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UPDATE: Bill that would “gut” the Open Records Act will not be heard

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UPDATE:  House Bill 1361 will not be heard on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“The bill in its current form is not my bill that I originally authored. Rep. Mike Christian amended my bill in committee and completely warped the original intent of the legislation,” said Rep. Claudia Griffith. “In no way will I let it be heard on the House floor this way.”
Griffith says the bill was originally written to protect the privacy of victims who were caught on cameras used by law enforcement.

Under current law, the video can be requested under the Open Records Act.

“We obviously have a lot of work to do on this bill. I want to involve the Oklahoma Press Association and other transparency advocates to ensure that we can protect the privacy of Oklahomans while making records open and available to the public. We have added the original author of the Open Records Act legislation dealing with law enforcement from last session, Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City), as a co-author in the Senate. This is the first step to making sure that we do this correctly.”

“I never wanted to gut the Open Records Act,” Griffith said. “What happened in committee last week was the complete opposite of transparency in government and I think it should be a lesson for all of us. We must make sure that we are providing the most open government we can while also protecting Oklahoma’s citizens and our rights to privacy.”

OKLAHOMA CITY - Experts say public information requests could be useless if one Oklahoma lawmaker gets her way.

This week, a committee approved House Bill 1361.

The bill would give officials the power to choose whether or not they will grant public information requests.

"Any request that would clearly cause excessive disruption of the essential function of the public body may be denied," the bill states.

Just last year, Sen. David Holt passed a law that makes video taken by law enforcement officials public record.

Following recent events around the country, many people are calling for officers to use body cameras.

However, lawmakers are concerned that sensitive information could be released, especially when recording personal interactions with witnesses and victims.

House Bill 1361 protects more than just sensitive information about victims and witnesses.

"The bill that passed yesterday guts the Open Records Act in its entirety, far beyond law enforcement videos," Holt said.

The bill's author, Rep. Claudia Griffith sent NewsChannel 4 a statement saying,

"This bill was designed to help law enforcement officials... At no point was this bill designed to gut the Open Records Act or stifle transparency in government."

Some key words in the bill specifically caught Sen. Holt's attention.

The bill would limit requests to "audio and video recordings of investigative detentions, traffic stops or custodial arrests."

"There are all kinds of officer shooting situations that don't fit any of those three categories. Those are the types of videos that the public needs to see and has the right to see," Holt said.

Now, House bill 1361 will head to the Oklahoma Senate.

If passed, Holt is afraid certain liberties could be in jeopardy.

"It's got to change or it will be the most anti-transparency legislation that this body has ever passed," Holt said.

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