Should Oklahomans Know Who Writes Bills?

Wednesday, February 13th 2019, 8:56 am
By: Grant Hermes

It's no secret that industry lobbies, companies, advocacy groups and even state agencies all try to make bills filed in the state legislature work for them. Most of them almost always writing part of a bill or the entire thing and getting a lawmaker to pass it off as their own.

With all that outside help, should the names of any person or group who wrote a bill be right up front for any voter to see?

News 9 and News On 6 put the question to all 149 lawmakers at the capitol. Only eight responded. Just six said they'd be in favor.

The eight were Merleyn Bell (D-Norman), Forrest Bennett (D-Oklahoma City), Meloyde Blancett (D-Tulsa), David Perryman (D-Chickasha) and Colin Walke (D-Oklahoma City). Senators Dave Rader (R-Tulsa), Rob Standridge (R-Norman) and Gary Stanislawski (R-Tulsa) also responded.

Representatives Bennett, Blancett, Perryman and Senators Standridge and Stanisalwski all said yes. Senator Rader said no. Rep. Bell declined to comment.

“That different companies or groups might have an ax to grind can really shape how we even as citizens perceive the legitimacy of some of the laws,” said Freedom of Information – Oklahoma Executive Director Andy Moore. 

FOI – Oklahoma is a non-partisan, non-profit, organization focused on government transparency. The group has not currently provided input but would if asked by a lawmaker. Several employees of News9/Newson6 are also members of FOI-Oklahoma. Their names can be found here.

“I think transparency in government is a thing that's easy to campaign on but often doesn't turn out to be something they want to govern with,” Moore said.

Recently however, one legislator did want to try.

“I was frustrated because I kept seeing a bunch of legislation from national organizations that was being drafted and being proposed here in Oklahoma,” Rep. Colin Walke (D-Oklahoma City) said.

Last year, Walke authored House Bill 2535, asking members at the capitol to disclose who asked them to put up a piece of legislation. His bill was never heard. Walke did not re-run HB2535 this session. Currently there is no similar bill in 2019.

Walke acknowledges that lawmakers aren’t and can’t be experts on every topic and frequently turn to lobbies for expertise and advice on how to write bills. He also pointed out there are many outside lobbies like the American Legislative Exchange Council which supply sample bills to lawmakers, sometimes with a fill-in-the-state option, that are often not state or locally specific.

“If a constituent's like ‘hey where did you get that idea?’ and you say from Washington DC and they ‘say well it has nothing to do with the state of Oklahoma and the way we run our business in this state, why are you doing this?’ It proves that legislator is doing this not for the constituents, but doing it for the lobbying group itself,” Walke said. “I think part of the reason lobbyists are not for transparency is because they think, like many legislators, that you can hoodwink your constituents.”

But, lobbyists and advocacy groups have raised concerns about input transparency, citing concerns it could stifle bipartisan work amid an already divided political landscape.

“Sometimes you have strange bedfellows, right? If that had to come out it might make it harder to move through the process,” the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs’ President Executive Vice President Trent England said.

There are also concerns about privacy for individuals or groups.

“Any time anybody is going to be exposed, there are always some people who are going to be nervous,” England said. “Maybe it's legitimate, maybe it's illegitimate, maybe they're scared of shadows but it's still a cost.”

A cost some think is still worth paying.

“It would just be helpful to know who is the driving for behind some of this,” Moore said.

Editor's Note: Representatives Kelly Albright (D-Midwest City) originally did not comment, although was mistakenly marked a "no". She has since responded back to News 9 at a "yes" to support the disclosure. 

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