House could vote today on Terrill 'compromise' ending public access to government employees' birth dates
Rep. Randy Terrill's "compromise" would end public access to the birth dates of government employees and "be the end of the presumption that records are open unless closed," the Oklahoma Press Association executive vice president warns.
"We need to ratchet up the calls (to state legislators) or this terrible process – even though limited to DOB now – will creep into the open records act," says Mark Thomas. "They will be open if you can prove to the government you need them bad enough."
Terrill's floor amendment, filed late Monday, to SB 1753 could be voted on by the full House today or Thursday.
Paul Monies of The Oklahoman says the new language "makes a bad bill worse and turns the whole Oklahoma Open Records Act on its head."
Thomas is calling on state newspapers and open government advocates to tell House members to vote against the amended bill.
Thomas explains the procedure created by Terrill's amendment:
- You will have to submit the employee’s DOB – obtained from another source – and the public body will only verify the accuracy of what you have submitted. You won’t actually get the DOB as a record – this law still closes all public employee DOB’s.
- You must give a public body a written request for a record.
- Your written request must ask about a specific person – not more than one person per request.
- Your written request must provide a REASON why you want the public record.
- The public body will only respond if the person you are asking about works there on the day of the request – not if they worked there in the past.
- The public body will have a “reasonable period of time” to review your request.
- The public body will tell you if they have the record or if they don’t have it – but not provide the DOB to you. The public body will just give you a written confirmation that what you submitted to them is correct.
- But before the public body replies to you, they must notify the employee of your request within a “reasonable period of time.” The public body must tell the employee WHO is asking for the record, and WHY you say you want it.
(The amendment's language is at the end of this blog.)
"They will say it is 'only for DOB' but you know it will spread to other records requests when this gets in the Open Records Act," Thomas says. "You know how terrible this process will be – but DOES YOUR LEGISLATOR KNOW how devastating this will be on requests for records?"
Monies says on his Data Watch Blog the bill would "grant public employees greater privacy protections than registered voters, licensed drivers and people who buy prescription drugs in Oklahoma."
Twelve members of the House signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge while campaigning.
They promised voters that if elected, they would "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."
Most of those signers seemed to have forgotten that promise this legislative session. It's time for them to remember it.
The state representatives who signed the pledge:
- Dank, David, R-Oklahoma City
- Collins, Wallace, D-Norman
- Lamons, Lucky, D-Tulsa
- McDaniel, Jeannie, D-Tulsa
- McDaniel, Randy, R-Edmond
- Murphey, Jason W., R-Guthrie
- Nations, Bill, D-Norman
- Russ, Todd, R-Cordell
- Sanders, Mike, R-Kingfisher
- Scott, Seneca, D-Tulsa
- Watson, Weldon, , R-Tulsa,
- Wright, Harold, R-Weatherford
Here is the relevant portion of Terrill's amendment:
SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 24A.7-1 of Title 51, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:
A. No public body shall release to any person or entity the exact date of birth for any employee of the public body.
B. For purposes of the Oklahoma Open Records Act, an employee’s date of birth shall not be subject to disclosure by the public body except for the procedures prescribed by this section for responding to requests to confirm or deny a date of birth with respect to a person identified in a request for verification.
C. A person or entity may request a verification from a public body that a birth date for a specifically identified person whom the requestor reasonably believes to be employed by the public body as of the date of the request is the same as the birth date for such employee as reflected by the employment records of the public body.
D. The requestor shall submit a written request for verification of date of birth to the public body which request shall contain:
1. The complete name of the person whom the requestor reasonably believes to be an employee of the public body as reflected in the information or document relied upon by the person or entity making the verification request;
2. The particularized and specific reason that the requestor is asking for verification of the employee date of birth for each employee included in a verification request; and
3. Any other identifying information related to the information or document in the possession of the requestor that would allow the public body to determine whether or not the person identified in the request is an employee of the public body.
E. For purposes of verification requests submitted by any person or entity and for purposes of responses to such requests by a public body, a person’s status as an employee shall be determined as of the date that the verification request is submitted to the public body.
F. The public body shall have a reasonable period of time from the receipt of a verification request within which to review the request and any document or other information identified in the request to ascertain whether the person named in the verification request is an employee of the public body.
G. If the public body determines that the person identified in the verification request is or may be an employee of the public body, the public body shall respond in writing to the person or entity making the verification request that the date of birth of the employee is the same as the date of birth provided by the requestor with respect to the person identified in the verification request.
H. If the public body determines that the person identified in the verification request is not an employee of the public body, the public body shall respond in writing to the person or entity making the verification request that the date of birth provided by the requestor with respect to the person identified in the verification request does not match the date of birth of any employee of the public body.
I. Within a reasonable period of time after a public body receives a verification request pursuant to this section and prior to the date as of which the public body provides a written response confirming a birth date of one or more of its employees, the public body shall provide written notice to any employee whose date of birth has been the subject of a verification request by a requesting entity of the identity of the requesting entity and the reason provided by the requesting entity for the verification request.
J. Prior to making the written verification to a requesting entity with respect to an employee date of birth, the public body shall notify any employee whose date of birth will be confirmed to a requesting entity that the public body will be providing a confirmation of the date of birth to a requesting entity.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Journalism