From today’s story, which is generating a few comments online.
- I’ve also posted a few related letters to Gov. Mary Fallin at the bottom. One is from the District Attorneys Council. The other is from The Sentencing Project.
BY PAUL MONIES
Published: August 18, 2011
The Pardon and Parole Board recommended Wednesday a convicted drug dealer from Kingfisher who is serving life without parole should have his sentence commuted to 42 years.
The recommendation for Larry E. Yarbrough, 61, now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin. Yarbrough has been in prison since 1997. The board recommended a commuted sentence for Yarbrough in 2002, but then-Gov. Frank Keating denied the request.
The five-member board issued a 3-2 split decision at a hearing room packed with Yarbrough’s family members and supporters at Hillside Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City.
Two board members voted not to commute the sentence. Two others recommended Yarbrough’s sentence be commuted to time served. One member said the sentence should be commuted to 42 years. If Fallin approves the board’s recommendation, Yarbrough could be eligible for parole next year.
Yarbrough, a former restaurant owner, was sentenced to life without parole in 1997 on a cocaine trafficking charge. Previously, he served time in prison in the early 1980s on convictions for LSD and marijuana distribution. Yarbrough also received probation for a felony conviction of receiving stolen property.
State law requires a life-without-parole sentence for drug-trafficking charges after prior convictions for two or more felonies.
In a videoconferencing appearance before the board, Yarbrough said he’s been a model prisoner who counseled young men entering prison. He said he planned to move to California with family if he ever got released from prison.
“I have turned my life around and bettered myself,” said Yarbrough, who is at the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville. “I have taken every drug program they have.”
Yarbrough’s family and supporters said his sentence was too harsh.
“He’s served his time already, and he just needs to be out,” said Yarbrough’s niece, Rhonda Campbell, of Edmond. “I know my uncle is all about the law, and he does respect the people, but this was too much for that type of felony. We’re just going to keep praying and keep positive.”
Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Fallin, said the governor would have no comment until she reviews the board’s recommendation for Yarbrough.
Mike Fields, the district attorney for a five-county area including Kingfisher County, spoke before the board Wednesday morning. Fields asked them not to commute Yarbrough’s sentence. He cited Yarbrough’s criminal history and the board’s power to consider the commutation of life-without-parole sentences. Fields said the matter should be left to the Legislature.
“In our criminal justice system, there’s only one sentence that means exactly what it says, and that’s life without parole,” Fields said in a phone interview. “I think the public, victims’ families and law enforcement officers should have assurance that life without parole truly means life without parole. They can’t have that assurance if the Pardon and Parole Board makes it a routine practice of pulling out life-without-parole inmates and recommending commutation.”
Among those supporting Yarbrough was Dennis Will, of Hennessey, a former juror in Yarbrough’s 1997 conviction for cocaine distribution. Will provided a letter to the board detailing his concerns with the jury deliberations.
“After I learned he was being given life without parole, I was upset about it,” Will said after the hearing. “I lost it, because we were not told before we voted.”
Debra K. Hampton, Yarbrough’s attorney, said she has talked to two other members of the jury who shared Will’s concerns. The other jurors did not want to reveal their identities out of fear of retaliation, she said.
Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, said Yarbrough’s case is a “poster child” for extreme sentencing guidelines for drug charges. She said it costs the state an estimated $23,000 a year to house an inmate.
“Taxpayer dollars are being squandered on sentences for nonviolent crimes,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she plans to reintroduce legislation next year to stop life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. Her prior bills on the matter did not make it out of committee.
A recent draft report by the American Law Institute noted the severity of life-without-parole sentences. The Washington-based organization, made up of 4,000 lawyers, judges and law professors, publishes model statutes and restatements of law.
“Short of the death penalty, in nearly every American jurisdiction in the early 21st century, a life term of imprisonment without the possibility of release is now the most severe punishment authorized in the criminal code,” the institute said its “Model Penal Code: Sentencing” report released earlier this year.
My colleague Carrie Coppernoll had an interesting story today on upcoming changes to the state’s prescription drug monitoring database, which is administered by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.
Lawmakers have expanded the prescription drug monitoring program since it came into service in 2006. It now monitors several types of prescription painkillers, too:
In 2006, the state narcotics bureau pumped up its Prescription Monitoring Program.
