Legislation that would give judges the authority to levy a civil fine against public officials or supervisory employees who deliberately violate the state’s public access laws has been filed in the Indiana Senate.
S.B. 70 was filed under the name of Sen. Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake.
Landske has been a friend of public access, said Stephen Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.
HSPA believes the filing may have been done at the request of Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, who has authored or co-authored this legislation for several years.
HSPA has been told that similar language has been filed in the House, but the author and bill number are not yet known.
Speaker of the House Brian Bosma has been a co-author of this legislation for the past couple of years, when it was carried by Rep. Russ Stilwell, D-Boonville.
Stilwell was defeated in the November election, and Bosma will not push individual bills since he was elected speaker. He is working with HSPA to see that the bill does get filed in the House by another Republican.
The Senate and House bills will mirror the bill that was passed by the House 98-0 during the 2010 session and is similar to the bill passed by the Senate 49-0 during the 2009 session.
The bill would allow a judge to levy a $100 fine for a first offense and $500 for subsequent deliberate violations of either the Open Door Law or Access to Public Records Act.
The bill also contains two other key provisions:
• Local government agencies with e-mail capabilities would be required to give electronic notice of meetings under the Open Door Law if requested to do so by a citizen.
• The Indiana Public Access Counselor or a judge would be required to examine unredacted documents when the redaction is challenged by a citizen.
Under current law, a citizen who successfully sues a public agency can get reasonable attorney fees and court costs covered by the public agency, but those costs are borne by the taxpayers since it comes from the agency’s budget.
A public official faces no financial consequence for intentional violations that would force a citizen to take legal action to obtain a record or halt a violation of the Open Door Law.
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, has filed a bill even stronger than Landske’s.
S.B. 125 would make it a criminal act to violate the Open Door Law or Access to Public Records Act.
His bill would set the punishment as a Class C infraction.
If an official is found guilty under the bill’s guidelines, he or she would be subject to a fine of up to $500.
More than 30 states have included in their public access laws civil fines, criminal fines or removal from office as deterrents against deliberately ignoring the public’s right to information.