Greg Zoeller

Greg Zoeller

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has adopted government transparency legislation supported by the Hoosier State Press Association as part of his agenda for the 2012 General Assembly.

About the legislation

Government transparency legislation supported by HSPA and the Indiana attorney general has three goals:

• Allow a judge to levy a civil penalty against an official or management employee in a government unit for deliberate violations of access laws.

• Allow Hoosiers to request email notice of public meetings. The bill would give a government unit the option of posting meeting notices on its website.

• Allow the Indiana public access counselor to examine the originals of redacted documents to give an opinion as to whether the redaction was allowable under the Access to Public Records Act.

The proposal would allow judges to levy civil penalties against public officials who deliberately violate state access laws and give more authority to the Indiana public access counselor.  

The people’s business must be transacted in an open way or the public will lose trust in government, Zoeller said.

“Most government officials already comply with the existing law, but there are an unfortunate few who huddle behind closed doors or refuse to release public records, and there has been little ability until now to penalize such actions,” he said.

Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, has committed to filing the proposal in the legislative session that will begin in January.

The effort has three primary goals:

  • Allow a judge to levy a civil penalty against a public official or management employee in a state or local government unit for deliberate violations of the Open Door Law or Access to Public Records Act.
  • Allow Hoosiers to request email notice of meetings of public agencies. The bill would give a government unit the option of posting meeting notices on its website.
  • Allow the Indiana public access counselor to examine the originals of redacted documents to give an opinion as to whether the redaction was allowable under the Access to Public Records Act.

The public access counselor would maintain the confidentiality of the documents.

“Giving the public access counselor some real authority to make sure public access laws are followed will give Indiana citizens more assurance that there is transparency in government,” Gard said.

Gard has carried the legislation in the past.

The bill has yet to receive a negative vote on either the Senate or House floor, but the votes were not in the same year.

The Senate passed a version of the legislation in 2009 with a 49-0 vote. The House passed similar legislation 98-0 in 2010.

In both years, the bills died for lack of a committee hearing in the other chamber of the General Assembly.

The concept of a penalty for failure to abide by state public access laws is nothing novel, said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for HSPA, which has pushed the legislature to add some teeth to the state’s access laws through this initiative.

“More than 30 states have already implemented either civil fines, criminal penalties or removal from office for violations of those states’ open meetings or open records laws,” Key said.

Prior to becoming speaker of the House, Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, served as co-author of House bills carrying government transparency legislation.

Speakers generally do not author legislation, so HSPA will work with Bosma to find another shepherd for a House version of the bill.

The Indiana Broadcasters Association also has indicated its support for a bill to provide greater enforcement for the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.