By Peter J. Rudy | Oklahoma Watchdog
OKLAHOMA CITY — A little over a week before the start of Sunshine Week which highlights the need for more transparency in government, the Government Modernization Committee in the Oklahoma House approved a bill to lift the exemption the legislature has to the state’s Open Records and Open Meeting Acts. House Bill 1085 by Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) passed the committee on an eight to three vote and is now eligible to be heard on the House floor.
The bill does not, however, simply remove the phrase written into the Open Records Act and Open Meeting Act that specifically exempts the legislature. When asked why, Murphey stated, “existing law has been carefully developed over years by transparency advocates and all the attorneys that fight with them. I didn’t want to do anything that unbalanced that.” He said it also keeps the separation of powers intact by making the legislature – not the courts – oversee alleged violations. (see video below for more with Rep. Murphey)
The bill creates an oversight committee that “shall investigate the complaint as soon as practical and shall hold a public vote substantively addressing each filed compliant.” Murphey says by having an open process and getting members of the committee on the record about each violation it will keep it honest. That idea did not sit well with Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City) who asked during the committee meeting “wouldn’t it be better to have an independent, outside body handle complaints, like the district court in the county where the violation took place, preferably Oklahoma County?” Murphey responded that the law could always be changed if it was not working well.
Under the proposed laws governing meetings, notice of the time and place of committee meetings would have to be posted 48-hours in advance and the agenda posted 24-hours in advance. Such a provision would have prevented an incident last year in the House when an appropriations meeting was held more than five hours earlier than what was announced on the House floor. The meeting provisions do give an exemption for partisan caucus meetings, however. Murphey says, “I wish they were, but the political reality is that it’s difficult to not exempt caucuses.”