Q&A: Public access and the General Assembly


From the Indianapolis Business Journal:

Q: I was seeking some biographical information on members of the Indiana General Assembly and encountered this: The chief counsel for the House said that the Access to Public Records Act doesn’t apply to the legislature due to an Indiana Supreme Court ruling in Masariu v. Marion Superior Court 1.

Do you agree with that interpretation? Is that something that most reporters are aware of?

A: I don’t agree with the interpretation of the Masariu case that the law doesn’t apply, but the end result of the ruling may be the same as that interpretation.

The Access to Public Record Act still applies to the legislature. Senate and House leadership did attempt to write themselves out of the statute several years ago, but the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon.

The following session, Speaker of the House John Gregg decided not to call the bill up for a veto override. Gregg felt such an action would send the wrong message to Hoosiers following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on our country.

What Masariu said was that under the separation of powers between the three branches, the Indiana Supreme Court would not interfere with the operation of the state legislature (with the unspoken corollary that the legislature shouldn’t attempt to interfere with the courts internal operations).

The effect is that if you have a complaint about a response to an Access to Public Records Act request from the state legislature, you have to take it up with the leadership of the legislature.

In other words, your appeal is to the same body that denied the request initially.

That leaves public pressure as the only effective means of getting information released that they would prefer remain locked away in the dark.

As for most reporters, I doubt that they have ever heard of the Masariu case or understand its ramifications.