The Indiana House passed H.B. 1093, which would allow fines for deliberate violations of the state’s public access laws, by a vote of 90-4.
The bill, authored by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, now moves to the Senate for consideration.
About the legislation
Government transparency legislation supported by HSPA has several goals. Among them:
• Allow a judge to levy a civil fine against public officials for failing to give proper notice of a meeting, taking final action outside of a public meeting and participating in a secret ballot during a meeting.
• Allow Hoosiers to request email notice of public meetings. The bill would allow government units to post meeting notices on their websites instead.
Meanwhile, the full Senate held S.B. 92, which was nearly identical to H.B. 1093.
Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, authored S.B. 92. Gard has supported strengthening public access laws for the past five legislative sessions.
Also supporting the HSPA-initiated effort this year are Attorney General Greg Zoeller, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, AARP, Common Cause, and the Indiana Broadcasters Association.
Bill Wilson, editor of The Rochester Sentinel, reported Jan. 27 that Gov. Mitch Daniels indicated his support for the legislation during an interview with the newspaper.
“We’re obviously pleased with the progress of the legislation at this point,” said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for HSPA. “Representative Mahan did an excellent job of shepherding the bill through the House.”
The support of the Indiana attorney general, Chamber of Commerce, AARP and others shows the effort is an issue for the public, not just the press, Key said.
The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Association of Indiana Counties have been the only entities to testify against the legislation.
Co-authors of H.B. 1093 are Reps. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville; Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Mara Candalaria Reardon, D-Hammond. Co-authors of S.B. 92 are Sens. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg; Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, Travis Holdman, R-Markle; and Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond.
The four nay votes cast on the House floor were the first negative votes against the concept of civil fines for intentional violations of the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act since Gard began filing legislation on this issue.
The four representatives who voted against H.B. 1093 were Reps. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake; Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend; Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka; and Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville.
Wolkins spoke against the bill on the House floor, saying it would set a bad precedent to allow public officials to be fined.
He also said the fines would be too small to serve as a deterrent.
If the legislation passes, a judge could levy a fine of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for a repeat offense.
In addition to the civil fines provision, both bills would give citizens the opportunity to request email notification of meetings by a specific governing body of a public agency.
The agency would have the option to post meeting notices on its website as an alternative to creating an email list for notification.
A provision that would have allowed the Indiana public access counselor to review unredacted documents to determine whether the redaction was legal under the Access to Public Records Act was removed from both bills in their respective committees.
This was in response to concerns raised by the office of the governor and representatives of Indiana and Purdue universities.
“We believe this is still a good concept, but the governor’s office raised some valid points that we need more time to properly address,” Key said.