Fine bill won’t get 2011 hearing

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Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, told HSPA Monday that he would not have time to hear H.B. 1487 in his House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.

The bill, authored by Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, would allow a judge to levy a civil fine of up to $100 against a public official who deliberately violates either the Open Door Law or Access to Public Records Act.

The fine could reach $500 if the public official is a repeat offender.

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is a co-author of H.B. 1487, and he has co-authored or sponsored similar legislation during the past two sessions of the General Assembly.

In addition to providing teeth for the state’s access laws, the bill also would:

• Allow citizens to ask for e-mail notification of public meetings. Governing bodies can give citizens notice by e-mail or opt to post notices on their websites.

• Allow a judge or Indiana Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack to examine unredacted versions of records requested by citizens. This would serve as a check to make sure officials were redacting only subject matter allowed by law to be kept confidential.

Hinkle’s committee is working on bills to reform township and county government along with anti-nepotism language.

Hinkle apologized for his decision on H.B. 1487 and offered to work with HSPA during the summer and reserve one of his bill slots for the 2012 General Assembly.

Last year, similar legislation was passed by the House 98-0. Two years ago, this legislation was passed by the Senate 49-0.

“It’s extremely disappointing to have language that has never received a negative vote in either chamber not receive a hearing,” said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

More than 31 states already have either civil fines, criminal penalties or removal from office as consequences for violation of their state’s public access laws.

Indiana allows a citizen to recoup legal costs from a lawsuit required to force a public agency or official to comply with either of the state’s public access statutes, but those costs come from the public agency’s funds, not the wallet of the offending public official.

“So Indiana taxpayers pay the price when a public official decides to force citizens into court to exert their rights to a copy of a record or to attend a meeting,” Key said. “There isn’t a disincentive for that public official who acts badly.”

House leadership has touted the need for transparency in government. H.B. 1487 would have served as confirmation of the sincerity of such talk.