Legislative Update: HSPA is monitoring progress of public notice ad, Open Door Law bills and more

0
65

Compiled by the Hoosier State Press Association to note bills that impact the public’s right to know (generally embodied in the Open Door Law, Access to Public Records Act and Public Notice Advertising law) and the Freedom of the Press.

Follow the progress of the bills at iga.in.gov.

Compiled by the Hoosier State Press Association to note bills that impact the public’s right to know (generally embodied in the Open Door Law, Access to Public Records Act and Public Notice Advertising law) and the Freedom of the Press.

Open Door Law

H.B. 1116 – Authored by Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, who wants to give governing bodies the ability to discuss strategy when considering the sale or leasing of public property behind closed doors. (Current law allows an executive session when a government unit is considering the purchase or lease of private party.)

HSPA’s concern was whether this would allow for a consensus reached in an executive session that could be executed in a public meeting without the public having any advance warning of the sale or lease of that public land. HSPA worked with Accelerate Indiana Municipalities (AIM) on an amendment that answered that concern.

This bill was passed by the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Affairs, chaired by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, and by the House, 98-0. Rep. Mahan and Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, joined as co-authors.

Sens. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, and David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, will be the Senate sponsors. This bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.

HSPA supports H.B. 1116.

Access to Public Records Act

H.B. 1629 – This education-related bill originally contained a provision that would make emails between staff members of schools or charter schools exempt from the state’s Access to Public Records Act. It would have been unprecedented to make a record secret based on its form, rather than content.

HSPA worked with the bill’s author, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Seamus Boyce, an attorney with Church, Church, Hittle &Antrim (a Noblesville law firm that represents multiple school districts) to address the concern with the cost of fulfilling voluminous records requests. It was agreed to seek an OK with Gov. Eric Holcomb to insert language setting up a search fee for electronic records specifically for school districts. Gov. Holcomb had vetoed a comprehensive search fee bill that HSPA negotiated with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis in the governor’s first year.

The bill was passed by the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Behning, and the House, 67-33.

Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, is the bill’s sponsor. The bill was assigned to the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, chaired by Sen. Raatz.

HSPA will not oppose the search fee provision’s inclusion in this bill.

S.B. 551 – This bill concerning victims of criminal acts was amended and passed in the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, chaired by Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, at the request of David Powell of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. The change would keep secret records of near fatality and fatal incidents involving children through “criminal prosecution.”

HSPA raised the concern how that could keep information secret for years. Powell and bill author Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, indicated a willingness to clarify the change, but ran into a legislative roadblock preventing its inclusion

Powell’s concern is information made public prior to a trial could result in a change of venue or bringing jurors in from outside the county to ensure a fair trial at great expense to the county. He didn’t intend for the language to keep the records secret once a trial has started.

The bill was approved by the Senate 48-0 and passed out of the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, chaired by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville. Rep. McNamara is the bill’s sponsor.

HSPA will monitor the situation and may move for a change in the law in a future session.

H.B. 1651 – This bill concerns the judicial evaluations of individuals as dangerous, which results in the confiscation of any firearms possessed by that person. It includes a requirement that the office of judicial administration collect data on these evaluations and make a report to the legislature. HSPA discussed the amount of information made confidential with author Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel. She indicated a willingness to consider a possible amendment.

The bill was passed by the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, chaired by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville. The House passed the bill 87-2. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem. The bill awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport.

HSPA continues to work toward an amendment to this bill.

H.B. 1062 – Authored by Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, this bill concerns unemployment compensation matters. HSPA was initially concerned whether one section of the bill restricted public access to information or made it more accessible.

Working with Rep. Leonard, it was determined that the changes did not restrict present access to the information.

The bill was passed by the House Committee on Employment, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo. The House approved the bill 63-21.

The sponsor is Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville. The bill was assigned to the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee, chaired by Sen. Boots.

HSPA is now neutral on this bill.

