December 14, 2020

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “For the Children” Weekly Column

Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117

Email: jdorman@oica.org

 

For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA

 

OICA Seeks Transparency during 2021 Legislature Even if COVID Keeps Capitol Off-limits to Citizens

The members of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature have taken their oaths of office and hit their first deadline: requesting bills and resolutions for 2021.

Last Friday, state senators and representatives had turned in their requests for the legislative staff to begin researching their ideas and writing legislation for the lawmakers. The legislative staff will work long hours over the next few weeks to get lawmakers their bills to review and finalize before 4 p.m. January 21, when bills must be filed for the 2021 session.

The Legislature will convene before that on January 5 at noon for a one-day organizational day. During that session, which must end by 5 p.m., the House of Representatives and Senate will officially elect their leadership and approve internal rules to govern the session.

Lawmakers generally do not consider bills on that opening day. Even so, we at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) hope the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB) will meet. JCAB should take steps to allow public bodies to continue meeting virtually until the pandemic subsides.

We also ask lawmakers to respect Gov. Kevin Stitt’s mask mandate for public buildings. Legislative leaders have applied that mandate to the State Capitol. We know many of these additional suggestions are already being implemented. Still, OICA supports the following proposals to strengthen both transparency and citizen participation when lawmakers meet this year:

1) Transparency in Legislative Decision-making

  • Publish notice on changes made to the Legislature’s rules, protocols, and proceedings, including the time and manner in which those changes will be implemented.
  • Broadcast live hearings and other meetings traditionally open to the public and post information such as documents being discussed and testimonial materials shared by witnesses for public access.
  • All committee business, including deliberations and votes, should be accessible to the public within 48 hours. All other hearings and meetings traditionally open to the public should be recorded, transcribed, and archived for online public access.
  • Utilize technology with sufficient bandwidth that permits large numbers of Oklahomans to access online hearings and other public meetings simultaneously. In those cases when audio or video coverage of a proceeding or meeting is interrupted, the committee chair or presiding official should suspend discussion until audio/video is restored.

2) Public Participation in Legislative Process

  • Committees should establish a process for receiving invited and public testimony during hearings. The process should be equitable and not create separate protocols for invited, professional, and public testimony.
  • Committees should allow citizens electronic registration for citizens who wish to weigh in on legislation being considered by committees, regardless of whether they intend to allow oral or written testimony.
  • Use technology to facilitate and not limit public participation. When technology is the sole means of providing public input, accommodations must be made for individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act or those unable to attend due to illness.
  • If the Capitol is opened to the public, then the Legislature make sure appropriate personal protective equipment is available. This step is crucial to allow citizens, lawmakers, and the staff to interact safely.

We appreciate their consideration of these ideas and any additional standards to provide safe meetings for those joining together. We look forward to working with each lawmaker during a safe, transparent, participatory, and robust legislative session by whatever means is established.

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