Eleven House members lived up to their Open Government Pledge on Tuesday by voting against legislation that would have expanded the attorney-client privilege for government.
The House rejected HB 1559 by a 35-64 vote. The Tulsa World reports that its sponsor, Republican Fred Jordan of Jenks, kept the bill alive by sending it back to the House conference committee.
However, the Oklahoma Press Association official who lobbied against the measure said he believes it is dead for this session.
"Jordan told me he was through with the bill and would not be bringing it back up this session," said Mark Thomas, OPA executive vice president.
Unfortunately, among the voters for a bill that would have restricted the public's right to know were two pledge signers, Democrats Al McAffrey of Oklahoma City and Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa.
As candidates for the House, McAffrey and McDaniel each pledged "to support at every opportunity the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power."
McAffrey and McDaniel violated that pledge on Tuesday.
The bill they voted for would give local governments more power to keep documents confidential because it would erase statutory language limiting the circumstances under which public bodies may declare records protected by attorney-client privilege.
Specifically, HB 1559 seeks to amend a state statute that permits the attorney-client privilege for government records only when "the communication concerns a pending investigation, claim or action and the court determines that disclosure will seriously impair the ability of the public officer or agency to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation or proceeding in the public interest." (OKLA. STATE. tit. 12, § 2502 (D)(7))
The bill would remove that language, allowing the attorney-client privilege to be overcome only if the documents were sought by a multi-county grand jury.
The Oklahoma Municipal League supported the bill. The Oklahoma Press Association opposed it.
The bill also was opposed by councilmen Steve Harrison of McAlester and Tom Kovach of Norman, each of whom has signed the Open Government Pledge.
But credit for defeating this poorly written and wrong-headed legislation should go to the OPA's Thomas, who also is a member of the FOI Oklahoma board of directors.
Thomas, in turn, praised pledge signer Harold Wright of Weatherford for passionately imploring his fellow House members to kill the bill, calling it "bad public policy."
The expanded attorney-client privilege would be exploited by city councils and school boards, predicted Wright, who is a radio station owner, OPA member and former mayor.
Joining Wright in voting against HB 1559 were fellow pledge signers:
- John Bennett, R-Sallisaw
- David Dank, R-Oklahoma City
- Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City
- Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City
- Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie
- Todd Russ, R-Cordell
- Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher
- Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa
- Emily Virgin, D-Norman
- Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa
Here is the list of which House members voted for and against HB 1559.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
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.