This year's budget agreement included $1 million extra for both the Oklahoma House and the Senate. Now that the Senate has extra money, it should use new technology to at least match what the House provides in terms of public access to the legislative process.
For three years, the Oklahoma House has had live video streaming of all floor sessions, with archived video available on-demand through the chamber's website. The Senate should consider a similar upgrade.
Read the rest of the story at The Oklahoman.
Early last month, lawmakers in Iowa completed work on a new open records statute. Senate File 430 creates the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission charged with enforcing the state’s open records and meetings laws.
For good government advocates in the Hawkeye State, the new legislation was cause for celebration — sort of.
Indeed, there were smiles all around as Gov. Terry Branstad signed the law on May 3 in the ornate Capitol Building, surrounded by lawmakers and journalists — many of whom spent six years on the effort. And the law is undoubtedly a victory of sorts for open government in the state, where enforcement was spotty at best, divided among several local and state entities. If a citizen’s request for information was denied, the only option was to sue — a time-consuming and costly course of action. Now, the Board can investigate complaints and bring them to court on citizens’ behalf.
It all sounds good — except for the fine print.
While it is common for caucus meetings, which are private, to involve strategy and policy discussions as well as internal votes on issues or leadership picks, it's unusual for a closed caucus to be made the forum for final action on a bill.
Each party's caucus names members to leadership positions for a reason. Those leaders have to be willing to take the heat for hard choices if they want to enjoy the perks of the power.
Read the rest of the story at the Oklahoman.
Jason Murphey has nothing to hide. And to prove it, he’s offering to let constituents read his emails.
An Oklahoma State Representative now in his third term, Murphey has been a champion of increased state government transparency. Now, in his role as chair of the Government Modernization Committee, Murphey wants to bring some of that openness to the legislature itself. Under current law Oklahoma legislators are exempted from the state’s open records law, a luxury that lawmakers granted themselves decades ago.
Murphey has entered HB 1085, a bill that would reclassify the legislature as one of the public bodies covered under the state’s open records law. With the legislature in charge of more than $6 billion in appropriations spending, and oversight on a total budget of $18 billion annually, Murphey thinks the demand for transparency is undeniable.
“We know it’s the right thing to do,” Murphey said. “And inevitably it will happen, because the hypocrisy is all too obvious.”
Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, has filed legislation to make the Oklahoma Legislature subject to the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. Those two statutes have long provided transparency to all levels of government, but not the Legislature, which exempted itself.
“I spent five years serving in the Oklahoma City government, where we were subject to the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts,” Holt (pictured, right) said. “It is almost a universally held opinion that the City of Oklahoma City has produced some of the most innovative and effective government in our state the last 20 years, and that was done while subject to these important taxpayer protections. I believe it is time the Legislature embraced these acts.”
Read the rest of the story at the Shawnee News-Star.
State Attorney General Scott Pruitt has written a letter to the Oklahoma Association of Chiefsof Police about complaints that police departments are violating the Open Records Act by withholding public information from initial incident reports.
“The state Legislature has made it clear in this regard that a police department's initial offense report or cover sheet should be open for public inspection, regardless of its inclusion in an investigation file,” Pruitt (pictured, right) wrote in his Jan. 4 letter.
Citizens and members of the media complained about police withholding information this fall when attorney general officials toured the state holding Open Meeting and Open Records acts seminars, Pruitt said in the letter.
Read the rest of the story at the Oklahoman.
State Auditor Gary Jones (pictured, right) released a report late Wednesday of a Special Audit of the Department of Education. The audit was requested by the Department of Education to look into allegations that former Assistant State Superintendent Misty Kimbrough falsified travel reimbursement forms and misused leave policies. The report recommends that the matter “should be referred to the appropriate legal authority for review and evaluation.”
Among the findings: Kimbrough was reimbursed for travel expenses, including a hotel stay, for a meeting she did not attend in White Oak.
Read the rest of the story at Oklahoma Watchdog.
One of the most important components of this year’s House government modernization effort will involve acting on a request from State Auditor Gary Jones.
Jones (pictured, right) has requested the Legislature to take action and allow his office to establish a performance audits division that could conduct a series of performance audits of state government entities during each year. The proposal would allow the people of Oklahoma to vote next November to place this proposal into the Oklahoma Constitution.
Read the rest of the story at the Edmond Sun.