Press Association Reports Disappointing Session


The 2017 General Assembly session was generally disappointing from HSPA’s point of view. After a promising start, the New Voices student press freedom bill died in the Senate; public notice advertising took another hit in an education bill, and government secrecy language was inserted into the budget bill.

Following is a legislative roundup of many of the bills that were on HSPA’s radar during the session that ended in late April:

Public Notice Advertising
Richard Karpel of the Public Notice Resource Center reports that 21 state legislatures this year had bills introduced that would effectively eliminate the publication requirement for public notice advertising. Almost all would move the notices to government websites.

Indiana legislators filed no such bill, but the concept took another hit with the passage of H.E.A. 1009. The school financial bill eliminated the requirement for school districts to publish the school bus replacement fund budget and capital projects fund budget while giving notice of hearings on those plans.

Bill author Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, is a former school superintendent, so there was no surprise that he wasn’t sympathetic to HSPA arguments over the value of published public notices. I also wasn’t surprised, but pleased, that bill sponsor Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who used to operate the family’s grocery business and has been a friend of newspapers, agreed to remove the offending provision when the bill traveled through the Senate.

Unfortunately, Rep. Cook’s intention won out when the bill’s conference committee version was decided. More ominous to me though was the comment made by Sen. Kenley to the Senate Rules Committee as he explained the final version of the bill.

The bill “does eliminate requirement to publish in the newspaper and does require you to go onto the school corporation’s website, which is kind of a breakthrough decision and… it is just a question of when this is going to happen.” Kenley said. “When we are going to go to these kind of things, it does save pretty significant money on a statewide basis.”

The conference committee report was passed by the House 96-2 and the Senate 47-3. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the bill into law on April 28.

HSPA supported H.E.A. 1272, authored by Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica. The bill allows government units to proceed with a meeting, when newspapers fail to publish notice, by posting notice in the community. Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, was the bill’s Senate sponsor.

HSPA’s position was based on equity. It would be unfair to public government units to force them to reschedule meetings when the fault was with the newspaper for failing to properly publish the public notice advertisement.

The House passed the bill, 95-0, and the Senate, 45-3. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill into law on April 5.

Public Access
For the third time, HSPA worked with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to pass language that would guarantee the public’s ability to obtain public records via email with no copying fee, but also create a search fee for voluminous records requests (those that took more than two hours to find the records).

Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed the bill (H.B. 1523) due to the search fee, which should put the search fee to bed for the rest of his term. Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, authored the bill for the Speaker.

The House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee passed the bill 7-1. The House voted for it, 62-25. Co-authors were Reps. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown; and Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City.

The Senate Local Government Committee voted for it, 7-0. The Senate passed it 44-3. The lead sponsor was Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. Other sponsors were Sens. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis; and Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. Rep. Richardson filed a motion to concur and the House approved the Senate version of the bill, 63-27.

Gov. Holcomb vetoed the bill on April 24.

HSPA had worked with Bosma on multiple ways to limit the impact of a search fee – $20 cap on hourly rate, first two hours of search would be free, computer run time not included, review and redaction time not included.

At least 27 states and the federal Freedom of Information Act do include search fees.

Two secrecy pieces were inserted into the budget bill (H.E.A. 1001). A new concept, Request for Information (RFI), has been created for potential public-private agreements. The RFI is published as a public notice, but the submissions are confidential, except for who submitted the ideas. HSPA worked with bill sponsor Sen.

Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, to get the names disclosable. RFI’s can become the basis for Requests for Proposals. HSPA’s concern is manipulation of the RFP to favor a particular company and the delay in the public’s knowledge of what will be proposed.

The sooner proposed concepts are made known to those impacted by these ideas, the sooner the public can voice its support or concern. If the concept isn’t revealed until the point where an RFP is issued, often public officials have hardened their position and reluctant to listen to public input.

The second item was inserted in the budget bill’s conference committee report at the request of Purdue University. The language exempts its operation of Kaplan University from the Open Door Law, Access to Public Records Act and state Board of Accounts audit.

HSPA executive director and general counsel Steve Key hasn’t heard what he feels is a good policy argument for why part of Purdue University’s operations should be exempt from the state’s public access laws and state audit.

The conference committee report on the bill was passed by the House, 68-30. Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, was the bill’s author and Sen. Kenley was the Republican sponsor. The Senate passed the committee report, 42-8. Gov. Holcomb signed it into law on April 27.

HSPA worked with author Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, to get all applications for Marion County judge vacancies available to the public in H.E.A. 1036. The original bill was unclear as to which applications would be available and when. Co-author Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, and sponsor Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, were also helpful in the negotiations over the transparency language in the bill.

The conference committee report was approved by the House, 69-30, and the Senate, 28-22. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill into law on April 28.

H.E.A. 1431 specifies that newly elected public officials can attend executive sessions prior to them officially taking office. Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, authored the bill. While the bill was in the Senate, HSPA also worked with the universities on language allowing their Board of Trustees to meet behind closed doors to discuss potential collaborative agreements with private entities.

