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Advocates say bills that close certain records go too far

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - Legislation pending in the Oklahoma House would close to the public records such as the time of school board meetings and the location of high-pressure gas lines on their property.

The proposed laws are meant to protect Oklahomans from terrorism, but some lawmakers and public groups say the proposals go too far.

``It's an overreaction,'' said state Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester. ``We've got a new awareness of homeland security, but ... there's often times a real need to know.''

Stipe said residents need to know where high-pressure lines cross their property to keep from rupturing pipes and causing injury or death.

Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, said state legislators and the federal government should be careful in their response to terrorism.

``If we're just signing off under the guise of security, we're in trouble,'' Pruitt said. ``Then we have to ask 'Who won?'''

A bill that would have kept secret all blueprints of power plants, locations of pipelines and pipeline pressures was defeated in the Senate last week. But another bill with the same language is awaiting approval.

Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said legislators must make such laws more specific. Thomas is working to tighten a bill by Pruitt.

Senate Bill 1472 was requested by the state Public Safety Department, which includes the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The bill originally kept confidential ``all records pertaining to security functions, including, but not limited to surveillance tapes, security plans and security surveys.''

Thomas asked Pruitt and highway patrol officials to tighten the language.

The amended bill changed ``security measures'' to ``security functions'' and allowed all public agencies to keep the information secret.

``That's way too broad. ... It's ridiculous,'' Thomas said. ``Anything could be a security measure.''

He said the proposal's vagueness violates the spirit of the Open Records Act, which was intended to tell the public what records they have access to and which ones they don't.

``We don't completely ban guns in this country because some people may use them for evil purposes,'' he said. ``We don't ban money because some people may use it for evil purposes.

``It's the same for cars, fertilizer, rocks.''

Attorney General Drew Edmondson said he is willing to work with legislators to write laws that protect what should be secret without closing government to the people.

House Bill 2764, called the Oklahoma Anti-terrorism Act, is more specific and may have the best chance of any proposal to get through, Thomas said.

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