Thursday, May 20, 2010

Senate revives bill closing public access to gov't workers' DOBs, employee ID. numbers; Sets $50 fee for copies of DPS recordings, photos

Legislative slight of hand has resurrected an attempt to restrict access to the birth dates of Oklahoma's government employees and to their employee identification numbers.

The language was added to a bill originally intended to open access to the dash cam videos of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The original bill on dates of birth had failed to make it out of the House by a deadline last month after Rep. Lucky Lamons, D-Tulsa, added an amendment requiring the state Legislature to follow the Open Records Act. Fellow lawmakers didn't want to vote on that issue.

But Mark Thomas of the Oklahoma Press Association warned that the language on birth dates in personnel files might be added to another bill.

Sure enough, that's what happened. The restriction was added to HB 3382.

On Wednesday, the Senate General Conference Committee on Appropriations approved HB 3382, which heads to the House, the Tulsa World reported today.

HB 3382 was originally intended to make public once again recordings by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The state Department of Public Safety’s audio and video recordings were public records until legislators exempted them in May 2005. (
OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.3(1)(h)(3))

Now, the public is faced with regaining access to OHP videos or losing access to needed information about its employees.

Thomas told the Tulsa World that the OPA is recommending that HB 3382 be killed.

"The public will just have to live without having access to the dash cam recordings of their state troopers," he said.

Given HB 3382's exemptions and other flaws, that seems best.

The bill would keep recordings closed during "an ongoing criminal or internal investigation to which the video or audio recording is relevant."

It also would require DPS to censor "all content which depicts, expressly or implicitly, the death of any person."

The bill also would allow DPS to charge $1 for the first page of a record and 25 cents for subsequent pages of a report. It sets the fee for copies of DPS videos and still images at $50.

State law already already exempts public employees' Social Security numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers.

But HB 3382, revised by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, would make it virtually impossible to determine if government employees have committed crimes, evaded paying taxes, filed for bankruptcy or made political contributions.

Eliminating access to the employee identification numbers would make it virtually impossible to track workers across government jobs.

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association and Oklahoma Troopers Association will get want they want either way: No public access to the video of their actions on patrol, or no way for the public to know about its own employees.

The public, on the other hand, will be the big loser this legislative session.

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

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