Oklahoma lawmakers hear from open-government advocates
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
11/14/12 at 8:07 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma appears to be one of only three states in which the Legislature has exempted itself from open records laws, a Senate panel was told Tuesday.
The other two states are Massachusetts and Oregon, said Joey Senat, associate professor at the Oklahoma State University School of Media and Strategic Communications.
His comments were made during an interim study on legislative transparency before the Senate Rules Committee.
The study was requested by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City.
Holt said he believes that the Legislature could craft a separate Open Meeting and Open Records Act for itself with some exemptions.
"The taxpayers should be given the best opportunity possible to know what is going on in this building, how their money is being spent and we obviously want to afford them that opportunity," he said.
Holt said that with term limits, there has been a lot of turnover among lawmakers. Many new lawmakers were elected in the spirit of taxpayer accountability, he said.
"We ought to be embracing that," he said.
Open records laws apply to at least 40 state legislatures, including Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas and Texas, Senat said.
Eight legislatures are exempted from open meeting laws, including Oklahoma, he said.
Senat said the majority of Oklahomans want the legislative exemptions to openness removed.
"Some 85 percent of Oklahomans believe the state Legislature should comply with the same open government mandate that applies to other public officials, according to a SoonerPoll released in March 2012," Senat said.
Operating in the open is not always the most convenient or easiest way to conduct public business, he said.
"But in a democracy, it's the right way," Senat said.
In related action: Randy Dowell, Senate chief of staff, outlined a number of measures the upper chamber is undertaking to make it more transparent.
In the future, Senate committees will be broadcast live on the Internet, Dowell said. In the past, only two rooms were wired for Internet broadcast.
In addition, the Senate will upgrade its video capabilities in the chamber, he said.
Legislation will be archived, allowing the public to type in a bill number and hear the debate, Dowell said.
Original Print Headline: Panel hears call for open government
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Joey Senat: Most Oklahomans believe that lawmakers should comply with the same open government mandate that applies to other officials, he says.
Oklahoma state Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, looks over a handout Tuesday during an interim study on legislative transparency before the Senate Rules Committee at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. Johnson is chairman of the committee. Oklahoma remains one of just a few states in which the Legislature is specifically exempted from laws regarding open records and open meetings. SUE OGROCKI/Associated Press