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Sunshine Week: State employee birth date issue in limbo as Oklahoma Supreme Court considers appeals

A bill to exempt state employee birth dates from the Open Records Act failed to make it out of a House committee and the House speaker expects no further action this year.
BY PAUL MONIES Published: March 17, 2011

The Open Records Act has several exemptions to protect public employee privacy, including limits on the disclosure of Social Security numbers, home addresses and home telephone numbers.

The birth dates and home addresses of 2 million registered voters in Oklahoma are available for a fee from the state Election Board.

Not all state employees are registered voters.

The state's Open Books website also has limited payroll information for employees of state agencies and higher education.

In January, the Supreme Court extended an order by Oklahoma County District Judge Bryan C. Dixon that stops several state agencies from disclosing the birth dates and employee identification numbers of public employees. That order is in effect while the case is pending before the Supreme Court.

Mike Minnis, attorney for The Oklahoman, said the court may order oral arguments or issue an opinion on the case. The time frame for those outcomes is unclear.

The newspaper's case attracted support from other media and government transparency groups, including Griffin Television, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and FOI Oklahoma Inc. The Tulsa World filed its own records request for similar state employee information and intervened in a lawsuit brought by several employee associations.

Last year, The Oklahoman used birth dates to check the backgrounds of many candidates in November's elections. Tax liens, bankruptcies, lawsuits and criminal charges were among the information uncovered.

Database Editor Paul Monies signed an affidavit in support of The Oklahoman's lawsuit and is a board member for FOI Oklahoma Inc.