State lawmakers move forward with bills opposed by HSPA

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The bill containing a provision eliminating the publication of annual school district financial reports in local newspapers – replaced with school districts posting them on their websites – passed the Indiana House 66-30.

H.B. 1427, authored by State Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, has been touted as a bill containing provisions approved by the House last year, but the financial report section was not part of last year’s bill.

The Hoosier State Press Association has not ascertained who added the provision this year.

Rhoads’ justification is that fewer people read newspapers and that school district posting will be available to more people.

Her logic doesn’t match facts, said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

For example, the Crawfords­ville school district averages 1,149 unique visitors to its website a month.

The combined daily circulation of Crawfordsville’s competing newspapers (Journal Review and The Paper of Montgomery County) is 8,554.

With the average newspaper being read by two individuals, Montgomery County citizens are nearly 15 times more likely to see the financial report in the newspaper than on the school district website.

Cost also should be an issue when it comes to the financial report. A quick look at early responses to a request for the public notice cost compared to the school district budget shows taxpayers paid between $595.44 to $1,599.86 to learn how school budgets of $13.5 million to $131.7 million were spent.

A survey showed that 73 percent of Hoosiers want notices published in newspapers, Key said.

“When specifically asked if government agencies’ use of tax dollars to publish public notices impacted their desire that notices be placed in local newspapers, the number didn’t change,” Key said.

A more recent survey conducted by Pulse Research of America found that 68 percent of Hoosiers prefer public notices in their newspapers to 2.3 percent who prefer Internet posting.

H.B. 1427 now moves to the Indiana Senate.

Photos and videos

S.B. 373 passed out of the Senate with a vote of 30-20. This bill would criminalize the taking of photos or video of agricultural or industrial operations without the owner’s permission and sharing them with others.

Bill author State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, wants to stop “vigilantes” who post film of farming operations on the Intent showing animals allegedly being treated cruelly, even if the operation is legal.

As the bill stands now, it would create a criminal libel situation with action brought by a county prosecutor if the pictures defame the owner of the farm or factory.

State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, pointed out that S.B. 373 is silent as to whether the truth of the photos or videos would be a defense.

The bill also would criminalize sharing video that implies the processing of a crop, say southern Indiana melons, poses a health danger.

Better transparency

On a positive note, S.B. 162 passed a final Senate vote 49-1. The bill attempts to make the Indiana Economic Development Corpor­a­tion more accountable to the public through greater transparency about its track record in securing Indiana jobs.

Bill author State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, called the bill down for its second reading but did not offer an amendment that would have strengthened the bill’s transparency provisions.

Key believes the action indicates some resistance to the amendment, either in the Republican Senate caucus or from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.

The bill’s successful third-reading vote buys Delph more time to improve it, since amendments can be added when the House considers it.

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