several law enforcement associations support the bill.

Leftwich said she didn’t want to make it easier for criminals to get access to information about state employees.

Rep. Randy Terrill, House author of the measure, said he plans to develop clearly defined criteria where the public’s right to know doesn’t go against "a reasonable expectation of privacy” on behalf of public employees.

"I understand that the public and particularly the press has a legitimate right to know in certain circumstances, and I’m curious if there isn’t some sort of balance or compromise that can’t be reached here,” Terrill said.

Terrill, R-Moore, said he’s concerned people could use birth date information to retaliate against correctional officers, state troopers, drug agents and others involved in public safety.

"I believe very strongly in the public’s right to know, but I also believe very strongly that just because you become a public employee doesn’t mean that your entire life history is a matter of open record,” Terrill said.

Public records law already keeps confidential home addresses, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers of public employees.

John Hruby, publisher of The Marlow Review, was one of several newspaper publishers who toured the state Capitol on Thursday.

Using birth dates

An example: Are employees sex offenders?

A comparison of January’s state payroll data to the state sex offender registry reveals 778 state employees share first and last names with registered sex offenders. Without dates of birth, which are included in the sex offender registry, it is impossible to determine whether these workers may be sex offenders. State employees who share the names of sex offenders include:

→Child care workers

→A state Supreme Court justice

→Doctors, nurses and other health care workers

→State troopers

→Prison workers

→Juvenile affairs workers

→Law enforcement investigators

→Drug enforcement agents

→University workers

Data analysis by John Estus and Paul Monies, Staff Writers


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