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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - Changes to limit public access to records law buried within massive "Education deregulation" package

As detailed in this long ILB post from Feb. 27, 2014, for the past two years the General Assembly has stopped short of enacting legislation that would, as Margaret Fosmoe reported last year in the South Bend Tribune:

... allow government agencies to charge a fee to members of the public, the media and anyone else for a public records request that takes more than two hours to fulfill. The measure would allow a governmental office to charge the hourly salary of the employee handling the search or $20 per hour, whichever is less.
The 2014 bill was House Bill 1306. The year before, 2013, it was HB 1075.

This year, the language is buried within the massive SB 500. The main change is in SECTION 14, which would amend IC 5-14-3-8. It begins on p. 16 [PDF paging], line 35, and appears identical to last year's language. SECTION 12, p. 10, amends IC 5-14-3-2 and SECTION 13, p. 14, amends IC 5-14-3-3.

The language changing the public records law has been in the bill since introduction, a bill which the synopsis labels "Education deregulation." The changes to the public records law, however, would apply across-the-board, and this inclusion might be called log-rolling by some.

The ILB was alerted to this stealth amendment by a brief AP story today in the $$ Bloomington Herald-Times.

But Friday Michael Felberbaum of the AP had a national story that began:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The public's right to see government records is coming at an ever-increasing price, as authorities set fees and hourly charges that often prevent information from flowing.
The article surveys the status of the law across the country. Deep into the story is the reference to Indiana that was the likely source of today's Herald-Times story:
An Indiana proposal would allow a searching fee for record requests that take longer than two hours to fulfill. After that time, an agency could charge up to $20 an hour and require payment up front. The search time would not include time spent redacting confidential information, but opponents said the fee will discourage more in-depth records requests and give officials another tool to fight transparency.
AP writer Lauryn Schroeder in Indianapolis, is identified as one of the contributors to the story.

An editorial today in the South Bend Tribune, "Why we fight to shine a spotlight," notes that this upcoming week is Sunshine Week and concludes:

Thanks to open records laws, The Tribune last year examined how South Bend police officers were handing tickets, complete with fines and court costs, to school students — some as young as 10 — for unruly behavior. And we showed how hundreds of those students had their driving privileges wrongly suspended because of the tickets. In 2011, after the torture death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis, public records showed how sweeping DCS changes had undermined the safety of Indiana’s children. In 2008, public records helped us prove that local officials had used forgery and dishonesty to place presidential candidates on the Indiana primary ballot.

They were all examples of why public records laws are important. My goal is to have The Tribune remain vigilant, fighting for your right to know. Sunshine Week serves as a good reminder of our mission. It also reminds us that we — and you — need to ensure that those laws are never weakened and remain an integral part of our democracy.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 15, 2015 04:22 PM
Posted to Indiana Government