The Norman Transcript

State/Region

March 16, 2014

Advocates for open government cheer bills

OKLAHOMA CITY — Advocates for more government openness in Oklahoma have some legislative accomplishments to cheer as they kick off their annual Sunshine Week, including passage of a bill to make Highway Patrol dashboard-camera videos open to the public.

All other law enforcement agencies in the state, including municipalities and sheriffs, are required to make such recordings public, but the Department of Public Safety successfully pushed for an exemption to the Oklahoma Open Records Act several years ago.

OHP Maj. Rusty Rhoades, a legislative liaison for the Department of Public Safety, said the agency’s new commissioner, Michael Thompson, supports getting rid of the exemption.

“We’re excited about it, because there’s nothing to hide,” Rhoades said. “We’re human, and people sometimes stumble and make mistakes, but 99 percent of the time we’re doing the exact right thing.

“And the openness gives assurance to the public that we are doing the right thing and we are one of the most premier agencies in the state.”

Among the other open government bills this session are measures to require the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, which governs high school sports, to be subject to the state’s open meeting and records acts, and to allow a person to file a civil suit against an agency for violating the state’s Open Meeting Act and recover attorney fees.

Rep. Aaron Stiles, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is sponsoring a bill that states all court records should be considered open records unless specifically authorized by statute, and that judges should only seal court records “if a compelling privacy interest exists which outweighs the public’s interest in the record.” If a judge does decide to seal a record, he or she must make a legal basis for the decision and narrowly tailor the order so that only portions of the record are kept confidential and the remainder is kept open.

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