The final word on private university police records is back in the hands of Indiana’s appellate court system.
An attempt by the Independent Colleges of Indiana to inoculate private colleges from a recent court ruling was blocked by Gov. Mike Pence’s veto of H.E.A. 1022.
The Indiana Senate and House of Representatives sent the bill to Pence despite HSPA opposition throughout the 2016 legislative session.
It would have allowed private university police to keep more records secret than public police departments under the Access to Public Records Act.
The legislation would have essentially codified on the state level the federal Clery Act, which in part allows police to limit the release of information unless an arrest occurs.
Pence vetoed the measure March 24.
“Throughout my public career, I have long believed in the public’s right to know and a free and independent press,” Pence said in a release. “Limiting access to police records in a situation where private university police departments perform a government function is a disservice to the public and an unnecessary barrier to transparency.”
HSPA lobbied against H.E.A. 1022, authored by Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, because the standards differed so greatly from what all other police departments in the state – including those at public universities – are required to report under the Access to Public Records Act.
HSPA Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key believes the proposed legislation, written by representatives from the Independent Colleges of Indiana, was in response to an ongoing court case pitting ESPN against the University of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame refused to give ESPN crime reports concerning student athletes. The university said its police department is not subject to state access laws because Notre Dame is a private institution.
Supported by an official opinion from Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, ESPN filed a lawsuit in St. Joseph County arguing that since Notre Dame’s police operate with state authority to arrest and other law enforcement powers, it falls under the Access to Public Records Act.
The access law requires that certain information be made available to the public within 24 hours of calls for police assistance.
ESPN lost at the trial court level but moved the battle to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The Hoosier State Press Association and Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed Amicus briefs in support of ESPN.
The three-judge appeals panel ruled in favor of ESPN on March 15 as H.E.A. 1022 was moving through the General Assembly. The ruling said the police department was subject to the Access to Public Records Act, even if the university itself is not.
Absent Pence’s veto, H.E.A. 1022 would have made ESPN’s victory moot when the law went into effect July 1.
Notre Dame has said it will attempt to take the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. The five justices have the option to accept or deny hearing the case.
If transfer is denied, the Court of Appeals ruling would stand, and Notre Dame must release its police records.