H.B. 1196 – The bill concerns regulation of horse racing. HSPA has a concern as to what information concerning individuals licensed by the Racing Commission will be available. Mike Smith, executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, said the intent is to mirror the statute concerning licenses issued by the Gaming Commission. The bill is authored by Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield.

The bill was approved by the House Committee on Public Policy, chaired by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn. The House approved the bill 94-0.

The sponsor is Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette. The bill was passed by the Senate Public Policy Committee, chaired by Sen. Alting. It now awaits Senate floor approval.

HSPA will work with the racing commission when it drafts rules on the issue. HSPA now is neutral on this bill.

H.B. 1325 – This bill makes changes to Indiana law to remove stigma associated with persons having HIV. HSPA expressed concern with language that would seal all criminal cases where person is accused of trying to transmit communicable diseases to others.

HSPA testified before the House Committee on Public Health, chaired by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, to express its concern. Rep. Clere volunteered to work with HSPA on an amendment.

HSPA agreed to an amendment that keeps the court process open while protecting the identify of the defendants unless there is a conviction.

The bill was passed by the House, 99-0. Sen. Veneta Becker, R-Evansville, is the sponsor. The bill was assigned to the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.

With the amendment, HSPA would have no position on this bill.

S.B. 2 – This bill would allow the installation of cameras on school buses to catch motorists who ignore the traffic stop arm and endanger the lives of students. It contained a provision declaring the video to not be a public record. HSPA talked to bill author Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, and similar H.B. 1340 author Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, to determine their intent, which is to make the videos confidential unless they are entered as evidence in a court proceeding.

HSPA submitted a potential amendment to satisfy this concern, which was accepted by the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, chaired by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville. S.B. 2 sponsor is Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver.

With the amendment, HSPA would have no position on this bill.

H.B. 1369 – This bill concerns assisted reproduction and gestational surrogacy. One provision allows for civil lawsuits to resolve disputes arising from contracts for surrogacy. HSPA testified as to its concern that the language would seal the records creating a set of secret lawsuits during the bill’s hearing before the House Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel.

The bill’s authors, Reps. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, and Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, are considering an amendment to limit the secrecy involved in the lawsuits submitted by HSPA.

The bill was passed by the House, 78-18. The sponsor is Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport.

With an amendment, HSPA would have no position on this bill.

S.B. 33 – This bill concerns addiction recovery centers. It includes a requirement for the centers to report certain information, but requires the information collected to be kept secret. HSPA questioned the breadth of confidentiality with bill author Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. Sen. Merritt indicated he thought an amendment could be reached with HSPA.

The bill was passed by the Senate Committee on Health and Provider Services, chaired by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. The Senate approved it 49-0.

HSPA worked with Sen. Merritt, sponsor Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, and Steve McCaffery of Mental Health America of Indiana, to craft an amendment balancing the privacy of mental health patients and the ability for the public and advocates for mental health to monitor how the effective the recovery centers’ programs were in treating additions.

The bill was passed by the House Public Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Kirchhofer, with the amendment.. It awaits floor action by the House.

With the amendment, HSPA is now neutral.

H.B. 1545 – This bill includes a provision placing limitations on how academic researchers can report data based on the state’s collection of birth and death records. HSPA was concerned the language negatively impacted reporters’ ability to access copies of certificates of death that include the cause of death and birth certificates.

Amy Kent, the legislative liaison for the state Department of Health, convinced HSPA that reporters and/or genealogists ability to get copies of specific records would not be impacted by the new language.

The bill was authored by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove. It was passed by the House Public Health Committee, chaired by Rep. Kirchhofer, and the House 96-0. The sponsor is Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. The bill was assigned to the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Charbonneau.

With the clarification, HSPA is neutral on this bill.

H.B. 1358  – This bill concerns the rules for police use of drones equipped with cameras. The original language was problematic because it created a criminal offense if a media-operated drone accidentally encroached on the area surrounding a crime scene. 