Before, doctors only had to report Schedule II controlled substances, such as morphine and OxyContin. Starting July 1 of that year, doctors had to report Schedules II, III, IV and V, which included a variety of drugs, from Valium to Xanax.
The latest expansion compels pharmacists to submit prescription information for certain drugs in real time by Jan. 1, 2012. Currently, they have to submit the information within 24 hours.
Law enforcement officials say the changes will help catch illicit users of prescription drugs and help prevention. Here’s what Darrell Weaver, director of the OBNDD, told Coppernoll:
“Prescription drugs are killing more Oklahomans than any illicit drugs,” Weaver said. “We simply cannot arrest our way out of this.”
Senate Bill 1159, by Republicans Sen. Anthony Sykes and Rep. Randy Terrill, expanded the information collected under the PMP program to include the address and date of birth of patients getting a prescription for certain classes of drugs.
Here’s what the PMP program collects on each prescription, according to Oklahoma law and the administrative rules of OBNDD:
A. Section 2-309C. A. A dispenser of a Schedule II, III, IV or V controlled dangerous substance, except Schedule V substances that contain any detectable quantity of pseudoephedrine, its salts or optical isomers, or salts of optical isomers shall transmit to a central repository designated by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control using the American Society for Automation in Pharmacy’s (ASAP) Telecommunications Format for Controlled Substances version designated in rules by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, the following information for each dispensation:
1. Recipient’s name;
2. Recipient’s address;
3. Recipient’s date of birth;
4. Recipient’s identification number;
5. National Drug Code number of the substance dispensed;
6. Date of the dispensation;
7. Quantity of the substance dispensed;
8. Prescriber’s United States Drug Enforcement Agency registration number; and
9. Dispenser’s registration number; and
10. Other information as required by administrative rule.
B. The information required by this section shall be transmitted:
1. In a format or other media designated acceptable by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control; and
2. Within twenty-four (24) hours of the time that the substance is dispensed. Beginning January 1, 2012, all information shall be submitted on a real-time log.
In a case that stretched almost 18 months, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled today in favor of several state employee groups on the birth date issue. For background stories by The Oklahoman, check our continuing coverage page.
Also, I blogged about this issue at the end of last year.
We’ll have more on this, but in the meantime, here’s the court’s ruling:
I’ve added some links to this slightly extended and updated version of Sunday’s story on Senate redistricting:
BY PAUL MONIES
Some fast-growing suburbs of Oklahoma City and Tulsa won out in the latest legislative redistricting process that largely protected incumbents in the Senate.
For the first time, the Senate will have a district focused on the fast-growing Hispanic population. The Capitol Hill neighborhood on Oklahoma City’s south side will be part of Democratic Minority Leader Andrew Rice’s downtown district.
Redrawn boundary maps released in the closing weeks of the Legislature will have political implications in elections for the next decade, redistricting experts and lawmakers said.
“This is not a map that was drawn for the convenience of Democratic incumbent lawmakers, but there’s nothing illegal about that. This is politics,” said Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma. “You used to have a lot of senate districts come into the suburbs and pick up population and keep the rural lawmakers in place. The polarity has totally flipped now. All these districts are being pulled so deeply into the suburbs that suburban voters can dominate them.”
Republicans command majorities in the House and Senate, but differing approaches to the mapmaking in each chamber were evident last week as the plans were first considered.
At one point, Democrat Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, jokingly suggested senators could find a mentor in the House to resolve problems with the Senate map.
“In the House, people sat down and worked it out,” said Democrat Sen. Tom Adelson of Tulsa. “In the Senate, the Republicans seemed like they wanted to jam the boot in your neck.”
Adelson and Sen. Tom Ivester of Elk City were among two Senate Democrats who saw their districts change drastically under the new Senate map. Several Democratic senators in the northeastern part of the state also saw major changes.
But the moving of incumbents wasn’t limited to Democrats. In all, three GOP senators no longer live in their districts: Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City; Sen. David Myers of Ponca City; and Sen. Rob Johnson of Kingfisher.
Myers, who is term limited in 2014, said he has no complaints. His mostly rural district lost more than 9,800 residents in the last decade.
“There’s just no way you could maintain that many senators in my rural area,” Myers said. “Since I was term-limited, who do you think they picked on? But I’m not unhappy. It’s a good district and will give me a chance to see some new folks in the next few years.”
