All 3 AG candidates say government workers' birth dates should be public; 2 support keeping autopsy records open

All three announced candidates for state attorney general say the birth dates of government employees should be a matter of public record,
The Norman Transcript noted in an editorial today.

Republican candidates
Ryan Leonard and Scott Pruitt also said they support keeping autopsy records open. Democratic candidate Jim Priest took a neutral stance, saying he needs to study the issue.

The candidates spoke Saturday at the Oklahoma Press Association's Summer Conference.

Priest and Leonard have signed FOI Oklahoma Inc.'s Open Government Pledge. In doing so, each 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.”

Hopefully, Priest will keep that promise in mind as he studies the issue of public access to autopsy records.

This blog noted in April that the press and public have used autopsy reports elsewhere to uncover incompetency and corruption by police, medical examiners and coroners.

A state bill that would have restricted access to portions of homicide autopsy reports was pulled in May because of stiff opposition on the House floor. Among the representatives critical of the bill were Rep. Lucky Lamons, D-Tulsa, and Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. Both legislators had signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge during their most recent campaigns.

Leonard, Priest and Pruitt are seeking to replace Democrat Drew Edmondson, who is running for governor.

In December, Edmondson issued a formal opinion that government employees' birth dates in their personnel files are presumed open unless the public body can demonstrate that the employee’s privacy outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.

Edmondson said public bodies must decide each case individually and may not enact policies blocking access to all employee dates of birth. (
2009 OK AG 33)

Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, had requested the opinion. Legislative attempts by Leftwich and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, failed to close public access to the birth dates.

The issue is now before a court. In April, Oklahoma County Judge Bryan Dixon granted a temporary restraining order stopping the release of state workers' birth dates to The Oklahoman.

The judge also allowed
The Oklahoman to intervene as a defendant and FOI Oklahoma, Tulsa World, KWTV, KOTV, the Oklahoma Press Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to file briefs in support of the public's right to the information.

Dixon also granted requests by the Oklahoma State Troopers Association and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to join with the Oklahoma Public Employees Association in seeking the order against the state Office of Personnel Management.

CJ-2010-2623, Oklahoma Public Employees Association v. Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management)

The next scheduled court date is Friday.

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.