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Oklahoma Officials Decline Fox's Request for Texts

September 18, 2017

A September 14 story by Fox 25 News suggests that the Oklahoma state budget is unconstitutional, although it doesn’t specify why, and it says that the news outlet was unsuccessful in its efforts to access the text messages shared by government officials during the creation of the budget.

Fox 25 said it used the Open Records Act in an attempt to get texts from Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger. That request to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which houses Doerflinger’s office, was met with a request for Fox 25 to define what it meant by a text message, according to Fox 25. The media outlet said it then expanded its definition of a text message to include any message exchanged between Doerflinger and Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman, who the story said had read some of the text exchanges during recent press interviews. But in the end, Fox 25 said, it was told there were “no recoverable instant messages that meet your request.”

U.S. News & World Report in a May article reported that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma have complained that the $6.8 million budget may be unconstitutional because it was not properly betted. That budget calls for most state agencies to be cut about 5 percent, according to the story.

“The bill emerged late Tuesday after talks broke down between Republican leaders and House Democrats, whose votes would be needed to reach the supermajority threshold required in the constitution to pass the tax increases necessary to fund the measure,” U.S. News & World Report explained in a May 24 article. “Instead, Republicans pushed forward with a $1.50-per-pack fee increase on cigarettes and a new 1.25 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases that would help generate funding to close an $878 million hole in the budget. The cigarette fee passed the Senate on Wednesday, while House members approved the vehicle tax. The constitution also prohibits lawmakers from considering revenue measures in the final week of the session.”

Joey Senat, a former investigative reporter who teaches media law at Oklahoma State University, last week retweeted the Fox 25 report. And the posting says Oklahoma law requires text messages on public business must be kept even if sent from an official’s private smartphone.

The Oklahoma Open Records Act at this link says “record means all documents, including, but not limited to, any book, paper, photograph, microfilm, data files created by or used with computer software, computer tape, disk, and record, sound recording, film recording, video record or other material regardless of physical form or characteristic, created by, received by, under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials, public bodies, or their representatives in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administering of public property.

"Record" does not mean computer software, nongovernment personal effects or, unless public disclosure is required by other laws or regulations, vehicle movement records of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority obtained in connection with the Authority’s electronic toll collection system, personal financial information, credit

reports or other financial data obtained by or submitted to a public body for the purpose of evaluating credit worthiness, obtaining a license, permit, or for the purpose of becoming qualified to contract with a public body….”

Edited by Mandi Nowitz

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