Reynolds takes office as Cleveland County treasurer in July, so a special election will have to be held in District
33 43 under its current boundaries. In 2012, the district will move south to McClain and Stephens counties.
Adelson’s District 33 shifted from a mostly downtown Tulsa area to one in the southern and southeastern GOP suburbs. His house was placed in Republican Sen. Brian Crain’s redrawn district.
Adelson, who considers Crain a friend, said he plans to run for reelection in Crain’s District 39.
“I think I could compete,” Adelson said. “Some of those precincts have good Democratic numbers.”
Ivester’s district flipped from the southwest to one stretching from western Oklahoma to Canadian County. It now includes Republican Sen. Rob Johnson’s house in Kingfisher. Johnson plans to move to his redrawn district, which now includes parts of Edmond.
Long odds for Democrats
Senate Democrats said they knew they faced long odds in getting districts redrawn to their liking. But Adelson said the hiring of a GOP political consultant poisoned the process. Karl Ahlgren was paid more than $127,000 for his redistricting advice to the Republican leadership since spring 2009, according to Senate financial records.
“Redistricting is political by nature, but at least people have had some modesty about it in the past,” Adelson said. “Their people were not interested in preserving the voice of Oklahomans, they were interested in increasing the Republican market share for personal benefit.”
Ahlgren’s firm, AH Strategies, ran the campaign of Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, who defeated Adelson in the 2009 mayoral race.
Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, the chairman of the Senate Redistricting panel, said the process can be emotionally charged.
“This is probably the most personal thing we do in the senate,” Jolley said.
Ahlgren has had a succession of consulting contracts with the Oklahoma Senate under current and former Republican leaders. Ahlgren, a former assistant secretary of the senate, also worked for U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles.
“As such, his knowledge of Oklahoma and the local communities of interest was valuable to the process,” Jolley said. “Members of both political parties consulted with Mr. Ahlgren and any allegations that Mr. Ahlgren actually drew lines are simply false. Lines were drawn under the direction of senators directly to the technical staff.”
The Senate spent $165,500 on redistricting in the last three years, said Jarred Brejcha, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman. That included Ahlgreen’s contracts, software and payroll for other employees.
In the House, former Republican Rep. Larry Ferguson served as an informal advisor to the redistricting process for “historical context” but was not paid, officials said. Including software, payroll and travel, the House spent $175,000 on redistricting since August 2010, said John Estus, spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele.
Because any new map must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act to protect minority representation, that’s the first place mapmakers start, Jolley said.
“We had to draw those districts before we could do anything else, and we had to draw around those districts and that resulted in some funny looking maps in Oklahoma city and Tulsa,” he said. “That made the process more difficult but at then end of the day we’ve got maps that make sense that I believe the majority of members of both parties hopefully will support.”
The Senate map largely preserves Oklahoma City Sen. Constance Johnson’s District 48, a seat long held by an African-American. Still, Johnson said Friday on the Senate floor she wasn’t happy with losing part of her district to fellow Democratic Sen. Charlie Laster of Shawnee. Johnson said she may explore filing a lawsuit over the Senate plan.
In Tulsa, Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre’s District 11 lost more than 11,000 people since 2000. To retain the majority-minority status of that district, additional Hispanic precincts were moved in. McIntyre does not plan to run for reelection.
Rice said creating a new Hispanic majority-minority district in Oklahoma City isn’t yet a requirement under federal law. But he said Senate redistricting leaders wanted to be ahead of the demographic changes on the city’s south side. Rice gave up several urban neighborhoods in his current District 46 to make that happen.
“It’s sad to lose them, but I’m excited to get new parts of downtown and the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which has such a rich history and is evolving in interesting ways,” Rice said.
Rice said his hope is that part of town could eventually be represented by a Hispanic senator.
But here in Oklahoma, so far all the public has seen from the redistricting efforts of the state House and Senate are some static PDF maps dealing with congressional redistricting from the House. The Senate hasn’t publicly released any maps.
Transparency has been the big buzz word this session. But all the redistricting work has gone on behind closed doors.
A new House map is expected to be unveiled Friday.
Oklahoma should join other states and release the data and the geographical files, typically called shapefiles, for all to see.
