Bills that would apply Oklahoma’s Open Records and Meetings Law to the state Legislature haven’t gotten so much as a committee hearing in recent years. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch file)

With no discussion or debate, Oklahoma’s Legislature again brushed off a proposal that could have dramatically changed what the public knows about the bills lawmakers craft.

A proposal that would’ve ended Oklahoma’s status as one of a handful of states that allows the legislature to exempt itself from open records and meeting laws quietly, and with little fanfare, failed to clear a key legislative deadline earlier this month. 

I reported on this latest development on Thursday for Sunshine Week — a time when the media and open government advocates like to remind the public about transparency issues.

Why does it matter?

Unlike in most of the country, the public is not able to see lawmakers’ emails to lobbyists, calendars, call logs and other records that could give the public insight into the bills that could soon directly impact their lives.

I talked with Joey Senat, an open government and media law expert at Oklahoma State University for this story. He told me that although it’s easier for lawmakers to wield their power in secret, it’s not typically the best for making good public policy.

“The whole reason we have the open meetings and record act is so that the public can understanding what the government is doing,” he told me. “And that understanding really occurs best we can observe those frank and open discussion by our elected officials.”

It doesn’t take much to see the ramifications that this secrecy helps spread.

As I’ve written previously, Oklahoma rarely allowing the public to comment on bills. And one of the most impactful measures of the year, the multi-billion budget bill, is often put together entirely behind closed doors by a select group of officials who then fast-track it through the Legislature without much discussion.

These are topics that come up virtually every year. But, according to lawmakers and experts I talked with, there doesn’t seem much will from legislative leaders (who didn’t respond to interview requests for my latest article) to change anything.

Senat and others said it might only be a matter of time before the public decides to take the matter into its own hands and tries to pass a ballot initiative, even though those may soon get harder to pass.

What do you think? Should lawmakers prioritize open government issues in the near future or is something that could require a state question? Let me know your thoughts about transparency in the Legislature or elsewhere by emailing me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or finding me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

Tweet Watch

Get ready for another busy week at the State Capitol.

Lawmakers took an extra couple days off last week for their version of spring break. That means there will be plenty of work to do this week, especially since Thursday will be the deadline for House bills to pass off the House floor and Senate bills to pass from the full Senate.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • Deposits to the state’s general revenue fund remained strong in February, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services said Tuesday. [Tulsa World]
  • Seeking to boost the image of state parks, Oklahoma tourism officials sank millions into a private restaurant venture. [The Frontier]
  • During his State of the State address last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt criticized teacher unions for pushing liberal curriculum theories and keeping school buildings closed. But after an initial deadline this month for proposed bills to be advanced out of committee, no legislation that would further restrict a union’s ability to collect dues or sign up new members advanced.  [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma officials waived competitive bidding to give EV startup Canoo a potentially lucrative statewide contract [The Frontier]
  • Oklahoma’s policy banning transgender people from amending their birth certificates to reflect their gender identify violates the equal protection, due process and free speech guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, according to a federal lawsuit filed by three Tulsa-area residents. [Tulsa World]

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