Open records chat transcript, Jan. 23, 2013

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.

BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Modified: January 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013
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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.

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. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.

NewsOK 2:00 p.m. Thanks for joining us today. We'll get started with the chat at 2:30 p.m., but you can start submitting your questions now.
Jason Murphey 2:01 p.m. Good afternoon...
Bryan Dean 2:02 p.m. Hello, Jason. Thanks for being with us today. We'll get to some questions soon.
Jason Murphey 2:04 p.m. I am looking forward to it.
Senator David Holt 2:23 p.m. Good afternoon. David Holt checking in. I'm sitting at my desk in the Capitol and I'm ready for questions!
Bryan Dean 2:24 p.m. Welcome, David. Thanks for being here. We'll get started in just a couple of minutes.
Bryan Dean 2:29 p.m. OK. I want to start with a little background. The Oklahoma Open Meeting Act first passed in 1977. The state's open records act passed in 1985. As part of the negotiations to get both of these laws passed, the state Legislature exempted itself from them. While school boards, town and city councils and boards governing state agencies must all post notification for meetings in advance and stick to their agendas, there is no such requirement for the legislature.
Bryan Dean 2:30 p.m. State Rep. Jason Murphy and State Sen. David Holt, who have been gracious enough to join us today, are the authors of a bill that would subject the legislature to requirements similar to what other levels of government adhere to under the open meeting act.
Bryan Dean 2:30 p.m. I'd also like to add that while I'm sure Rep. Murphy and Sen. Holt would be happy to discuss other legislative and political issues at another time, I'm going to try to limit this discussion to open government issues.
Bryan Dean 2:31 p.m. Sen. Holt and Rep. Murphy, could you both start by telling us why this is an issue you wanted to get behind?
Jason Murphey 2:32 p.m. Certainly, as I recall, this first came up during the 2009 session.
Jason Murphey 2:33 p.m. The Speaker of the House received a request to release certain information
Jason Murphey 2:33 p.m. He was put in a very bad spot because he had to make the sole judgement call regarding the release (actually I think it was the 2010 session)
Jason Murphey 2:34 p.m. It became very obvious that there needed to be procedures in place governing the way the information was or was not released without one single person having to make that decision based on no criteria whatsoever.
Senator David Holt 2:34 p.m. Like Rep. Murphey, I came from a background in local OK government, where we are subject to the Open Records and Open Meetings acts. Specifically, I was chief of staff to the Mayor of Oklahoma City. It is hard to argue that OKC hasn't produced some of the most successful and ethical government in our nation the last 20 years, and we did so while subject to these acts. So I don't see them as a hindrance, and I can say that from personal experience. Also, as a conservative, I consider transparency one of my core principles.
Jason Murphey 2:35 p.m. And, the model of how open records applied to city government was the perfect example of a solution that should apply the the Legislature as well.
Bryan Dean 2:35 p.m. Rep. Murphy, you also came from city government in Guthrie, correct? What was your experience working under open meetings there?
Jason Murphey 2:36 p.m. We never had a problem with following those laws.
Jason Murphey 2:36 p.m. Even when citizens would ask for very exhaustive document requests.
Bryan Dean 2:37 p.m. To clarify, the bill you two are currently authoring has to do specifically with meetings, correct? Records are a different issue.
Jason Murphey 2:37 p.m. Both
Jason Murphey 2:38 p.m. Most meetings are currently held in a manner that would apply to open meetings laws if they were applied. But, this bill would codify it.
Bryan Dean 2:38 p.m. 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?
Senator David Holt 2:40 p.m. 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.
Senator David Holt 2:40 p.m. 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.
Senator David Holt 2:41 p.m. 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.
Bryan Dean 2:41 p.m. What sort of meetings are an issue with this legislation. 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?
Senator David Holt 2:42 p.m. I'll let Jason take it and I'll chime in.
Jason Murphey 2:42 p.m. Notice isn't codified and they are thus subject to arbitrary and capricious change.
Jason Murphey 2:43 p.m. This would add a level of permanence to the notice process.
Bryan Dean 2:43 p.m. Meaning they don't post agendas like, say, a city council, two days before a meeting is scueduled.