Here’s what Texas offers:
Florida goes one better, and lets the public draw their own maps using a tool called MyDistrictBuilder.
Here’s why the data is important: With the map shapefiles, you can layer other important information like voter registration and demographic information on top of each redrawn district to get a fuller picture of the represented areas. The Texas Tribune put out some good maps earlier this week doing just that.
Posting today’s story:
- Scroll to the bottom for a complete list of agency expenditures on private attorneys.
BY PAUL MONIES
Published: May 4, 2011
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Tuesday he’s concerned about an exemption for higher education in a bill that would place bidding requirements on private attorney contracts with state agencies.
Private attorneys and law firms have made more than $47 million performing legal work for state agencies and boards since fiscal year 2005, according to annual reports filed with the attorney general’s office. That works out to almost $8 million each year.
“I’m hopeful the bill will pass,” McCullough said. “It is a good government reform measure. A great deal of thought, research and work has gone into this legislation.”
Among the state agencies spending the most on private attorneys since fiscal year 2005 were the Transportation Department ($11.9 million), the Grand River Dam Authority ($6.1 million) and the Department of Human Services ($5 million).
Oklahoma State University spent $2.5 million since 2005 on private attorneys and law firms, according to the annual reports.
The state Accountancy Board went from spending about $11,000 on private attorneys in 2005 to spending more than $252,000 in 2010.
Randy Ross, executive director of the board, said administrative and disciplinary actions are now handled by outside attorneys. The board also contracts with the attorney general’s office for other legal work because it does not have an attorney on staff. It spent almost $32,000 through the attorney general’s office in fiscal year 2010.
Ross said costs increased recently because a case went to district court.
“That’s a pretty big case, and anytime you have one that goes outside the administrative process, it gets a lot more serious and lot more expensive,” said Ross, who recently became executive director.
AG part of process
Under current law, agencies and boards must apply to the attorney general’s office to contract with private attorneys. Attorneys or law firms who want to be considered for legal work also must request permission to be added to the attorney general’s list. Among the information attorneys provide are their hourly billing rates and other fees.
HB 1223 would require agencies to put out bids for private legal work on their websites. At the end of each case, private attorneys would have to detail their hours, fees and other expenses.
The bill also puts a cap on the hourly rate charged by private attorneys at $1,000.
The Legislature would continue to be exempt from restrictions in hiring private attorneys. Since fiscal year 2008, the Senate has spent $285,000 on private attorneys. The House spent $223,000 during the same period.
Opponents of HB 1223 said agencies and boards need the flexibility that exists under current law. Some lawmakers also said the measure could give the attorney general too much control over the legal affairs of agencies.
Thad Balkman, executive director of the Oklahoma Lawyers Association, said his group still has concerns with HB 1223.
Balkman said forcing outside attorneys to detail their hourly billing could give away their litigation strategy.
“Most of what is in the bill can be accomplished by the attorney general without legislation,” Balkman said. “He already has the discretion whether or not to approve those contracts. I think in the past, approval was given pretty routinely.”
Pruitt said HB 1223 is a step in the right direction. In a statement, he said the exemption for higher education “does not exist in current law and would be a step backward in the state’s effort to keep the public informed.”
The Senate amendment on the exemption for higher education was offered by Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 30-14 in April.
Separately from the legislation, Pruitt has developed stricter registration requirements for private attorneys who want to contract with agencies. Those changes will remain regardless of the fate of the bill, a spokeswoman said.
Click for larger view:
The Legislature has two big jobs this year: balance the state’s budget and redraw the boundary lines for Congress and the state Senate and House.
So far, it’s been fairly quiet on the redistricting front, at least publicly. But behind the scenes, you can be sure there’s a lot going on.
The “easy” part–Congressional redistricting–is on its way to completion. Unlike a decade ago when the state lost a seat, the congressional plan was easier this year because Oklahoma stayed at five seats. The House approved a congressional redistricting bill earlier this week. Here’s what the proposed map looks like, according to House Bill 1527: (click for larger version)
A closer look at the map shows there are not a lot of differences between the current congressional district lines and the proposed changes. Essentially, the state’s lone Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren in the 2nd Congressional District, now gets Marshall County on the Texas border and
gives up gains some suburban Tulsa territory in Rogers County. There also are some changes to Rep. Tom Cole’s 4th District and Rep. James Lankford’s 5th District, mostly around Tinker Air Force Base. Rep. Frank Lucas picks up more population in fast-growing (and solidly Republican) Canadian County, courtesy of Cole. Around Tulsa, the 1st District’s Rep. John Sullivan picks up a little territory to the west in Creek County.
