Representative David Perryman has issued a letter to Chairman Cockroft and members of the House Rules Committee/Special Investigation Committee addressing the legal authority to conduct closed meetings.

Chairman Cockroft and Members of the House Rules Committee/Special Investigation Committee,

As a member of the Committee, I would request as a Point of Order, under what legal authority the Chairman and Members of the House Rules Committee/Special Investigation Committee continues to meet in closed/executive session and vote in closed/executive session.

As a part of that Point of Order, I would request a ruling on the legal authority that would exempt the Chairman and Members of the House Rules Committee/Special Investigation Committee from a willful violation of the Open Meeting Act of the State of Oklahoma each time that they participate/meet or cast a vote in a closed/executive session and how they would be exempted from the application of the penalty provisions of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act each time that they meet and each time that they cast a vote.

I believe that the pertinent provisions of law that should be addressed are as follows:

While the Open Meeting Act specifically excludes the Legislature from the definition of “Public Body” in 25 O.S. Section 304(1), the Legislature is not exempt from the Open Meeting Act. In fact, 25 O.S. Section 309, expressly shows that the Legislature is bound by the Open Meeting Act wherein it states that “the Legislature shall conduct open meetings in accordance with the rules to be adopted by each house thereof.” Thus not only must the Legislature and its Committees conduct open meetings, the penalty provisions of Section 314 of the Open Meeting Act would appear to apply to violations of Section 309 just as they do to violations of other Sections of the Open Meeting Act.

Under the express language of 25 O.S. Section 309, the only way that the Legislature (or its committees) appear to be empowered to vary from the open meeting requirement is by adopting a rule under the authority of Section 309. The Legislature has not yet adopted rules for the 56th Legislature and the rules of the 55th Legislature are not applicable to the 56th Legislature. Consequently, Rule 7.2 of the House Rules of the 55th Legislature that allows the Chairman of a Committee to close a Committee to the Public with the approval of the Speaker has not yet been adopted by the Legislature and therefore, neither the Chairman nor the Speaker of the House would appear to have the authority to close any committee meeting to the public.

There does not appear to be any innate or inherent right for the Oklahoma Legislature to “close” its meetings (or its committee meetings) to the public. According to Article II, Section 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution, “All political power is inherent in the people; and government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and to promote their general welfare;” and therefore unless the Legislature has an enumerated right to close its records, its legislative sessions or its committee meetings to the public, that right does not appear to exist.

Not even the Congress of the United States has the right, apart from the United States Constitution to keep its actions secret, private or otherwise withhold information from the people of the United States. Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution provides that Congress “shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy.” Neither the Oklahoma Constitution nor the statutes of the State of Oklahoma contain any corresponding provision empowering the Oklahoma House of Representatives or the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to make proceedings secret.

Finally, Article V, Section 31 of the Oklahoma Constitution requires that all legislative votes be entered in the Journal. The “Rules” adopted by your Committee on January 11, 2017, require that all votes of the Committee be taken secretly and never be publicly disclosed in apparent violation of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma.

If in fact 25 O.S. Section 309 applies to the Oklahoma Legislature, how would the penalty provisions of 25 O.S. Section 314 (a fine not exceeding Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding one (1) year or by both such fine and imprisonment) not apply to members of the Oklahoma Legislature who willfully violate Section 309.
Rep. David Perryman