With the Legislature starting up next week and the bill-filing period over, we’re getting an idea of what issues might come up this session on the open records front.
At an FOI-Oklahoma board meeting yesterday, the Oklahoma Press Association‘s Mark Thomas said his group is tracking more than 80 bills having to do with the Oklahoma Open Records Act or the Open Meetings Act.
Thomas said that number is typical for what his group tracks each session. But he did say that term limits have contributed to the loss of institutional knowledge among legislators. For example, a number of bills that were introduced and died a while ago are making a reappearance from new lawmakers.
Some of this year’s bills make sense from a transparency angle, such as Rep. John Carey’s bill (HB 1049) to make all police incident reports public, not just ones that result in arrests.
Other bills are a little more troubling, mostly because they are too vague in their wording. For example, HB 1546 by Rep. Lee Denney, would seal after-action reports and response plans following “hazards” of any kind. I’m no lawyer, but my reading of this bill means it would cut off access to records detailing agency responses to events like last year’s Country Cottage E.coli outbreak.
From the introduced bill:
Section <24A.28> A. The following information may be kept confidential. …
4. Continuity of operations, plans, emergency response plans, after-action reports, or other records detailing emergency planning, response activities, or vulnerability assessments of a public body or public official, whether the activities relate to an act of terrorism, man-made or natural disaster, or other all-hazards related event;
(The Open Records Act already contains specific exemptions to terrorism investigations.)
Of course, it’s still really early in the process, so this bill and others could be improved or refined. But we need your help to keep an eye on this process. If you see an open records/open meetings bill you like (or hate), please let us know by e-mailing email@example.com or leave a comment below.
Written by Paul Monies