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
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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.