Oklahoma AG Says Workers’ Comp Panel Sessions Must Be Public

November 5, 2014

The Oklahoma attorney general said state law requires the Workers’ Compensation Commission to open its meetings to the public.

Two commissioners wanted to discuss appeals involving injured workers’ cases in closed meetings, the Tulsa World reported.

“While we are aware that this conclusion may place the commission in the unusual place of holding these deliberations in public, clear statutory language controls our analysis,” said the opinion from Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office. “We must presume that the Legislature considered all of the consequences and determined that the public’s interest would best be served by the Commission holding its deliberations in public.”

The three-member commission declined to hear appeals involving injured workers’ cases, waiting for Pruitt’s judgment on the matter. The panel reversed its position on Oct. 30, voting to hear at least eight out of 18 pending appeals.

Commission chairman Troy Wilson said in a statement that the group appreciates the thoroughness by the attorney general’s office on the issue. He requested an attorney general’s opinion Aug. 18, asking if state laws or privileges existed that would allow the commission to close discussions “in order to maintain the confidentiality of the deliberative process.”

The 2013 law that created the panel said that its hearings “shall be open to the public.” Pruitt’s opinion states the panel could have had private deliberations under the state Administrative Procedures Act, but the statute creating the commission exempted it.

The Administrative Procedures Act lets organizations hold discussions in executive session if they are part of individual proceedings, such as appeals hearings.

The commission was created as part of the Legislature’s plan to shift Oklahoma’s Workers’ Compensation Court to an administrative system.

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