With the legislative session over, it’s a good time to think about ways to make the next one better. Specifically, I’m concerned with making the legislative process more transparent.
Much has improved over the five years since I’ve been covering the state Capitol, but much more can — and should — be done.
For starters, the state Senate needs to step up and provide the same level of transparency as the House. Both the House and Senate stream their floor sessions live on the Internet, but the House also archives the files so you can go back at any point and view them. The video player on the House website is indexed based on the bill being heard, which allows people to go instantly to the beginning of the discussion on a specific bill. The Senate does not archive its video, so if you missed it live, too bad.
The House also provides each member with a voting card that has a magnetic strip just like a credit card. When it is placed in a device during committee meetings, members vote electronically and those votes then can be viewed online when looking at the bill information.
The Senate does not record its committee votes electronically, so the only votes you see are those once legislation gets to the floor. Since half of the bills never reach the floor, it would be nice to see those committee votes online.
Last year, the House also changed its conference committee system so that there are actually hearings where lawmakers discuss changes made in a bill and votes are made in public. In the Senate, however, conference committees don’t meet. Instead, a bill’s language is passed around and members appointed to the committee either sign off on it or don’t.
In the past, this has allowed for language to be inserted into bills at the last minute with very little scrutiny. At least with House conference committees actually meeting, there is a little more openness.
Finally, both houses need to remove their exemption from the Open Records Act and Open Meeting Act. It’s silly that cities, counties and every state agency must follow these laws, but those responsible for making laws don’t. A bill to do that this year was never heard on the House floor because a majority of House Republicans didn’t want it.
If they have concerns with its scope, certainly some compromise language could be worked out.
After all, they are supposed to be there to represent us, not to hide from us.
Rudy is editor of Oklahoma Watchdog, an online site on local and state government.
Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.