Indiana Broadcasters Association led the way in convincing bill author Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, to remove the criminal offense language. The bill was passed by the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, chaired by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, and the House, 81-14. 

The sponsor is Sens. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, and Andrew Zay, R-Huntington. The bill was assigned to the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis. HSPA has asked Rep. Morris to consider language that would add drone video to the law enforcement video definition in the Access to Public Records Act. 

HSPA is working on amendment to this bill.

Public Notice Advertising Law

H.B. 1212 – Would eliminate the publication of notices of sheriff’s sales (mortgage foreclosures). Posting on county’s and/or sheriff’s website would be replacement. Author is Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville.

This bill favors the industry surrounding the foreclosure of homes to the detriment of those who find themselves in financial straits and it hurts newspapers from a revenue standpoint.

The information would be removed from Indiana newspapers, read by 3 million Hoosiers at least once a week to sheriffs’ websites infrequently visited, if at all, by most citizens.

The House Committee on Financial Institutions, chaired by Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, passed the bill, 7-3, and the House approved it 62-34.

Co-authors were Reps. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, and Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie.

Sen. Andrew Zay, R-Huntington, will be the Senate sponsor. The bill was assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.

HSPA opposes this bill.

S.B. 435 – Would eliminate the publication of public notice advertising for local government units in Indiana. Posting on the Internet would be the replacement. Author is Sen. Andrew Zay, R-Huntington.

This would take information the legislature said was important to share with Hoosiers out of their hands and onto government websites where no one would know to look for them. A scientific survey found that Hoosiers would be 60 percent less likely to see these notices on government websites compared to their local newspapers.

This bill died in the Senate Committee on Local Government, chaired by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, who did not give the bill a hearing.

HSPA opposed this bill.

S.B. 313 – Would eliminate the publication of the annual fiscal report by townships. Authored by Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, who said his intent was to eliminate the list of all disbursements contained in Part 3B of the report, not the entire publication.

HSPA was working on a compromise concerning the list of disbursements, which is a requirement that no other government units must publish.

Bill died in the Senate Committee on Local Government, chaired by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, who did not give the bill a hearing.

HSPA opposed the bill absent an agreed upon amendment.

H.B. 1087 – This court fees bill authored by Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, was targeted by HSPA as a possible home for language that would assist indigent plaintiffs afford state-required notices that must be published in newspapers. 

The issue had been raised initially by Jon Laramore, executive director of Indiana Legal Services. He explained how, for example, the cost of publishing a notice to change names of her children could be too expensive, preventing her from filing the court petition. 

HSPA worked with legal services to create language that would require newspapers to give indigent plaintiffs the same state-set rate that local and state government receive. 

Rep. Pressel and bill sponsor Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michigan City, were agreeable to the amendment, but Senate leadership ruled the amendment to be non-germane to the bill. 

HSPA will attempt to pass this language in 2020.

First Amendment/Freedom of the Press

H.B. 1213 – This bill would give student journalists in high schools and universities stronger protections to exercise their freedom of the press, rolling back the Hazelwood decision that allows for overly broad censorship by school officials. Author is Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany and Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis.

This bill was assigned to the House Committee on Education, chaired by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, where it died for lack of a hearing.

HSPA supported this bill.

S.B. 471 – This bill creates a felony crime for trespass onto “critical infrastructure” facilities, such as power plants or railroad yards. It also opens the door for up to a $100,000 fine if an organization conspires to encourage others to trespass or damage the property of a critical infrastructure. 

HSPA was initially concerned with the liability for a newspaper if a reporter or photographer covering a protest ended up getting arrested along with the protesters if they became trespassers. 

Editors of HSPA’s Freedom of Information Committee unanimously said staff would be instructed not to commit a crime such as trespass in covering such a protest. 

The bill’s author is Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford. The bill was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, and the Senate, 49-0. 

The bill sponsor is Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. 

HSPA is neutral on this bill.