Terrill sneaks in "dangerous and wrong" language that would hamper public access to autopsy records

Legislators Thursday approved a Senate bill intended to improve the state medical examiner's office but that also would restrict public access to autopsy reports because of last-minute language added by Rep. Randy Terrill, reported The Oklahoman this morning.

A House bill that would have restricted access to portions of homicide autopsy reports was withdrawn last week because of opposition it faced on the House floor.

But legislators approved Senate Bill 738, which says the law shall not be construed to "require copies of incomplete or pending reports or any other documents covered by the work-product doctrine to be furnished.”

Rep. Samson Buck, D-Ardmore, said he was concerned the language restricted the public's right to autopsy reports, the newspaper reported.

Buck also was concerned the 49-page bill was presented the night before the last day of the legislative session with language most members had not previously seen, the newspaper reported.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, accused Terrill of "sneaking in language” that "is dangerous and wrong,” reported The Oklahoman.

Terrill, the House author of the bill, said the language has nothing to do with the state's Open Records Act.

"This bill simply says that if you have an incomplete or partial file, meaning that you have a pathologist or a medical examiner who has not made a determination as to cause and manner of death that that information is closed,” said the Republican from Moore. "But once there has been a determination as to the cause and manner of death it's open.”

The bill passed the Senate 45 - 0 Thursday and the House 58 - 40 that night. It goes next to Gov. Brad Henry for approval.

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.