As the Indiana House and Senate exchange bills, the Hoosier State Press Association focuses on four public access-related proposals moving through the 2016 General Assembly.
H.B. 1019 – concerning the public’s ability to obtain copies of video from police body and cruiser cameras – has been assigned to a Senate subcommittee tasked with amending it.
HSPA believes the amendment will greatly improve the public’s ability to access police video.
The legislation had passed the House 65-30 with language tilted toward the interests of law enforcement, to the detriment to the public’s ability to hold police accountable, said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.
Bill author and former sheriff Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, rejected an amendment designed to bring the bill into better balance during its second reading on the House floor.
H.B. 1019 then went to the Senate in the same form as it was introduced. After the Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on the bill, committee chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, assigned it to a subcommittee.
Bill sponsor Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville; Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange; Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis; and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; will tweak a proposed amendment to the bill.
Even before any changes, the amendment addresses two of three major concerns with H.B. 1019, Key said.
The proposed amendment would require a hearing within 30 days for a judge to rule on whether a video copy should be given to the public. The amendment also would shift the burden of proof for denying a video to the law enforcement agency, rather than requiring the public to prove why they should have a copy.
HSPA appreciates the work on the proposed amendment from Bray and the interest taken in the bill by Steele, Taylor, Randolph and Glick, Key said.
The biggest remaining concern with the current language of the bill is that it still would prohibit a citizen who successfully sues for access to a video from receiving reasonable attorney fees and court costs.
“HSPA believes the fees stipulation is important to serve as a counter weight against law enforcement officials who might be tempted to always say no to video records requests,” Key said. “Police would know that the public would be saddled with expensive litigation that might dissuade people from pursuing access.”
Steele hopes the amendment can be finalized and a vote called on H.B. 1019 by Feb. 18.
The public also gets second-class consideration with S.B. 380, authored by Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen.
The bill would allow members of local economic development commissions to participate in meetings and vote from remote locations via electronic means.
The bill creates an exception from what the legislature set out as the standard for remote participation for statewide bodies and local governing bodies in 2012.
At that time, the legislature allowed statewide bodies to participate remotely – the rationale was to allow work to be done even when weather (be it lake-effect snow in the north or flooding in the south) might have prevented a quorum from gathering.
But the legislature said members of local bodies needed to be present to vote. They could log in remotely to participate in discussion of issues but not be counted toward a quorum or vote.
The 2012 bill was H.E.A. 1003, authored by then-Rep. Suzanne Crouch, who now is the state auditor, and sponsored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.
S.B. 380 would allow two-thirds of the economic development board to vote remotely, so a majority decision could be reached on controversial projects – be it support for a reservoir in Anderson, a Walmart in Zionsville, or confined feeding operation in Henry County – with none of the affirmative voters present before an energized crowd at the meeting site.
A representative for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns said the need for the legislation was a convenience for board members who have busy schedules.
“There wasn’t a similar concern expressed for the public, who will still have to clear time in their busy schedules to drive to a meeting on a controversial project,” Key said.
HSPA is also concerned that if the legislature passes S.B. 380, arguments will be made starting with the 2017 session that the same rule should apply for all local governing bodies – councils, commissioners, school boards, etc.
The sponsor for S.B. 380 is Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger.
HSPA hopes to tweak S.B. 160, authored by Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis. Key believes the language unintentionally sets up an anomaly concerning public access to juvenile cases where the initial charges would be a felony if committed by an adult.
Certain charges trigger an automatic waiver of the juvenile’s case to adult court. Young’s bill would call for a transfer back to juvenile court if the youth agrees to plead to what would be a misdemeanor.
HSPA fears the language would allow the juvenile court judge to close the sentencing hearing in that case, which would be contrary to what would happen if the juvenile’s case started in juvenile court with charges that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
Marion County Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores confirmed HSPA’s concern.
Key is now trying to convince Young of the need for an amendment as S.B. 160 moves in the House.
The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Evansville.
Private university policing
Another bill of concern is H.B. 1022, which concerns what the public can learn about the activity of private university police forces.
Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend and the bill’s author, spoke out last year against the University of Notre Dame’s refusal to make information available that ESPN requested.
An Indiana Court of Appeals panel will hear arguments on a lawsuit filed by the TV channel against Notre Dame Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.
The problem with Bauer’s bill is that the language in it originated with the Independent Colleges of Indiana and merely codifies in Indiana law what the colleges must make public under the federal Clery Act, Key said.
“The private universities appear to be attempting to inoculate themselves from an adverse ruling by the Court of Appeals,” Key said.
The Clery Act requires that minimal information about crime reports be made public.
It’s a far cry from the information other police departments are required to share under the state’s Access to Public Records Act.
HSPA will approach bill sponsor Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, with its concerns.