Rep. Murphey files bill requiring Legislature to abide by state Open Meeting, Open Records laws

The Oklahoma Legislature's self-imposed exemption from the state's open government laws would end, under a bill filed Friday by Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie.

House Bill 1085 would add the Legislature to the definition of public body under the Open Records and Open Meeting acts while removing its exemption from the statutes.

Murphey's bill addresses one of the objections raised by legislative leaders last summer: That legislators must be exempt in order to avoid releasing personal or confidential information revealed in constituent e-mails or letters.

Murphey's bill would exempt from the Open Records Act personal communications to a legislator in which a person -- who cannot be another legislator or a registered lobbyist -- exercises rights under the federal or state constitutions.

An exemption for personal communications exercising constitutional rights already exists under the Open Records Act. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.14)

"Except for the fact that a communication has been received and that it is or is not a complaint, a public official may keep confidential personal communications received by the public official from a person exercising rights secured by" the state and federal constitutions, according to the statute. "The public official's written response to this personal communication may be kept confidential only to the extent necessary to protect the identity of the person exercising the right."

For example, a 1988 attorney general opinion explained, a person filing a complaint with the Board of Governors of Registered Dentists or with the Board of Medical Licensure would be exercising a right under the state and federal constitutions "to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances." (1988 OK AG 79,¶ 17)

Therefore, the identity of the complainant could be kept confidential, the opinion concluded. (See also Bd. of Medical Licensure v. Miglaccio, 1996 OK CIV APP 37, ¶ 9)

The attorney general opinion noted that the statutory language did not require that the complainant's name be kept confidential, only that public officials may do so.

In contrast, Murphey's bill would require the communications to be kept confidential by adding them to a list of records specifically exempted from the Open Records Act. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.5(1))

But even so, HB 1085 would finally require Oklahoma legislators to follow the state's open government statutes just as other public bodies are required to do.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

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.