Jason Murphey 2:43 p.m. Which would be especially important towards the end of session when guidelines tend to get a bit looser.
Jason Murphey 2:44 p.m. Most of the time, yes. But, not necessarily all of the time.
Bryan Dean 2:45 p.m. Anyone who has ever followed the legislature knows how hectic the end of session is. Hearings are always being moved, and it can be extremely difficult to make sure you are there when an item you are interested comes up unless you are just camping out in the state Capitol all day.
Bryan Dean 2:46 p.m. I'm going to sprinkle in some questions as I can. Here is one.
Paul 2:46 p.m. What about caucus meetings of political parties at the Legislature? Would they be open under the proposed bill?
Jason Murphey 2:47 p.m. No. :( The politics are that we had to exempt them to have a chance at passage.
Bryan Dean 2:47 p.m. What is the reasoning there? Why are some legislators against having caucus meetings open?
Senator David Holt 2:47 p.m. Caucus meetings are not open under the bill. A year ago I proposed in a different bll 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.
Jason Murphey 2:48 p.m. 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.
Bryan Dean 2:49 p.m. This seems like a no-brainer for a lot of people. Why is passing something like this a challenge? What is the opposition you have heard?
Jason Murphey 2:50 p.m. What is the opposition to the caucus transparency or the bill as a whole?
Bryan Dean 2:51 p.m. I'm going to pose this question a bit later. It's a good one.
Bryan Dean 2:51 p.m. The bill as a whole.
Charles C. Self 2:51 p.m. Thanks.
Jason Murphey 2:52 p.m. 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.
Senator David Holt 2:52 p.m. Bryan - 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.
Jason Murphey 2:52 p.m. others worried about their schedules becoming public and presenting a security threat.
Bryan Dean 2:53 p.m. Here is an excellent question on the caucus issue.
Joey 2:53 p.m. Shouldn't the public hear those alternatives that rejected as legislation is hammered out? Shouldn't legislators be honest in front of the public? Seems like they want caucuses closed because they don't want the public to know what they're doing. A closed caucus allows lawmakers to take one position in private and another publicly.
Jason Murphey 2:53 p.m. That is exactly right!
Jason Murphey 2:53 p.m. At its core, this is an issue about honesty.
Bryan Dean 2:55 p.m. Sen. Holt makes a good point. Many legislators have never been subject to open meeting or records laws before, so they may not truly understand it. But how much of the opposition is truly just political, i.e. people not wanting the public to see how the sausage is made at the Capitol?
Senator David Holt 2:55 p.m. I actually can't think of times where I have heard members take an entirely different position in caucus than they did in public. I will respect caucus privacy as long as that is the policy of this institution (and I think that it will be for a long time), but I happen to think very little happens in caucus that is all that interesting. Of course, I serve in the Senate. Rep. Murphy may have a different experience!
Senator David Holt 2:57 p.m. I'm sure some people consider transparency a nuisance. That's why I keep repeating my mantra that if OKC can accomplish what it has under that system that it can't be that bad.
Joey 2:57 p.m. Weren't caucuses used last session to decide that pieces of controversial legislation wouldn't be heard on the floor?
Jason Murphey 2:58 p.m. Yes, in the past, I have seen the caucus used as a forum for members to convince leadership and other caucus members to not allow a vote on a measure that the member "can not" vote against in public.
Paul 2:59 p.m. So does the proposed bill cover legislative email?
Jason Murphey 2:59 p.m. Thus, the most important vote is the vote taken in caucus over to hear or not hear a bill.
Bryan Dean 2:59 p.m. Actually, maybe one of you could run down exactly what is and isn't covered in the current version of the bill.
Senator David Holt 3:00 p.m. The proposed bill covers e-mails sent from official accounts.
Jason Murphey 3:02 p.m. It covers many of the documents that are covered by the regular open records act.
Jason Murphey 3:02 p.m. And, it reflects similar exemptions.
Joey 3:02 p.m. Why not apply to their private accounts if the subject concerns the expenditure of public funds, transaction of public business or administering public property? That is the requirement for other state and local officials. Otherwise, they can avoid open government by using private accounts.
Jason Murphey 3:03 p.m. Those exemptions are forward looking calendar items, constituent communications, and work related to bill-drafting until the time of the release of the bill.
Bryan Dean 3:04 p.m. I would add to Joey's question, how much compromise is going to be involved in trying to actually get something passed? Currently there are no requirements, so something may be better than nothing, but is there a chance this could get watered down to the point that it will be largely ineffective?
