KGOU

House Public Safety Panel Approves Bill Limiting Public Access To Government Records

Feb 19, 2015

Dashboard cameras
Credit Fernost / Creative Commons

A bill that started out to limit when police video record are released has been further amended to increase fees for copies of public records and create further exemptions for public access to government records.

The amendments were offered by  Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City and the bill received approval from the House Public Safety committee Thursday.

According to the text of the bill ultimately approved by the committee, a government agency can deny access to public records by expanding the range of fees required for accessing and copying records. The bills allows agencies to charge a fee when the request clearly causes excessive disruption of the essential functions of the public body.

According to Freedom of Information Oklahoma, the current law provides, "prohibits search fees “when the release of records is in the public interest, including, but not limited to, release to the news media, scholars, authors and taxpayers seeking to determine whether those entrusted with the affairs of the government are honestly, faithfully, and competently performing their duties as public servants.”

The original bill, authored by freshman Rep. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman, would allow police to withhold video from a dash camera or body camera for public release until certain conditions are met such as the conclusion of a case or until after the prosecuting attorney declines to prosecute the case. This section of the bill, according to the Tulsa World, was also amended to provide for no release date for video used as evidence

Currently any member of the public or media can request a copy of records from law enforcement. That was a result of another piece of legislation last session that opened those records up to the public.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater spoke before the committee and said, “I’m glad we are at a point where we can attach cameras to the body and I believe a lot of criticism out there about law enforcement would quickly go away once they become main stream.” 

The Tulsa World quoted Senator David Holt, R-Oklahoma City:

“This is the farthest-reaching and most uncontrollable limit on transparency I could imagine,” said Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. Holt was one of the authors of HB 2676, a 2014 law that makes Oklahoma Highway Patrol videos accessible to the public. Previously, requests for those videos could be denied.

“That’s an unprecedented rollback,” Holt said. “It’s not saying they need more time or more money; it’s saying they can flat out deny (the request) if they want to. It’s very scary power that could be very dangerous. That has to change, or this will be one of the worst bills ever passed for transparency.”

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