Rep. Watson lives up to open government pledge by voting against bill exempting birth dates of public employees

Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa, was one of two House committee members to stand up for the public's right and need to know on Thursday.

Watson was joined by Rep. Jeffrey Hickman, R-Docoma, in voting against Senate Bill 1753, which would cut off public access to government employees' birth dates in personnel files.

Hickman pointed out that there is no documented case of anyone being harmed by the birth dates being accessible under the Open Records Act and that public employees are paid by taxpayers, The Oklahoman reported.

The bill passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee by a 12-2 vote.

However, Rep. Randy Terrill, House author of the bill and a member of the committee, again said he plans to insert compromise language into the legislation, The Oklahoman reported.

What that compromise could be was not explained.

In March, Terrill said the bill won't be in its current form when it comes up for a vote by the full House. A date for that vote hasn't been set.

Last month, Terrill, a Republican from Moore, told The Oklahoman he wants to come up with a process that outlines how and under what circumstances birth dates of public workers should be released. He said he wants the process to protect workers’ privacy while maintaining the public’s right to know about who is working for their government.

That doesn't sound any more promising for the public's right to know than the current process of balancing the public interest in disclosure and determining whether disclosure would constitute an "unwarranted invasion" of each employee's privacy.

Besides Terrill, also voting for the bill on Thursday were:

Watson is one of 12 House members who signed FOI Oklahoma Inc.'s Open Government Pledge while campaigning for office since 2008.

By signing the pledge, the House members promised “to support at every opportunity the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”

The other pledge signers in the House are:
We hope they will follow Watson's example of living up to the pledge if SB 1753 comes before the full House for a vote.

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.