Sunday, December 19, 2010

Open Record and Meeting Law for the Legislature

This past week presented the first of a series of legislative deadlines which legislators met in order to propose and advance legislation for the upcoming session. Lawmakers were required to meet a December 10 deadline when they were required to submit the first request for registering possible legislation for the 2011 session.

Throughout the year I am asked to propose any number of ideas. These requests range from those proposed by constituents who contact my office regarding a needed change in the law which directly affects them to suggested changes in the law to allow for more efficiency and transparency in Oklahoma government.

I document these suggestions when I receive them and before the first submission deadline, I begin the process of reviewing this documentation. It is my task to select from the list of possible legislation so that it comes as close as possible to meeting the rules which limit the number of bills which a Representative is allowed to sponsor.

It is my practice to see that my legislative proposals include a balance of constituent ideas and aggressive attempts to enact significant reforms and government modernization proposals which I need to sponsor as Chair of the House Government Modernization, Accountability and Transparency Committee.

I feel this balance is important because it ensures that I represent the voice of my constituents, advance new ideas for reform, while also passing legislation which makes government more accountable. This strategy has allowed me to win approval for a series of reform minded legislation in the past few years while also introducing aggressive new reform concepts which I believe will be eventually approved by the Legislature.

One of the bills I intend to sponsor and which I believe will have a significant impact on making Oklahoma government more responsible to the citizens is a proposal to require that the Oklahoma Legislature comply with Oklahoma's open record and open meeting laws.

These two very important laws require Oklahoma governing bodies to conduct business according to a set of rules which are designed to ensure your right as a citizen to know that what happens in government is upheld. However, the Legislature is exempted from these laws. In my view this is wrong, and I believe the Legislature should abide by the same laws they ask other Oklahoma governing bodies to abide by.

This is not a ground-breaking proposal. Other state governments already require that their legislative bodies follow their respective state’s open record and open meeting laws.

One of the most important aspects of this law would be the cessation of legislative caucuses discussing issues behind closed doors. An important principle of open meeting laws is the concept which dictates that a majority of a governing body should never meet behind closed doors to discuss business. This concept helps keep policy makers from taking a public stand which is different from the position taken in private.

An open records law would also establish a clear set of criteria which would govern which legislative records should be kept private and which should be made public.

I know that passing this particular proposal will be a difficult challenge, but I am convinced that it is the right thing to do.

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