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Stillwater Senator Tom Dugger introduces bills attacking government transparency

Stillwater Senator Dugger has introduced SB 1272 and SB 1256 designed to allow the government to operate in secrecy and discourage the citizens from accessing public records.

Stillwater Senator Tom Dugger has introduced SB 1272 and SB 1256 that would drastically alter the public’s right to access records from public bodies. The changes are highlighted individually below but the bottom line is this: if his bill becomes law it would effectively end the public’s access to records.

Each year we see proposed changes from legislators across the state, and in recent years they are clearly written with the purpose of shrinking the Open Records Act or the Open Meeting Act. These particular bills are the most offensive we have seen in a long time. It is worth reminding our readers, as well as our legislators, that the records of public bodies are owned by the taxpayers. Elected officials often forget that and instead believe that the records are theirs.

With these proposals, Senator Dugger is trying to turn records into a profit generator for the government. Worse yet, it sets up a system where the government can make the process of obtaining records too expensive for the citizens – effectively ending the public’s access to records.

Here are the bullet points of the changes proposed by Senator Dugger in SB 1272:

  • Only Oklahoma citizens or persons doing business in Oklahoma would be able to request open records.
  • No person who is not a resident of Oklahoma can request records.
  • It adds a search fee to the fees the government is allowed to charge the public. This means that the public body, in its sole discretion, can charge the public for the public body doing its job of producing records. Currently, they are generally only allowed to charge for copying or reproduction of the record.
  • It DOUBLES the cost of copying a document. Currently, the government can charge the citizens 25 cents per page. Senator Dugger wants the state to make more of a profit and be able to charge 50 cents per page to copy a record.
  • It EXPONENTIALLY INCREASES the cost of copying an image or picture. Currently, the cost is 25 cents per page. Under Senator Dugger’s bill, the cost would be $15 PER IMAGE or PHOTOGRAPH! That is 100s or 1000s fold increase in cost to the citizen.
  • It allows the government to charge $20 for a video or photograph to be placed on a CD/DVD or other electronic media. Again this creates a profit center for the government and increases the cost of obtaining records for the citizens. Amazon.com currently has a pack of Verbatim DVD +R writable discs available for 25 cents each. (100 pack for $24.99). Senator Dugger thinks the government should be able to charge the citizen $20 per disc that costs them at most 25 cents. 
  • It allows the government to charge $15 for certification of any record.
  • It allows the government to charge 30 cents a page for any record provided digitally. That’s right, 30 cents a page for any record that is emailed or otherwise delivered in a digital format.
  • It prohibits postage charges for items delivered electronically, but it allows the government to charge a $5 delivery fee.
  • It requires all fees to be paid in advance prior to the public body releasing the records.
  • Additionally, the public body may also charge a requestor for storage media used. Apparently, this is in addition to this same fee being included above?
  • It allows the government to charge for the time spent redacting exempt material from a public record. Interesting to note here is that the government is who originally wanted all these exemptions added in the first place. Now they don’t like doing the redactions so they want to charge the citizens for doing exactly what they demanded to be able to do.
  • It allows the government to charge for the “cost of labor directly attributable to fulfilling the request.” This means that they will send every open records request to their city attorney to review. Then they will bill the citizen that attorney’s hourly rate to review it and compile it. Citizens better be prepared to see a bill for $1,000 minimum each time they request an open record if this bill passes.
  • It allows the government to charge an “additional fee to recover the direct cost of record search and processing.” Again this seems duplicative of what was already included earlier in the bill.
  • It explicitly allows for search and processing fees based upon the “salary and experience level of personnel conducting the search and processing of the records.” Again, the citizens better be ready to see bills from the highest-paid employees PLUS their attorneys if this garbage bill becomes law.

Senator Dugger introduced SB 1256 as well. This bill is also directed at the Open Records Act. That bill would do the following:

  • Allow the government to designate and not disclose telephone numbers of employees that are not intended for public use.
  • Remove date of birth, address, race, sex, physical description, and occupation of those arrested for crimes. It would still allow for arrestee description, name, age, and picture.
  • Prohibit release of law enforcement records regarding citizens accused of crimes if those records are not available to the defendant pursuant to the Oklahoma Criminal Discovery Code.

Now you might be like us here at FOIBible and wonder if Senator Dugger cared enough to fix some common problems that the citizens run into when requesting open records.

For example, maybe he thought to make it law that a government must provide records by email when they are stored in electronic format? This would save the citizens some expenses of copying costs, it would limit exposure to public areas for those who wish to remain home during the COVID era, and it would just generally provide easier access to records for the citizens. He certainly thought about it enough to allow the government to charge a per-page fee for electronic copies, so he required them to provide records that way surely, right? Well, we are not so happy to inform you – nor are we surprised in the least – that Senator Dugger did not include this change.

