Oklahoma Enacts Open Meeting Changes amid Outbreak

Mar 18, 2020

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed into law sweeping changes to the state’s Open Meeting Act the Oklahoma Legislature approved on Tuesday to allow government bodies to meet via teleconference, a move that was in response to the coronavirus outbreak and alarmed open government advocates who worried the changes were too extreme.

Shorty after the Senate approved the bill, senators and their staff were asked to self-quarantine in their offices after learning a Senate staffer had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The bill is aimed at allowing government to continue to function while complying with recommendations of health officials for social distancing to prevent further spread of the virus, said Sen. Brent Howard, a Republican from Altus who wrote the Senate bill.

After open government advocates raised concerns the changes would apply for a full year, the House passed a separate bill that would allow the changes through Nov. 15 and would end if the current state of emergency is lifted.

“I think the fact that it’s valid for a full year just seems like a little too much,” said Andy Moore, director of Freedom of Information Oklahoma.

The House bill also included a requirement that meetings be recorded, a change open government advocates had sought.