The Woodward News

Local News

March 9, 2013

Okla. bills both expand, restrict access to info

(Continued)

Woodward, Okla. —

A proponent of more openness in government, Murphey has also introduced bills in recent legislative sessions to make the Legislature itself subject to open records and open meetings laws, an exemption that has also played a factor in Oklahoma's low ranking for openness. Although his bill last year cleared a House panel, this year's measure is languishing in committee.

Still, Murphey says progress is being made with changes to House rules and upgrades in technology that give the public more access to legislative activity than ever before.

"It may not ever be as rapid as those of us who are really aggressive on this issue would like it, but there's no doubt about it, we're making progress every year," he said.

Last year, House rules were changed to require conference committees to meet publicly, rather than just agree to changes to legislation — a process still commonplace in the Senate. House Speaker T.W. Shannon said last week that practice will continue this session and that his creation of a Calendar Committee that meets in public to determine which bills are scheduled for a hearing in the House also helps open the process.

"Things are more open than they've ever been before," said Shannon, R-Lawton. "I don't know that there's much reason to go beyond that right now."

But some open records advocates disagree. Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, said there is "no good excuse" for the Legislature to be exempt from the same statutes that govern the executive branch, law enforcement and virtually every state agency.

"It's a shame, and people need to start holding their legislators accountable for this," Senat said. "The reason is that they don't want us to know what they're doing. They want to be able to play politics behind closed doors, at least many of them do."

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