The Norman Transcript

Opinion

May 16, 2014

Putting teeth to law

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act has been a model for other states. It requires public bodies to post notices of meetings and have votes in public. Those elected and appointed officials who violate the law are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

It’s a rare occurrence when those officials are prosecuted. Warnings usually bring about better compliance, but in a few instances the public, and the press, have to enlist the district attorney to enforce the law. It’s not always a high priority, and charges are usually left unfiled.

Now, residents wishing to force bodies to comply with the Act’s provisions can bring suit and, if successful, have their costs paid. That will allow attorneys who will take cases on a “contingency” basis to be paid for their efforts.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 1497 into law this week. Credit Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, for sponsoring the legislation.

“The Open Meetings Act is critically important to maintaining a transparent and accountable government, but the No. 1 complaint about it has been the inability to enforce it,” Holt said in a state press release. “This legislation addresses that enforcement problem, and that’s why SB 1497 is one of the most significant transparency bills in recent memory.”

The measure takes effect Nov. 1 and puts some teeth in the Open Meetings Act. It won’t bring big headlines, but it could be a game changer for the press and residents seeking compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

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