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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ind. Law - Whittling away at public access?

Scott Smith of the Kokomo Tribune reported this story on Sunday, headed "Police addresses to be harder to find: Bill could result in restricted access." The bill is HB 1219. Some quotes:

Prompted by a request from a local deputy prosecutor, State Rep. Mike Karickhoff is hoping to restrict public access to local property and tax information on the Internet.

Specifically, Karickhoff wants to establish some means by which those connected with law enforcement can have their names and addresses stricken from government-run databases, like the one Howard County government uses.

All Howard County property records are online, through software called Beacon, administered by the Indianapolis-based consulting firm Schneider Corp.

The records, used by real estate professionals, homeowners associations, prospective homebuyers, planning officials and anyone else curious about a particular property, show a property’s sales history, liens against the property, tax assessments and other data.

Kokomo Police Chief Rob Baker said he supports the legislation, saying criminals could use the data to target officers and their families.

He said Wednesday he received a recent call from another officer, who was also named Rob Baker, who warned Baker that an individual in another jurisdiction was pursuing a vendetta.

According to the KPD chief, the other Rob Baker was calling out of concern the disgruntled individual might target the wrong Rob Baker, based on information taken from the Internet.

Baker said he didn’t have additional information on the disgruntled individual, including whether or not the person was incarcerated.

Karickhoff’s legislation, HB 1219, passed out of the House Local Government Committee Thursday, after representatives from the Indiana State Sheriff Association and the Fraternal Order of Police testified in favor. The chair of that committee, State Rep. Timothy Neese, R-Elkhart, is signed on as a co-author of the bill.

The ILB contacted Steve Key, attorney for the Hoosier State Press Association, for his comments. He responded:
I did testify against HB 1219. I told the committee it was uncomfortable because no one wants to put a law enforcement officer or family in danger. I also thanked the author for limiting the scope to databases posted on the Internet. But the problem with this type of bill is where do you draw a line in eliminating information from public view, even if still available at the courthouse. Other committee members during the hearing started suggesting additional groups to exclude: domestic violence victims, probation officers. There are a lot of groups who might want to be included – teachers who feel threatened by students or parents, lawyers (remember Rep. Ed Delaney was nearly killed by someone unhappy over a civil lawsuit – wasn’t even a divorce case), legislators, even journalists get death threats).

It becomes a bear for local government officials to comply and defeats the purpose of open records. If a law enforcement officer can keep information about liens on his property relatively secret or the fact his home may be beyond the expected means of a patrolman, are we preventing the public or a reporter from questioning whether the officer’s debt or largess may indicate a problem with his ability to do his job.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 31, 2013 01:59 PM
Posted to Indiana Law