Gov. Mary Fallin has signed Senate Bill 1497 into law. The bill was authored by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City. The legislation ensures the right of a citizen to file a lawsuit in order to enforce the Open Meetings Act.
“The Open Meetings Act is critically important to maintaining a transparent and accountable government, but the number one complaint about it has been the inability to enforce it,” said Holt, who earlier this year was awarded the “Sunshine Award” by Freedom of Information Oklahoma for his efforts on behalf of government transparency. “This legislation addresses that enforcement problem, and that’s why SB 1497 is one of the most significant transparency bills in recent memory. I want to especially commend Governor Fallin for signing this legislation. This session, she has established a solid record of support for government transparency through her approval of several major transparency bills, and I do not think that should go unnoticed.”
“This legislation will add some teeth to the Open Meetings Act by helping any citizen pursue a violation of the law and have their court costs paid for if they win their case,” Hall said. “It is part of my continued efforts to improve the transparency of state and local governments in Oklahoma.”
The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to post notice of meetings and hold votes in public. Last year, the court case Rabin v. Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority established for the first time the ability of citizens to sue in court to enforce the provisions of the Open Meetings Act. Previously, enforcement had been left solely to district attorneys, who are often busy with other crimes directly affecting public safety. SB 1497 solidifies that right by putting it into state law and allows for successful litigants to recover attorney fees. A public body may also be able to recover attorney fees if the case was clearly frivolous.
SB 1497 passed the Senate and House with wide bipartisan support. It was approved in the Senate 40-1 and the House 83-7. The measure takes effect November 1.