Law changes newspapers need to know


Hoosiers’ official causes of death are now available in records collected by the state Department of Health.

It’s one of the legislative changes now part of Indiana law.

Certificates of death have been available for inspection and copying at the county level for decades, but the copy forwarded to the state health department was confidential until the passage ofS.E.A. 528, authored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Brownsburg. had contacted the state about digitizing the state’s death records for genealogical research, a project the Indiana Department of Health favored.

When HSPA pointed out that state law would block the project because it mandated the confidentiality of the information held by the state, Miller worked with HSPA, the health department and the Commission on Public Records to fashion an amendment to allow the project to happen.

There are other law changes that newspapers should note:

• H.E.A. 1104, authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, officially makes exit interviews between state Board of Accounts field examiners and local governing bodies an executive session – with an exemption from giving Open Door Law notice to the media.

Logistically, 48-hours notice of meetings wasn’t practical when the audit process often only takes one day, said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

Key said that making an audit exit interview an executive session will require local governing bodies to make a memoranda of the meeting.

Reporters can ask to inspect the memoranda, which would indicate if an audit has been completed. They can then be watching for filings from the state Board of Accounts on the publicly available audit reports.

HSPA worked with State Examiner Paul Joyce on the language the law.

• The legislature made it clear that the public and press may attend court proceedings involving requests by individuals wanting their criminal records expunged. This was accomplished through language in H.E.A. 1302, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville.

HSPA raised a concern with McMillin because there was no consistency by judges across the state about allowing the public or press at such hearings. Many believed they were required to hold the hearings behind closed doors.

Key said closed-door hearings would make it impossible for the public to monitor how fairly the expungement process worked or what type of cases were being officially erased from public view.

• Reporters and the public can attend meetings of the boards of community foundations that are comprised of members of two local governing bodies thanks to H.E.A. 1281. The credit goes to Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who wanted more transparency in the expenditure of taxpayer dollars funneled to these nonprofit foundations.

Concerning the publication of public notices:

• Counties that struggle to move properties from the tax sale list to county commissioners’ surplus property lists can trim the published tax sale list. S.E.A. 450, authored by Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, allows the auditor to not publish a property on a tax sale list if it was published on a previous sale list.

The auditor does have to include language letting citizens know that there are additional properties available and how to obtain those addresses.

“Other than Lake County, I’m not sure this will be an issue because the vast majority of counties move the properties off the list through sale or transfer of deed to the county and collect the funds necessary from the tax sales to cover publication costs,” Key said.

• The smallest Indiana newspapers must now maintain a paid circulation of at least 200 newspapers to be eligible to carry public notice advertising.

This was a change created by S.E.A. 530, authored by Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. His bill originally required paid circulation at 1 percent of a government unit’s population to be eligible. HSPA pointed out that this would mean there would be no paper eligible in some situations and creating a different threshold for each of the thousands of Indiana government units would be confusing.

Bray worked with HSPA to amend his bill, creating a floor of 200 paid copies for a newspaper to be eligible, assuming it meets all other eligibility criteria.