Senator David Holt 3:05 p.m. Joey - I share your concern, but I think Rep. Murphey and I are trying to be realistic about something that will pass. It's hard to exaggerate how difficult this has been to date.
Jason Murphey 3:05 p.m. Because we did this bill last year
Jason Murphey 3:06 p.m. I am hopeful that many of the compromises have already been made.
Bryan Dean 3:06 p.m. Real-time access to e-mails isn't really feasible technologically speaking. It would work the same way it works for city or state agency officials. You can request e-mails after the fact and get copies on CD or paper.
Jason Murphey 3:06 p.m. This isn't uncommon for difficult pieces of legislation, where the bill fails the first few times but a lot of the objections are overcome and the way is paved for future versions of the bill.
Charles C. Self 3:07 p.m. In the last couple of years, there has been lots of talk in Oklahoma City about transparency. At the same time, we have seen a reluctance to be open when it appears to create discomfort for out politicians. What is that chance that we will see legislation this session that will ensure that state politicians honor their pledges to be transparent?
Guest 3:07 p.m. I would say the tech makes it much easier. todays emails can easily be replicated and made available. I believe, and Ill confirm, other govt entities are doing it now.
Senator David Holt 3:08 p.m. You will definitely see legislation, because Rep. Murphy and I have introduced it (Jason - you might want to provide the bill number, by the way). As far as it passing, you asked for a chance. I'd say it's the best chance we've ever had in state history. Time will tell if that's saying much.
Jason Murphey 3:09 p.m. HB 1452
Senator David Holt 3:10 p.m. Jason had an interim study in 2011. I had one in 2012. We have had a bill make it through a House committee in 2012. Considering how the previous 30 years went, this is a lot of progress.
Bryan Dean 3:11 p.m. Sen. Holt, you said it's hard to exaggerate how difficult this has been. Is that just because so many legislators don't understand the issue, or is it more the general slow pace of the legislative process?
Charles C. Self 3:12 p.m. Any chance for any legislation that might apply to the executive branch?
Senator David Holt 3:13 p.m. Well, as your former editor Ed Kelley once said, the Legislature can only do one big thing a year. I don't know if this is a big thing, but the observation illustrates how slow progress can be here. So yes, even if we all thought it was a good idea (see workers comp reform), it can still take years. But there is no question that there is also a lot of opposition.
Bryan Dean 3:13 p.m. Partial answer to Charles: The executive branch is subject to the open records act and open meetings act already. But as we have seen, enforcement is an issue.
Jason Murphey 3:14 p.m. Every year there are revisions of the current open meeting and records act that apply to the executive branch. This year will be no different.
Jason Murphey 3:14 p.m. We will work on advancing legislation to allow for more enforcement without the aggrieved citizen having to go to court.
Bryan Dean 3:15 p.m. Gov. Fallin has claimed executive privilege in refusing to release some documents. Currently, the only way to challenge her is to take her to court.
Bryan Dean 3:16 p.m. Technically, local law enforcement or district attorneys could arrest someone for violating open records or open meetings laws because it is a misdemeanor, but in practice, this is extremely rare.
Charles C. Self 3:16 p.m. Let's say clarification about executive branch email?
Joey 3:16 p.m. Please do the same for the Open Meeting Act.
Senator David Holt 3:17 p.m. Not sure your question, Charles? And Joey?
Jason Murphey 3:17 p.m. I think it will apply to both.
Senator David Holt 3:17 p.m. Apparently Jason understood. Ignore me.
Bryan Dean 3:18 p.m. I'd like to wrap up. I have one final question. If people want to see this done, what can they do? Is it as simple as calling their legislators? And is there anything else either of you would like to say about this topic?
Senator David Holt 3:18 p.m. Of course, call your legislators. Same answer as always. And e-mail them, of course.
Senator David Holt 3:19 p.m. I'd like to thank everyone for their interest, and wish us luck!
Jason Murphey 3:19 p.m. Ask them to support HB 1452. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this chat.
Bryan Dean 3:20 p.m. Thanks to everyone for your interest in this.
Bryan Dean 3:20 p.m. I'm going to be doing these chats every fourth Wednesday of the month at 2:30 p.m.
Bryan Dean 3:20 p.m. Hopefully we can have Rep. Murphy and Sen. Holt back as the legislative session heats up and a vote approaches on this.
Bryan Dean 3:21 p.m. Tune in next time.


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