HSPA’s legislative agenda continues to grow as the January start to the 2015 Indiana General Assembly session approaches.

The association’s top priority is a reversal of a legislative decision to end the publication of local government units’ proposed budgets and notice of the public’s opportunity to speak on budgets.

This fall’s publication of budget notices was the last unless the legislature reverses its course.

State Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, authored the bill (H.E.A. 1266) to erase this transparency requirement. Leonard carried the bill at the request of the state Department of Local Government Finance.

Steve Key, HSPA’s executive director and general counsel, believes Depart­ment of Local Government Finance bureaucrats were motivated to eliminate the publication in part because they didn’t want to continue to be thrust into the role of bad guy, denying budget requests due to failure to properly publish the notice of budget hearing.
Micah Vincent, then com­missioner of the Depart­ment of Local Government Finance, said he believes more people will see the budget information if it’s posted on the state agency’s website.

That perception isn’t supported by the results of a survey conducted by Amer­ican Opinion research this year, which clearly shows that Hoosiers support the publication of public notices in newspapers over posting on government websites.

HSPA is in the process of securing a legislator willing to file legislation to restore the publication requirement.

On the public access front, HSPA will work once again with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma toward passage of a bill that would do two things:

• Allow citizens to choose whether they receive a public record electronically or via paper copy. Current law gives the public agency control over whether the requester can get an electronically available record via email instead of being forced to pick up a hard copy.

• Allow government units to charge a search fee when a records request requires more than two hours of labor to compile. This legislation has been filed in the last two legislative sessions, where it failed due to Senate amendments that added a third item opposed by county recorders.

State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, has been the author of this legislation in the last two sessions.

HSPA is also working with the Indiana State Police on language that would clarify a point concerning the “investigatory records” exception in the Access to Public Records Act.

Key said the intent is to make clear that disclosable public records should remain available for copying and inspection, even if law enforce­ment officials are using that document as they investigate possible wrongdoing.

“A record that a citizen could inspect and copy on Monday shouldn’t become a secret document on Tuesday just because it is evidence of a crime,” Key said. “That’s the reason public records should be available for inspection and copying – accountability.”