System gets it right most of the time

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By Steve Key

Indiana has a citizen legislature, but most lawmakers handle the job in a professional manner.

HSPA’s efforts in opposing S.B. 373 are a good example.

As originally filed by state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, the bill would have made it a crime to share photos or video taken without permission of agricultural, industrial or mining operations.

Early in the session, I let Holdman know HSPA believed it was a bad bill, and the two of us agreed to respectfully disagree.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, introduced a bill at the request of House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, which would deal with two public access issues – a search fee for voluminous records requests and citizen control over how copies of electronically stored public records would be received in a records request.

This is a bill whose guidelines were reviewed by the HSPA Freedom of Information Committee as I worked with Bosma on the language that became H.B. 1175.

Both bills moved forward with HSPA testifying against S.B. 373 in its Senate committee hearing and in favor of H.B. 1175 in its House committee hearing.

Their chamber of origin approved both bills.

Even though HSPA opposed S.B. 373, I didn’t hesitate to suggest Holdman be named sponsor for H.B. 1175 because he’d filed a bill in a previous session concerning a citizen’s ability to receive an electronic record via email rather than be forced to accept a paper copy.

Holdman, knowing we were fighting his so-called Ag Gag bill, didn’t hesitate in agreeing to serve as H.B. 1175’s sponsor.

As it turned out, Friend became the sponsor of S.B. 373.

HSPA’s relationship with Holdman and Friend could have become more complicated when Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully began a series of stories questioning potential conflicts of interest for legislators and possible influence by lobbying interests.

Holdman’s ties to the banking industry and Friend’s ownership of a hog operation were mentioned.

The stories angered many legislators, but neither Holdman nor Friend took any actions to hurt a bill that HSPA was supporting while understanding that HSPA vehemently was opposed to S.B. 373.

Friend worked with the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee chairman, state Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston, on an amendment trying to eliminate the First Amendment concerns raised by HSPA and others.

Unfortunately, the bill still introduced the concept of criminal defamation, which HSPA could not accept.

When Bosma reassigned S.B. 373 to the House Judiciary Committee for further study, Friend worked with the chairman, state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, and state Rep. Jud McMillan, R-Brookville, on the amendment approved by the committee that wiped criminal defamation out of the bill.

McMillan’s work is noteworthy because he’s been the subject of stories critical of his involvement in an economic development project in his hometown.

That didn’t color the work he did on the S.B. 373 amendment, a fix that led HSPA to withdraw its opposition to the bill.

I won’t say I haven’t witnessed vindictive acts in the Indiana General Assembly, but the willingness of Holdman, Friend and McMillan to work with HSPA when newspapers have been critical of them or when HSPA opposes them on another issue is more the norm in my experience.

Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for HSPA.