If you want to try making your own map, check out the free site, Daves Redistricting. Without any nods to current allegiances, politics or the Voting Rights Act, I made my own quick-and-dirty version of congressional redistricting. I had one requirement for my map: each district had to stay within the county lines.
My take: It’s a lot harder than it looks.
Even with all the tools available on Daves Redistricting site, I managed to leave out about 900 people, who have effectively been disenfranchised by my map. (A court would surely throw out my plan!) Also, I have Lankford’s 5th District (yellow below) with about 10,000 more residents than it should have. Ideally, each congressional district should have 750,270 people, according to the latest Census data. Lucas’ 3rd District is in purple, Cole’s 4th District is in red, Boren’s 2nd District is green and Sullivan’s 1st District is in blue.
Here’s my map: (click for larger version)
Under my map, all of Oklahoma and Logan counties are now in the 5th District. Boren’s 2nd District moves westward on its southern section, picking up Ardmore. Cole gets all of Canadian County and Pottawatomie County. Lankford gets the so-called “Tinker Notch” in Oklahoma County. To replace the loss of Canadian County, Lucas takes in population north of Tulsa and in northeastern Oklahoma.
For some more Oklahoma congressional redistricting options, check out this message board for political map junkies.
Lawmakers now have about five weeks left in the session to complete the harder redistricting task for the state House and Senate. Capitol reporter Michael McNutt has an update on that here.
The main things to watch for in legislative redistricting are how they will redistrict seats with declining rural populations and which seats are held by term-limited lawmakers. Oklahoma Watchdog has more on that here.
You can also try your hand at redrawing legislative districts at Daves Redistricting. I haven’t tried that option, yet, but it doesn’t seem like an easy task. Each new House district should have about 37,142 residents. Under House rules, you’re allowed to deviate from those ideal numbers no more than plus or minus 3 percent, or about 1,100 people. Ideally, each new Senate district should have 78,153 residents.
For more on redistricting in general, check out the following sites:
- Oklahoma House of Representatives Redistricting
- National Conference of State Legislatures Redistricting
- U.S. Census: Redistricting Data
- Redistricting the Nation
- Election Data Services
- Brennan Center for Justice: A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting
- The Redistricting Game
Re-posting today’s story:
By PAUL MONIES
A pending case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court about the disclosure of state employee birth dates has led to little enthusiasm at the Legislature to add employee exemptions to the Open Records Act.
Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, sponsored legislation for the second year in a row to exempt the birth dates and employee identification numbers of public employees from the Open Records Act. His latest measure, House Bill 2097, did not make it out of a House committee.
Terrill’s legislative assistant said Wednesday a limit on introduced bills this year meant HB 2097 was not one of the eight bills Terrill pursued. Terrill tried and failed several times last year to amend the Open Records Act to make similar changes.
Other groups involved in the fight last year are taking a wait-and-see attitude on legislation until the Supreme Court rules, including the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and the Oklahoma Press Association. They were on opposite sides of the issue.
A spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said Steele had some transparency concerns about adding exemptions for public employee birth dates. Steele doesn’t expect other bills on the issue to come up this session, he said.
In February 2010, The Oklahoman made an open records request to the Office of Personnel Management for basic information, including name, salary, title, birth dates and employee identification numbers for all state employees.
- Related: One year later: Attorney General opinion on public employee DOBs still unresolved
- Related: Oklahoma County judge issues ruling in public employee DOB case
The newspaper made the request in an effort to check the backgrounds of public employees. Without a secondary identifier like a birth date, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between people with common names in court records or other public documents.
The request followed an opinion from former Attorney General Drew Edmondson that allowed public bodies to decide on a case-by-case basis if the disclosure of birth dates of public employees constituted a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The newspaper’s open records request set off protests and lawsuits from some state employees and public employee groups, who feared the release of their birth dates would lead to identity theft. Some in public safety positions feared retaliation by convicted criminals.
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.