Another example, maybe he included language to clearly require that jail videos be subject to the Open Records Act? Nope, not that positive change either.

Maybe, just maybe, he included language that would provide the citizen accused of a crime with a meaningful and useful Criminal Discovery Code. After all, the legislature held an interim study last year on this intersection of the ORA and the Criminal Discovery Code. Nope, he didn’t try to fix the Criminal Discovery Code either.

The bottom line is Senator Dugger introduced two bills designed to help the government more easily operate in secrecy. They do not do one single positive thing to advance government transparency. The bills do nothing to help the citizens of this state.

So who is behind this mess?

When we first heard about these bills and read through them, we immediately thought they smelled of the Oklahoma Municipal League. They have in the past been behind legislative agendas that attack the Open Records Act. For example, they were involved with HB 2800 authored by State Representative Ken Luttrell in the 2020 Legislative Session. This was another attack on the Open Records Act, specifically its use by citizens accused of a crime. It ultimately failed.

We know that two major complaints from cities and towns around Oklahoma about the Open Records Act are:
1) They don’t like redacting videos. Notice these bills allow for charging for that now?
2) They don’t like out-of-state companies using the Open Records Act for business purposes. Notice these bills eliminate that option for out-of-state businesses and individuals?

Again this has OML written all over it. As of the time of publishing this post, we cannot confirm or deny that being the case. We just suspect it may be. We have emailed the OML and asked if they have any comments on the two bills and specifically if they were involved in their writing but they have not provided any statement as of yet.

If the OML was involved, as we strongly suspect, we know they were not alone – enter OKC Mayor David Holt.

Oklahoma Press Association Executive Vice President Mark Thomas spoke with Senator Dugger who said Clayton Taylor of the Taylor Group lobbied for the bill on behalf of the City of Oklahoma City. According to their website, Mr. Taylor “serves as the principal of the Taylor Group that he established in 1994. The Taylor Group is a full-service lobbying and consulting firm specializing in Oklahoma business issues.”

From there, the bill’s creation can be traced to OKC Mayor David Holt (a former State Senator who claimed to support government transparency and even won an award from FOI Oklahoma for his alleged work to advance open government. We wonder if he will give that award back now) and the City Council of Oklahoma City. Here is a link to Twitter for more discussion about OKCs involvement in the drafting of this bill.

 

If you are a fan of open government and transparency contact your local Representatives and Senators today. Tell them to oppose SB 1256 and SB 1272. If you get a response in writing from them, email it to us here at FOIBible and we will add it to this post.

Senator Duggers Position and Response

On January 18, 2022, we called Senator Dugger’s Office to ask him questions about his bills and to give him the fair opportunity to respond. He was not in Oklahoma City at that time and was unavailable for comment. We were transparent in what our position was as litigating attorneys in this field of law and as editors of FOIBible.com. We told his friendly assistant that we were publishing a post on FOIBible that would be critical of his bills and that we were interested in the fairness of him being able to respond to our critique. We left our phone and email address for him to contact us if he chose.

If we hear back from Senator Dugger we will update this blog post accordingly. We will certainly publish what his response is if he has one to share.

Jan 19, 2022 UPDATE:

Senator Dugger called us and spoke with us about his bills. He was kind and gracious with his time for which we are grateful. He told us that neither bill would be heard and were effectively dead at this point in time. He said there could be studies and research conducted in the future for consideration of possible changes another time but not at this time. Senator Dugger reiterated that he is and has long been a supporter of open government and will continue to be.  He said that the original intent of the bills was to help law enforcement and first responders but too much got added in that would need to be changed and it’s best to scrap them and start new at an appropriate time in the future. Again we thank Senator Dugger for his time in chatting with us here at FOIBible.com.

 

Oklahoma Municipal League Position and Response

On January 16, 2022, we reached out to the OML for comment. They acknowledged our request but thus far have not responded otherwise.

 

Senator Tom Dugger’s Senate Contact Information
Phone: 405.521.5572
Click here to message him
Executive Assistant: Deborah Curry

Dugger introduces bills that would add stipulations, limits to public records

Stillwater News Press Article with interview of Senator Dugger

“Nothing in either of these bills is good for the public,” Two Open Records bills draw criticism for increasing the price of accessibility

KFOR.COM news story and article on Senate Bills 1272 and 1256

Link to Bill Information Page for Senate Bill 1272

Introduced Copy of SB 1272

Introduced Version of the Bill

Link to Bill Information Page for Senate Bill 1256

Introduced Copy of SB 1256

Introduced Version of the Bill

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