Rep. GiaQuinta filed a motion to concur with the Senate version, which was passed by the House, 84-3. Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, was the co-author. The Senate passed the bill, 50-0. Sen. Linda Brown, R-Fort Wayne, was the bill’s sponsor. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill on April 26.

HSPA supported the efforts of Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, to require large cities and counties to post roll call votes on their websites in H.E.A. 1622.     The bill’s conference committee report was approved by the House, 92-0, and by the Senate, 45-1. Sens. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis; and Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis; were the sponsors. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill on April 26.

HSPA spoke to Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, about his bill allowing hospitals to create police departments (S.E.A. 112). The language makes no provision for public access to information about crimes in private hospitals. Sen. Kruse understood the problem, but didn’t want to address it in his bill. The same could be said for Sen. Michael Crider, R-Freenfield, who chaired the Senate homeland Security and Transportation Committee, which approved the bill, 7-0. The Senate passed the bill, 45-2.

Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, was the bill’s sponsor. He also didn’t volunteer to address the accountability provision. The House passed the bill, 92-2. Kruse filed a motion to concur on the Senate changes and the Senate approved that version of the bill, 48-0. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill on April 21.

HSPA supported S.EA. 120 authored by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, that clarified that plea agreements are disclosable documents, even if the judge doesn’t approve them. Fuzzy language in the Indiana Code had confused the issue.

The Senate passed the bill, 49-0. Co-sponsors were Sens. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville; and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago. House sponsor was Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville. The House passed the bill 96-0. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill April 13.

Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, agreed to amend S.E.A. 505, when HSPA pointed out that language would have allowed county recorders to include overhead costs as part of a formula for copying fees.

The Senate passed the bill 45-4. Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, was the bill’s sponsor. The House passed the bill, 95-0. Sen. Bray filed the motion to concur and the Senate passed the House version, 39-9. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill April 21.

HSPA opposed H.B. 1248, authored by Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, which would have exempted administrative function meetings by county commissioners from the Open Door Law. Rep. Karickhoff agreed not to push for a committee hearing when HSPA pledged to work with him during the summer to better define the term “administrative functions” in the Open Door Law. The bill died for lack of a hearing in the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City.

HSPA worked on amendment with H.E.A. 1470 author Rep. David Ober, R-Albion, to resolve concerns with language concerning confidentiality of information handled by a new management performance hub of the state Office of Management and Budget. The bill’s intent is to make better use of data to make government more efficient and develop solutions to policy problems.

The conference committee report on H.E.A. 1470 was approved by the House, 93-2, and the Senate, 37-13. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill on May 2.Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, was the sponsor.

HSPA offered Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, an amendment to assist in his effort to track overdose deaths in Indiana as a part of S.B. 74 by including the information in the coroner’s report. Sen. Merritt accepted the amendment but then decided to go in another direction to collect the information.  His bill died in the Senate Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville.

HSPA raised with S.B. 350 author Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, a concern over confidentiality language concerning a property owner’s complaint to the state Department of Local Government Finance about improper actions in the assessment process.

Sen. Eckerty removed the offending language during the bill’s hearing before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Sen. Kenley. The Senate passed S.B. 350, 48-0, but it died in the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville.

HSPA raised a concern over the level of transparency in a provision of an education bill (S.E.A. 108) with its author, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. The bill originally removed a requirement for the state Department of Education to post school district compensation plans with salary ranges on its website.

The final version of the bill keeps the posting requirement, but moves it to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board’s website – a location unlikely to be found by the public, according to HSPA’s Key.

Sen. Kruse filed a motion to concur on House changes to the bill, which was passed by the Senate 34-3. The House passed S.B. 108, 79-15. House sponsor was Rep. Bob Behning. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill on April 28.

H.E.A. 1122, authored by Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, provides confidentiality communications between emergency responders and critical incident stress management personnel. HSPA offered an amendment to clarify language that Rep. Wesco accepted.

The Senate passed the bill 44-5 with Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, as its sponsor. Wesco filed a motion to concur, which the House approved, 96-0. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Holcomb on April 24.

H.E.A. 1189, supported by HSPA, requires local law enforcement agencies to provide criminal justice data to the Indiana state police. It also requires local law enforcement agencies to participate in a statewide uniform crime report program with the National Incident Based Reporting System and requires the criminal justice data division of the state police department to report crime statistics to the governor semiannually.

The bill was authored by Reps David Ober, R-Albion, and Earl Harris, Jr., D-East Chicago. Sponsors were Sens. Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, and Blake Doriot, R-Goshen. The House passed H.E.A. 1189 96-0 while the Senate passed it 50-0. The governor signed the bill on March 29.

HSPA raised a concern about the level of confidentiality for applications for video-gaming licenses in H.B. 1262 to the author Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany. The bill would have authorized wagering on video gaming terminals in certain establishments and established a licensing structure for participants in video gaming.

Rep. Clere was receptive to HSPA’s concern, but the bill died for lack of a hearing in the House Public Policy Committee chaired by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn.

