Senate leader now says he'd vote against birth date bill; Dueling op-ed columns in The Oklahoman debate issue

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee now says he will vote against a bill exempting public employee birth dates if the legislation returns to the Senate, The Oklahoman reported this morning.

The Oklahoma City Republican had his chance to vote against SB 1753 last week when it passed the Senate by a 44-0 vote with no discussion or debate on the floor. Instead, he voted for it, the newspaper reported.

Coffee told
The Oklahoman he did not support the bill approved by the Senate.

"Upon further review, I think I would have changed my vote,” Coffee said.

Would have? Wish he had done it the first time. But better late than never.

Unless the House changes the legislation, it won't be returning to the Senate, reporters Julie Bisbee and Michael McNutt noted.

However, the bill doesn't have a title, which it must have to become law. A title can be added any time in the legislative process, the newspaper pointed out.

So to become law, the bill would be headed back to the Senate.

Before that, the bill must go through a House committee to be heard by the full House. Along the way, we expect the 12 House members who've signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge to live up to that promise to support the public's right to know. (See the 2008 and 2009 signers.)

The bill's House author, Rep. Randy Terrill, told the newspaper he wants to work on the wording of the measure to come up with a "clearly defined, reasonable criteria that strikes the balance between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right of privacy.”

The Moore Republican indicated that balance might not be achieved this legislative session.

In the meantime, perhaps legislators will speak to data privacy experts such as Richard J.H. Varn, who will be addressing the March 13 conference on open government issues.

The former Iowa legislator will explain how improved identity management technology and practices, along with public education on self-protection measures, would be more effective defenses against identity theft.

The Oklahoman today published opposing viewpoints on the bill by Mark Thomas of the Oklahoma Press Association and Sterling Zearley of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. Both deserve a close reading with an open mind.

One point, however, deserves a comment here. Zearley said the public should be entitled to know the birth dates of
The Oklahoman's reporters because his subscription helps pay their salaries. Zearley is equating his subscription fee with taxes.

But paying for a subscription to
The Oklahoman is a voluntary choice. Paying local and state taxes isn't one.

Birth dates. Identity theft. The public's need to know. This is a complicated issue that requires more than simplistic, bumper sticker solutions. It requires an informed debate.

FOI Oklahoma Inc. hopes to add to that debate at its conference March 13 in Oklahoma City. The deadline for early registration is March 10. If you're interested in this issue, please register and attend.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.