Sunshine Week: A massive database, county commissioners take the plunge & SPJ calls for a federal shield law

By BILL HICKMAN, FOI Communication Coordinator

This year's Sunshine Week has seen several developments in the interests of government open records and open meetings.

A Franklin Circuit Court judge has ordered that the Kentucky State Police (the equivalent of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol) must release its entire database of 8 million citations and arrests from the last 16 years.

I have never seen such a turnover of massive government data under a state open records request in the more than 26 years of tracking open records cases. And never have I witnessed any case in Oklahoma that even comes close to the Kentucky case in size and scope.

Yes, this is a Kentucky state court decision that doesn't have force and effect in Oklahoma. It does offer hope that should Oklahoma courts be faced with a similar open records case, our courts will do the right thing.

Payne County Commissioners say they'll support open meetings & records

Payne County's commissioners took the pledge this week. They pledged to comply with both the spirit and the letter of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting and Open Records laws. This is something not often heard of in city and county government.

Many individuals running for and holding state and local office in Oklahoma have taken FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge. The Open Government Pledge was initiated in 2008. It's a commitment that recognizes the importance of maintaining open records and holding open meetings in state and local government.

It's a rare, unheard of event for an entire board of county commissioners to make this commitment. County commissioners in Oklahoma haven't had the best of records for open government.

In the early 1980s, more than 100 present or former county commissioners in this state pleaded guilty in a federal investigation into kickbacks involving highway equipment acquisitions. Tape recordings and documents showed that millions of dollars were misspent.

It is quite a leap from those days of good ole boys to the Payne County commissioners of today who say publicly that they will follow open government.

SPJ calls on Congress to pass strong federal Shield Law

This has been bouncing around for years. Despite the existence of state shield laws and state court recognition of reporters' privilege, Congress has yet to enact a federal shield law designed to protect the identity of reporters' sources or access to the information that reporters gather from the government.

The Society of Professional Journalists has urged Congress to do the right thing and enact a federal shield law.

SPJ joins many other journalism organizations that have advocated for this law. Thirty-six states now have a court-recognized protection for reporters, while 42 states have a shield law.

William Hickman