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Friday, March 18, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - More on: "Governor's veto pen is best solution for bill on college police records"

Supplementing this post from earlier today, Kristine Guerra has this lengthy Indianapolis Star story, headed "Indiana court's ruling for ESPN could be short-lived." It focuses on the COA's March 15th ESPN v. Notre Dame ruling and HEA 1022, now awaiting action by the Governor. Some quotes:

A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously decided that such [private university] police departments should face the same level of openness expected of their city and state counterparts.

But any celebration by advocates could be temporary.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill this session that would require police departments at private campuses to disclose information on arrests and incarcerations. But transparency advocates say House Enrolled Act 1022, if it becomes law, would consequently undermine the effects of the appeals court ruling and retain barriers to accessing records at private universities' police departments.

Supporters of the bill, however, say it's an unprecedented legislative action to provide more transparency.

Both the legal dispute and HEA 1022 come at a time when universities' handling of crimes, particularly sexual assault, has faced criticism for failing to hold people accountable, and when public trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low.

"What has happened over the last year or two involving unprecedented public scrutiny is really bringing new momentum behind the issue of transparency on private campuses," said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Student Press Law Center. "It's never made sense that we have a special class of police officers that have all of the authority of state government officials but none of the accountability. They can use state police powers to take away your freedom and even shoot you, but they don't have to explain why."

The legal dispute was prompted by ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne's series of unsuccessful attempts to obtain reports on alleged crimes by Notre Dame's student athletes.

Her quest for information began in 2014, when she started investigating how often prominent male student athletes are prosecuted after being accused of crimes. She requested records from 10 universities around the country with football and basketball programs, including Notre Dame, the only private university she contacted. The Northern Indiana university did not release its records, saying it's not subject to the state's public records law.

ESPN sued in January 2015. A St. Joseph County judge ruled in favor of the police department a few months later, eventually leading to a successful appeal by ESPN. * * *

The timing of HEA 1022, which was proposed in this year's legislative session — when the ESPN case was on appeal — also leads some to believe that it was filed in response to the lawsuit.

Indianapolis attorney Maggie Smith, who is representing ESPN, said the bill was drafted to insulate police departments at private colleges and universities from the effects of the appeals court's ruling and to "avoid any future application" of that decision.

"Anytime you see the legislature giving any group preferential treatment," Smith said, "it's reason to be concerned."

Richard Ludwick [president and CEO of the Independent Colleges of Indiana] denied those claims and said HEA 1022 had nothing to do with the ESPN case. Rather, he said, it's an effort to make police departments at private universities more accountable to the public.

There is much more in the long story.

Hayleigh Colombo of the IBJ also has a long story today, with a great lede, headed "Pence faces tough decision over campus police records bill." It begins:

Gov. Mike Pence has a government transparency dilemma on his hands.

The Indiana Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling on Tuesday that private university police departments should not be “able to circumvent public records requirements” established a new level of openness for private campus police that freedom of information advocates say have been inappropriately operating in secret.

But awaiting Pence’s signature is a newly-passed piece of legislation that purportedly increases the transparency of such departments by requiring them to make public certain arrest records, while carving out a few exceptions that private universities say protect college students.

Now, if Pence signs House Bill 1022 into law, public access experts say it could actually be a step backwards on the transparency of those departments. That's because the bill would likely trump the Court of Appeals opinion in ESPN Inc. and Paula Lavigne vs. Notre Dame Security Police Department. Advocates are asking for his veto.

“That’s the best argument for why it deserves to be vetoed,” said Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer and director of the Student Press Law Center, which advocates for the rights of student journalists and open government. “The Legislature clearly expressed its intent to make more records accessible and it would be ironic for the bill to result in the opposite effect."

That is just the beginning of the long, worth-reading story.

Worth re-reading is this Jan. 14th ILB post, headed "No conflict of interest on bill about police records at Indiana colleges?"

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 18, 2016 05:58 PM
Posted to Indiana Government