Sunshine Week: Government transparency bills pass first big hurdle in Oklahoma Legislature

More information will be available on state websites, but fees for some records may increase as lawmakers make changes to open government laws.
BY PAUL MONIES pmonies@opubco.com Published: March 19, 2011

More than a dozen bills dealing with open government and transparency passed either the House or Senate by the first big deadline in the Legislature this week.

Among them are bills that expand information and expenditures on existing state websites and one that improves transparency for hiring outside legal counsel by agencies. A few bills hamper access or put additional fees on public records.

Bills had until Thursday to pass their respective chambers. The Senate passed that legislative hurdle on Wednesday.

The House met into the night on both Wednesday and Thursday.

House Bill 1086, by Rep. Jason Murphey and Sen. Clark Jolley, passed the House by a vote of 93-4 and awaits action in the Senate. The bill, the Oklahoma Government 2.0 Act of 2011, streamlines some payment and technology functions and expands the types of information available on state websites.

Building on the data.ok.gov site, the bill creates similar websites for forms, documents and maps.

“House Bill 1086 has the potential to completely transform the way state leaders and taxpayers hold the state bureaucracy to account,” said Murphey, R-Guthrie. “It continues the implementation of the spending data transparency and establishes the framework for bringing transparency to government performance.”

Amid opposition that it would give too much power to the attorney general, Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, succeeded in getting House Bill 1223 passed by the House. It changes the process by which state agencies can contract with private attorneys. The measure also requires outside attorney contracts to be posted on an agency website.

“We've got about $10 million, conservatively, going out the door every year to private law firms with very little oversight,” McCullough said during debate on the bill. “Right now, we have got agency heads selecting attorneys just because they want to.”

House Bill 1776, by Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, would require county and municipal candidates in large counties to file their campaign reports with the state Ethics Commission. It now heads to the Senate, where its sponsor is Sen. Kim David, R-Wagoner.

Marilyn Hughes, executive director for the Ethics Commission, said HB 1776 would probably add another 100 to 150 candidates for tracking under the agency's database and website. It would affect only Oklahoma City and Tulsa, as well as Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties. Each has a population of more than 250,000.