BY KIM MCCONNELL
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said while he will continue to monitor Environmental Protection Agency-related litigation, he also is interested is directing activities toward illegal drugs and getting a handle on what he terms abuses of Oklahoma’s Open Records Act.
Hunter, who was named to his position by Gov. Mary Fallin in February after former Attorney General Scott Pruitt became head of the EPA, brought a broad background to his new role, from serving in the House of Representatives and as chief of staff for former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts, to serving as Pruitt’s first assistant and Fallin’s Secretary of State.
Now, he heads the Oklahoma agency formerly run by one of his bosses. Hunter said he vowed he would not be critical of or compare himself to his predecessor, but would carve his own path in the AG’s office as he prepares to run for his own term in 2018.
Open Records requests
One of his issues is the Open Records Act, which specifies how governmental agency records are to be kept and made available to the public. Such requests for state records come to the Attorney General’s Office, where those records must be scanned for confidential information that is not recoverable, before records may be released to the entity requesting them.
Hunter said his office has about 100 Open Record requests pending, many surrounding emails that Pruitt sent while he was attorney general.
“It’s a weaponized tool,” Hunter said, explaining that out-of-state entities are using the state’s Open Records Act to demand reams of records and, unlike state media, are refusing negotiations to narrow requests to more reasonable searches.
He said while he strongly supports what he calls blue skies laws, such broad-based requests are difficult to respond to in a timely manner without taking hours of staff time.
Hunter said that after talking to others in the state, including the Oklahoma Press Association, he plans to talk to legislators about a proposal for the 2018 session, creating an office that would act as an arbitrator when the state and entities who make broad requests for records can’t negotiate a narrower scope on those records.
In the meantime, Doug Allen, Hunter’s chief deputy, said the office is in the midst of hiring 12 legal in-terns who will spend the summer responding to those 100 pending Open Record requests. Allen said eight of those interns have been selected; the remaining positions will be filled when the state’s law schools end spring semester testing.
Another area of focus will be drugs and Hunter, like many other law enforcement officials, has strong opinions about marijuana usage, which gained increased notoriety in this region when Colorado liberalized its marijuana laws.
Pruitt joined with others in suing over what they say is Colorado’s over-broad law, arguing it would in-crease problems for law enforcement agencies in surrounding states. Hunter said time has proven that Colorado’s law has negatively impacted others.
“If Colorado wasn’t a state, it would be a drug cartel,” he said, adding that law enforcement paints a grim picture of what Colorado’s law has meant for them.
He remains critical of the law and what he said was the Obama Administration’s refusal to enforce federal drug possession laws, but said the nation’s new attorney general is reviewing that policy.
Critical of marijuana question
Hunter said while he would accept arguments that marijuana for medical purposes is legitimate, Oklahoma’s State Question on that issue is too broadly written and would permit other uses of the drug. For example, he said the proposed law would not re-quire a prescription for those using marijuana medically.
He also defended the Attorney General’s Office’s action to change the title of the question to be submitted to state voters, saying its argument was that the title presented by those circulating the State Question petition was so vague it did not allow voters to understand its intent.
“The court rejected our argument,” he said, adding that a judge restored the original title, but he will continue arguing against the law.
It’s not just marijuana that has Hunter concerned. He said the nation is in the middle of one of the biggest opioid epidemics in history. Experts say 3,000 people have died in Oklahoma in the last three years because of opioid misusage.
Hunter said, explaining the symptoms of opioid abuse mimic other health problems (heart attacks, for example).
He said he believes the answer to the crisis is offering more options for treating drug addiction and the way to provide those options is to bring everyone involved in the problem —law enforcement, corrections, addicts, those who work with addicts —to the table. But, he said such treatment options should be limited to addicts.
“I draw a line between addicts and dealers,” he said, explaining that while some deal to support their habit, most dealers are selling to make mon-ey off those who can least afford it. “Their best customer base is young people.”
Simple possession can be dealt with by getting addicts into rehab and dealing with their addiction, he said, adding that Oklahoma must invest in rehabilitation programs, even in a tight budget year. He said Oklahoma should look at other states with successful programs, starting with its neighbor to the south. Texas has a proven system, he said, explaining the state treats addiction as a health issue, not a crime, and the result has been a dramatic decrease in overdoses.
Opioids can be tackled through stricter control and monitoring of sup-plies to patients by doctors, veterinarians and dentists, he said, adding that law enforcement also needs more “feet on the ground” in the war on drugs and crime.
- EPA regulations in the area of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts: Hunter said President Trump has is-sued an executive order directing the EPA to re-evaluate its efforts. Hunter said he believes federal and state governments should resume the collaborative efforts they once enjoyed. “I believe we can have clean water and clean air without destroying the economy,” he said. Like other critics, he said the EPA has exceeded its authority through unreasonable applications of law (for example, efforts to expand regional haze rules are projected to cost Oklahoma rate payers $500 million dollars because of required changes to power plants).
- Death penalty: Hunter said his office will do its job in defending death penalty cases, after criticisms about state protocols. He said his agency is working with the Department of Corrections to ensure problems are identified and resolved, and he has re-viewed those who are waiting on Oklahoma’s death row and “I’m confident there are none (innocent people) on death row.” As far as resolving problems, Hunter said his office reopened a case already rejected and recommended a $175,000 settlement to a man incarcerated for 13 years for a crime he did not commit.