Friday, March 19, 2010

House speaker denies media requests for video of portraits being moved; Guthrie rep. plans bill to add Legislature to Sunshine Laws

House Speaker
Chris Benge this week denied media requests for video footage showing portraits of Gov. Brad Henry and President Barack Obama being switched.

Benge first denied a request from
KTOK-AM, reported FOX 25 on Wednesday.

The Oklahoman reports today that Benge has also denied the newspaper's request.

The Oklahoman requested surveillance camera footage focused on the back wall of the House from Feb. 15 to March 12 because House Democratic leaders say Obama's portrait has been moved more than the one time admitted to by Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, earlier this week.

House Democratic leaders called on Benge, a Tulsa Republican, to release the video, the newspaper reported.

Benge said he wouldn't release the video because disclosure would lead to "further embarrassment of the House" and "further ridicule a House member."

Embarrassment of an elected official isn't an exemption under the state Open Records Act. If it were, plenty of local and other state officials would claim it.

Unfortunately, as has been noted several times this week here and by other media, legislators exempted themselves from the state Open Records and Open Meeting laws when those statutes were enacted decades ago.

What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander when it comes to public scrutiny of the Legislature.

However, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, told The Oklahoman that he will introduce a bill next year to remove the Legislature's exemption from the Open Meeting and Open Records acts. (Murphey signed FOI Oklahoma's Open Government Pledge in 2008.)

Last Saturday, all six announced gubernatorial candidates said they support removing the exemption.

Perhaps that will happen during next year's legislative session. Or, at the very least, we would get to see which legislators truly believe in the Open Records Act's founding principle:
It is the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.2)
That should include the Legislature.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

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Differing interpretations of law and policy are welcome. Personal attacks and character assassinations will be rejected.