Gov. Fallin vetoes bill adding open records exemptions for state universities

Gov. Mary Fallin took a step toward redeeming her reputation on open government issues Wednesday when she vetoed a bill that would have granted more records exemptions to state universities. SB 1577 would have added public universities to the list of agencies that may keep secret:

Business plans, feasibility studies, financing proposals, marketing plans, financial statements or trade secrets submitted by a person or entity seeking economic advice or business development; 

Proprietary information of the business submitted to the Department or school districts for the purpose of business development or customized training, and related confidentiality agreements detailing the information or records designated as confidential; and

Information compiled by such Departments or school districts in response to those submissions. (see Okla. Stat. tit. 51,  § 24A.10(C))

In Fallin's veto message, she said the Open Records Act already allows public agencies to keep proprietary information confidential if “disclosure would give an unfair advantage to competitors.” (citing Okla. Stat. tit. 51,  § 24A.10)

“Because these concerns are protected by current law, the expansion of exceptions to the Open Records Act is not necessary," Fallin said.

However, that provision -- permitting non-disclosure when competitors would gain an unfair advantage -- doesn't apply to proprietary information.  (see Okla. Stat. tit. 51,  § 24A.10(B))

Still, Fallin also said, "The expansion of exceptions to the Open Records Act serves only to limit public access to information."

On that point, she is correct.

On Twitter this morning, Fallin said, "I believe in transparent and open government, which is why I vetoed this proposed exemption to the Open Records Act."

That drew some derisive replies.

A cynic could say that Fallin only believes in open government when the records don't apply to her.

In March, FOI Oklahoma named Fallin for the second consecutive year as the public official most deserving of its Black Hole recognition for damaging access to records that should be easily available to the public.

In 2013, Fallin and her attorney, Steve Mullins, cited executive privilege – which doesn’t exist under Oklahoma law – in refusing to turn over emails regarding the state health insurance exchange. A lawsuit was filed for full release of the emails.

Two more lawsuits were filed because of her office’s slow release of public records via the creation of a “first-come, first-served’’ procedure.

However, Fallin's veto of SB 1577 was unexpected and much appreciated by advocates of open government.

Several pro-transparency bills and issues are pending in the Legislature.

I hope that Fallin will fully support those bills and, thus, live up to her 2010 pledge 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.

Her action on Wednesday was a commendable start.

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.