HSPA was prepared to support S.B. 431, authored by Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, but the bill never received a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Technology Committee, chaired by Sen. Mark Messer, R-Jasper. The bill would have required that all records related to taxpayer funded economic development incentives must be disclosed under the Access to Public Records Act; required that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s annual job creation incentives and compliance report be posted on the Indiana transparency portal Internet web site; and requires the IEDC and the state Department of Revenue to compile information on all job creation incentives granted, including the total amount of uncollected or diverted state tax revenues resulting from each incentive.

HSPA monitored H.B. 1138, authored by Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, which would have required a hospital to publish Medicare reimbursement amounts for health care services provided by the hospital and Medicare quality rating information concerning the hospital. The bill failed to emerge from the House Public Health Committee, chaired by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove. Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne; and Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson were co-authors.

HSPA also monitored H.B. 1140, authored by Rep. Braun, R-Jasper, which would have required a hospital or a physician practice that is owned by the hospital to make public contracts related to terms and conditions of third party payment for health care services. This bill also failed to emerge from the House Public Health Committee. Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, was the co-author.

First Amendment
HSPA worked with Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and the Indiana High School Press Association and Indiana Collegiate Press Association on H.B. 1130, the New Voices student press freedom bill. Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, was the second author.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis and chair of the House Education Committee, gave the bill a hearing and it was approved 13-0. Reps. Shiela Klinker, D-Lafayette; and Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, joined as co-authors before the bill was passed by the House 88-4.

Sens. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, and Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, were the bill’s original sponsors. The bill was assigned to Senate Education and Career Development Committee, chaired by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

Sen. Kruse gave the bill a hearing after Sen. Hershman agreed to an amendment pushed by the bill’s opponents, associations representing the school superintendents, principals and school boards. As amended it passed 10-0. Hershman restored the bill to its House form with a second reading amendment approved by voice vote.

The bill died on the Senate floor when the state Department of Education joined the opposition on the last day for passage of House bills out of the Senate. There was no vote called by Sen. Hershman to preserve the language for possible inclusion in another bill’s conference committee.

Rep. Clere asked Rep. Thompson, R-Lizton, to consider the language as part of H.E.A. 1043. Thompson, who is a member of the House Education Committee, agreed. The DOE also agreed not to oppose the bill with an agreed upon amendment.

It became clear that Senate leadership would not accept any student press freedom language not agreed upon by the superintendents, principals and school board, who unanimously rejected overtures to reach a compromise.

Clere then asked Thompson to remove the New Voices language so that H.E.A. 1043 could move forward. The student press freedom language then died as the session ended.

HSPA also worked with Sen. Koch, R-Bedford, on S.E.A. 299, which concerns operation of drones. His original language passed First Amendment concerns with the ability to gather news. He agreed to amend the language to eliminate the constitutional question, but news operations must be aware of restrictions on filming private property, which could be deemed voyeurism if done secretly.

The Senate passed the bill 50-0. Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Inglefield, was the sponsor. The House passed the bill, 89-0. Sen. Koch filed a motion to concur and the Senate passed the House version 47-1. Gov. Holcomb signed the bill April 21.

HSPA testified against S.B. 285, authored By Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, which would have directed law enforcement to use any means necessary to clear roadways of unauthorized protesters. HSPA raised First Amendment concerns over the bill’s impact on the right to assemble and right to petition government during the bill’s hearing before the Senate Local Government Committee chaired by Rep. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.

The bill was changed to request a summer study committee on the issue before it was approved by the Senate, 34-16. House sponsor was Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville. The bill died in the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.

HSPA monitored H.B. 1021, authored by Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, which would have extended the anti-SLAPP protection to remonstrators who express an opinion relating to planning, zoning, land use, eminent domain even if matter only effects private interests. The bill failed to emerge from the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville.

HSPA talked to Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, chair of the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee about S.B. 326, authored by Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington. The bill would have required every producer of a product or that resulted in waste packaging or printed paper to register with the state Department of Environmental Management to create a producer recycling program plan under which the producer or group of producers will provide finance the recycling of packaging and printed paper. This would have been a tremendous financial burden for the state’s newspaper industry. Sen. Eckerty assured HSPA that the bill would not get a hearing.

H.B. 1014, authored by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, would have created a commission to redraw district lines for statehouse districts and congressional districts. HSPA talked to Rep. Torr about the need for clarification on what type of notice (Open Door Law or Public Notice Advertising Law) was needed in the bill. The bill failed to emerge from the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, chaired by Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus.

HSPA monitored H.B. 1314, authored by Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, which would have established an election ethics commission to investigate complaints alleging unethical or false advertising by candidates. The bill may have adversely impacted newspapers or created a liability for newspapers, but the bill died without a hearing in the House Election and Apportionment Committee, chaired by Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, asked HSPA to support his S.B. 289, which was a legislative ethics bill including provisions relating to legislator’s emails. HSPA executive director and general counsel Steve Key shared the bill information with Indiana editors, but felt HSPA couldn’t commit to supporting the bill because it already had an agreement with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to work on the legislative email issue for the 2018 General Assembly.

S.B. 289 was assigned to the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee, chaired by President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, where it died without a hearing.