Full disclosure: I signed an affidavit in support of The Oklahoman‘s lawsuit and I’m a board member for FOI Oklahoma Inc.
P.S. My birth date is 6/27/75.
In the interests of public safety, there’s been legislation filed at the Capitol this year to ban texting while driving for commercial drivers. Whatever your personal feelings on that issue, the bill also makes some big changes to public records held by the Department of Public Safety.
The bill, HB 1797, includes the following language, with the changes to existing law underlined:
BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA:
6 SECTION 1. AMENDATORY 47 O.S. 2001, Section 2-111,
as last amended by Section 3, Chapter 326, O.S.L. 2007 (47 O.S.
Supp. 2010, Section 2-111), is amended to read as follows:
Section 2-111. A. All records of the Department, other
than those declared by law to be confidential for the use of the
Department, shall be open to public inspection during office
hours; provided, no person shall be authorized to transcribe,
copy, photocopy, photograph, or otherwise duplicate any such
record upon inspection. The Commissioner shall provide any such
record to any authorized recipient upon request in accordance with
the Open Records Act and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act,
Title 18 of the United States Code, Sections 2721 through 2725, if
applicable, and upon payment by the recipient of all required fees
associated with the record.
Essentially, those changes mean you could not go to the DPS and take notes from a record without buying a copy of it first. So much for the “try-before-you-buy” concept in sales. And what happens if you only want details from one page of a 200-page file? Will you be required to buy copies of all 200 pages before you write down a note or take a picture of a page on your smartphone about what’s in those public records? This strikes me as a terrible precedent to set, because public inspection of records should not be a profit center for government agencies.
The bill is on the calendar for consideration before the full House. It’s uncertain whether it will come up before Thursday’s deadline for bills getting out of the House or Senate. Still, similar language could appear in other bills later this session, so it’s worth watching.
UPDATE: HB 1797 passed the House late Wednesday by a vote of 95-3. You can watch Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, explain the bill here. She did not explain any of the changes to the DPS public records inspections contained in the bill. There was no debate or questions when it came up about 10:30 p.m.
If you’re interested in government transparency, come out to the annual FOI Oklahoma Inc.** Sunshine Conference on Saturday, March 12. The event is from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. at The Oklahoman, 9000 Broadway Extension, Oklahoma City.
The conference will kick off Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote openness in government and empower the right to know among the people.
This year’s theme is “Putting Muscle Behind Oklahoma’s FOI Laws.” Registration is $35, but there are special rates for students and current FOI Oklahoma members. Check out a PDF of the schedule.
[Update: There also will be a silent auction, the proceeds of which will benefit FOI Oklahoma's Sunshine Fund. The organization used its first grant from that fund to help defray the costs of an Open Meetings Act lawsuit filed by citizen activists. Among the items up for bidding are an evening in an Oklahoma RedHawks suite at the Bricktown Ballpark; a one-night stay at the Colcord Hotel, among others. More items here. ]
The following is from Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University and a former president of FOI Oklahoma:
The conference’s keynote speaker is a national Open Government Hall of Fame inductee, who will offer advice on creating a state agency that Oklahomans can go to for help when officials wrongly withhold records or restrict access to open meetings.
As executive director for the nation’s first-such state agency, Robert J. “Bob” Freeman is responsible for providing advice about New York’s open records and meeting laws to the public, state and local governments, and the media.
Freeman’s keynote address also will offer advice on making Oklahoma’s open government laws work for the public.
Other sessions include:
- A state representative [Rep. Jason Murphey] discussing bills requiring the Legislature to comply with Oklahoma’s Open Meeting and Records laws;
- A panel of local heroes who have gone to court seeking information under the Open Records Act and challenging the conduct of public bodies under the Open Meeting Act; and
- Experts explaining how to use the Open Records Act to request records and to spot the most-likely violations of the Open Meeting Act.
The luncheon will include a tribute to former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala. Recipients of FOI Oklahoma Inc.’s annual Marian Opala First Amendment Award and three freedom-of-information awards will be recognized, as will the winners of its first FOI essay contest for college students.
Please support open government in Oklahoma by attending this conference. More people equal a bigger message to those in government who ignore our state’s Open Records and Open Meeting laws.
**Full disclosure: I am a board member of FOI Oklahoma Inc. I’ll also be speaking on one of the panels.