Last Thursday was the deadline for House committees to approve bills. Any bills not approved by committee before or on that day must wait a year for any additional action.
As you might imagine, this made the final Government Modernization Committee meeting last Thursday the most interesting and eventful GovMod meeting of the year.
On that day, the committee approved nearly 20 initiatives, including three that I very much enjoyed working with over the past few weeks.
Did you know that when a government refuses to follow the law and provide open records to the public, that the denied applicant has little recourse other than to file a lawsuit? And then, to add insult to injury, the government entity can use the services of a taxpayer-funded lawyer to fight any effort to make them follow the law, perpetrating the ultimate insult to the victim whose own taxpayer dollars are being used against him. The average citizen simply does not have the resources to take on a government entity that has access to a bottomless pit of other people’s money.
The failure of Oklahoma statutes to provide an administrative appeals process for the aggrieved person has caused our state to receive low grades in a key transparency index. On Thursday, our committee approved House Bill 1450, which would allow citizens the right to appeal such a refusal without hiring an attorney or going to court.
My viewpoint on this area was forever shaped when Logan County Commissioner Mark Sharpton put in an open records request at a local government entity whose legally recognized beneficiary was the county government. Sharpton’s request sought access to clearly open records, but that didn’t stop the government entity from refusing to provide them. As I recall, that entity spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on a high-priced attorney to fight the clear rendering of the law. If a government entity would do this to another government official who was only trying to hold them accountable, you can only imagine how easily they would do the same to the average citizen who held no elective office.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to present House Bill 1910 to our committee on behalf of House Speaker T.W. Shannon. Shannon’s proposal has been mentioned in my past articles and would continue the process of identifying and privatizing underutilized government-owned properties and using that money to meet deferred maintenance needs of other assets, such as the Capitol building. This proposal is designed to allow state government to avoid the costly practice of issuing debt. Shannon has shown tremendous courage in consistently standing up to the many powerful forces who have an unhealthy and strange fascination with issuing debt.
I have been privileged to author legislation to enact Gov. Fallin’s Executive Branch Reorganization Plan. Her plan would eliminate a significant number of unnecessary government boards and commissions and consolidate various boards and agencies. Guidance for the proposal has been provided by the governor’s cabinet secretaries who have done an amazing job identifying much needed eliminations and consolidations. The cost savings from these proposals is expected to amount to several hundred thousand dollars each year. If we are successful, the official publication that tracks the number of state agencies, boards and commissions (the ABC book), will become significantly smaller.
Winning approval for these proposals hasn’t been easy. We were opposed on all these transparency and cost-saving reforms by an outspoken member of the minority party who aggressively protested each proposal. Toward the end of the meeting, as we won approval for these and other proposals, in an outburst of frustration he dropped a large number of papers on the committee table and later left the room without cleaning up his mess.
After everyone had left, I stayed behind and helped a House employee pick up the papers. As I reflected on the fact that so much paper had been wasted, I took satisfaction in the realization that the reduced size of future ABC books would more than make up for that particularly wasteful display.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.