Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tulsa Technology Center superintendent criticizes state Senate for lack of transparency after 'under-the-table move' for gun bill

A last-minute committee switcheroo for a controversial gun bill last week prompted the Tulsa Technology Center superintendent to question the state Senate's commitment to transparency, the Tulsa World reported.

"It is a case where the sun needed to shine, and it didn't," said Kara Gae Neal, who told the newspaper that she was "stunned by the lack of moral leadership."

Why does Neal care? Because HB 1652 would allow anyone age 21 or older and having a concealed-carry permit to leave guns locked in their cars on CareerTech campuses.

HB 1652 had been assigned to the Senate Public Safety Committee, but the committee chairman refused to hear it. The bill was reassigned to the Senate Rules Committee less than 15 minutes before it met Wednesday. Meaning that the bill wasn't on the committee's original meeting agenda.

The Rules Committee approved HB 1652, which advanced to the Senate floor without CareerTech input, the Tulsa World reported. The vote was 11-0. All cast by Republicans.

Neal, who was at the Capitol for another event, told the newspaper that the committee switch was an "under-the-table move."

The bill's co-author, Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, justified the last-minute switch because Thursday was the deadline for House bills to leave the Senate, so when one committee chairman wouldn't hear the bill, he had to find one who would.

Even if that meant leaving CareerTech officials and the rest of the public in the dark.

As the Tulsa World editorialized Saturday, "This was an issue that cried out for transparency, for free and open discussion. Is this any way to conduct the people's business?"

No, it sure ain't.

So where were the Democrats during this? Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre of Tulsa told the newspaper that she and some other Democrats on the committee chose not to attend after learning that HB 1652 would be heard. Procedural moves used by the Republicans cut off discussion and would not allow amendments, she said.

"It says very little about transparency," McIntyre said about the way the bill was transferred between committees and passed. "It is empty rhetoric by Republicans."

Given that comment, the public should be able to count on the support of McIntyre and all other Democrats the next time Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, introduces a bill forcing the state Legislature to comply with the Open Meeting Act.

Because under the Open Meeting Act, this last-minute switch would have been illegal -- and for good reason.

Without advance knowledge of what measures a government body will discuss and vote on, the
the public is deprived of its right to witness such decisions being made.

The public must have the opportunity to watch firsthand the debate in which alternatives are weighed, accepted or rejected. The reasoning of our elected officials is as important as their vote.

The Open Meeting Act serves to encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry's understanding of its governmental processes and problems, and ultimately, to restore public confidence in government.

But what happened in the state Senate on Wednesday only discourages our faith in government.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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