New rules requiring Oklahoma House of Representatives conference committees to meet in public have significantly enhanced the ability of the public and the press to monitor legislative actions, according to testimony today before the House Government Modernization committee.
Oklahoma.Watchdog.Org Editor Peter J. Rudy told committee members that 2011 transparency reforms enhanced his ability to report on legislative activity that would have occurred behind closed doors in the past. Before 2011, lawmakers frequently approved significant changes to legislation late in the session with little public scrutiny. This year’s new House rules required a public hearing on any late session changes to legislation.
The committee also heard testimony regarding the benefits of proposed House Bill 1085, which would apply Oklahoma’s open meeting and open record laws to the Oklahoma Legislature.
“This year’s transparency reforms were substantive and have made the Oklahoma House of Representatives much more transparent and accessible to the public,” said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, the committee’s chairman. “However, that should not stop us from doing the right thing and ensuring the Legislature abides by the same transparency laws that are applied to other governing entities in Oklahoma.”
OSU Professor Joey Senat told committee members that other states have successfully applied open meeting and open record laws to state legislatures while balancing the privacy concerns of constituents. The Oklahoma Legislature is one of only three state legislatures explicitly exempted from open records law.
Delaware State Sen. Karen Peterson detailed the positive outcomes of the application of transparency reform in her state. Peterson told the committee that concerns put forward by the opponents of change proved to be unfounded.