Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Letters to the Editor

May 8, 2012

HSPA offers thanks

Greensburg — Dear Sen. Leising and Rep. Frye:

The Hoosier State Press Association would like to thank you for your support of H.E.A. 1003, which contains language that will allow a judge to levy a civil fine against public officials who deliberately violate the state's public access laws. The provision originally was filed in S.B. 92 and H. B. 1093. S.B. 92's author was Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield. Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, was the author of H.B. 1093.

Those bills died in the Senate while Republican leadership determined what amendment would be necessary before the concept would be moved forward. At the fulcrum were Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. If they couldn't find language that both could live with, the session would have ended with no civil fines for deliberate violations of the state's public access laws.

Each was aided by their chief of staff, Julie Halbig in the House and Jeff Papa in the Senate.

In the waning hours of the last day of the legislature, H.E.A. 1003's conference committee signed the report allowing the bill to go to the House and Senate floors for a vote. The committee members were bill author Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, bill sponsor Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, minority members, Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, and Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville.

The Senate approved the bill, 41-9, including your vote.

The House approved H.E.A. 1003 with a 74-20 vote. Governor Mitch Daniels signed the bill into law. 2012 was special in that there was a wider coalition of allies supporting HSPA with this legislation. Chief among those was attorney General Greg Zoeller and his legal team, David Miller and Matt Light.

Others who signed on and testified in favor of H.B. 1093 and S.B. 92, which carried the fines language, were Mark Lawrance of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Paul Chase of AARP, Glenna Shelby of the Indiana Association of Broadcasters, and Julia Vaughn of Common Cause.

In the past, the Indiana Coalition for Open Government has been represented and its survey of Public Access Counselor users provided insight for legislators. The Hoosier State Press Association doesn't expect a rash of public officials will receive fines under this new legislation, but we think it was vitally important for the General Assembly to take the stand that it intends that public officials should abide by the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act and that there are personal consequences for ignoring the public's rights under those laws. The fine can be up to $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for a repeat offender. In addition to the civil fine, H.E.A. 1003 sets guidelines for statewide commissions to allow members to participate long-distance via an electronic connection. HSPA supported this concept. The bill also sets "reasonable" as the time frame for when a citizen should expect to actually receive documents he or she has a right to inspect or copy. HSPA also appreciates that you were a co-author for S.B. 92. This bill, as noted above, was one of the original bills to

contain the civil fine language. It also contained language that sets "reasonable" as the time frame for public agencies to make available records for inspection and copying. Other provisions would have allowed a citizen to request email notice of meetings of governing bodies that the citizen wanted to monitor and that would have allowed the Public Access Counselor to examine blacked out public records to determine whether the agency had properly redacted the information.

The Senate Committee on Local Government, chaired by Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville, approved S.B. 92 with a 10-0 vote. Other co-authors of S.B. 92 were Sens. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond. Unfortunately, H.B. 92 died in the Senate, but the civil fine language was resurrected in H.E.A. 1003. Enjoy your time away from the legislature.

Sincerely,

Stephen Key Executive Director and General Counsel Hoosier State Press Association

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