With several bills still to examine, HSPA Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key said opportunities and dangers have presented themselves in the first group of proposed legislation released by the Indiana General Assembly.
Prospects exist for greater transparency for the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
On the eve of his inauguration, Gov. Mike Pence spoke in favor of open government, as reported by The Indianapolis Star.
“As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Give the people the facts, and the republic will be saved,’” Pence told reporters. “People have a right to know.”
State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, authored S.B. 162, which would make the Indiana Economic Development Corp. more open for public scrutiny.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, filed S.B. 325, which would impact redevelopment commissions and authorities. His bill specifically places those entities under the state’s Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.
Whether this movement toward sunshine grows to include local economic development corporations, which spend taxpayer dollars without any oversight, remains to be seen.
State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, will author a bill – H.B. 1175 – initiated by Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, which will create a search fee for voluminous records requests.
HSPA has been working with Bosma’s office on guidelines that attempt to prevent such a search fee from being a barrier to public access.
HSPA voices opposition
On the flip side, some bills contain troubling language.
State Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, has filed H.B. 1116. This bill would eliminate the requirement for the Department of Local Government Finance to hold public hearings before it acts on local government budgets, tax rates or tax levies.
The burden would shift to citizens, who would have to request a hearing be held for a particular government agency’s budget.
State Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, has filed S.B. 139 at the behest of the Indiana School Boards Association. This bill would allow governing bodies to have an executive session to discuss the potential sale of government property.
HSPA believes this would allow for decisions to be reached behind closed doors that could be followed with a public vote before the public ever knew that the sale was under consideration.
State Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, would make the causes of death contained in county health records confidential with H.B. 1195.
State Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, has introduced H.B. 1102, which would expand the litigation strategy provision allowing for executive sessions.
Davisson would include sessions with attorneys to discuss potential liability for proposed actions in the provision.
State Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, has a trio of bills that would limit public access to certain records.
He has reached out to HSPA for a meeting so he can explain the rationale for the legislation – S.B. 241, S.B. 243, and S.B. 369.
HSPA also is trying to clarify whether the concept embodied in S.B. 178 – losing party in civil cases must pay other side’s attorney fees and court costs – would override fees language in the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.
If it does, there would be a chilling effect on the ability of citizens to defend their right to know.
The bill was filed by State Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City.
S.B. 391, authored by State Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, would make it a crime to take photos of an agricultural operation without the owner’s permission.
State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, has filed similar legislation with S.B. 373.
State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, would allow drivers to petition the courts to close their driving records, similar to recent laws that allow for restricted access to criminal records, with S.B. 397.
“As with any session, good and bad ideas are pursued,” Key said. “That’s why the HSPA was created in 1933 – to give Indiana newspapers a unified voice when proposals either threaten newspapers or the public’s right to information on what the government is doing or contemplating.”