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.
“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.
Records fee increases
As lawmakers deal with an estimated $500 million shortfall in the general revenue fund, a few bills raise fees on government records. Senate Bill 954 temporarily increases the fee for a copy of a collision report from the Department of Public Safety to $15, up from $7. The measure, by Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, and Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, passed the Senate by a vote of 27-17 and heads to the House.
House Bill 1797, by Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, deals mostly with licensing and fees for commercial truck drivers. But a section of the bill would require fees just to take notes from DPS records. That part of the bill appears to be in conflict with the Open Records Act, which allows for either inspection or copies of public documents. It does not require the public to buy a copy of a record before inspection.
Senate Bill 105, by Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha, allows the state Equalization Board to set uniform fees for electronic copies of county assessor information. County assessors have been setting their own fees for that data, which has led to several lawsuits. SB 105 passed the Senate by a vote of 31-16 and heads to the House, where its sponsor is Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle.
Among the bills that failed to make it out of the House or Senate is one that would have put both chambers under the Open Records and Open Meetings Act. Another would have exempted state employee birth dates from the Open Records Act. The public employee birth date exemption is an issue before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Apart from pending legislation, the House and Senate took steps this year to increase transparency as they conduct business. Both chambers adopted rules to require conference committees to meet to consider changes to similar bills. Appropriations bills are now discussed in joint House-Senate committees that meet openly. Bills also must be posted for at 24 hours before a vote can be held.
The Legislature also unveiled a new website that makes available supporting information for bills and enhances online videos of floor proceedings and some committee meetings.