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Friday, March 18, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - SB Tribune editorial: "Governor's veto pen is best solution for bill on college police records" and more

Some quotes from the South Bend Tribune editorial yesterday:

Gov. Mike Pence has long claimed to be a champion for the public’s right to know. He has a chance today to prove he still believes in transparency, though he will need to use his veto pen.

Sitting on his desk is a bill that purports to boost transparency by police departments at private universities. In reality, it would do the opposite. The governor has the power to step in and do what legislators failed so badly to do — protect the public’s right to know when it comes to public safety.

Last year, media network ESPN sued Notre Dame after the university denied access to police records involving student athletes. The network has been producing stories on the handling of crimes involving college athletes.

The trial court ruled in ND’s favor, agreeing that campus police records can stay private because the university is a private institution. [ILB: The trial judge currently is one of the 3 Supreme Court finalists.] But ESPN appealed.

On Tuesday, the opinion from the Indiana Court of Appeals was resounding and clear: police departments are public agencies, even on private college campuses.

That means their logs and records are subject to the state’s open records laws. Just like they are for municipal police departments. And that means their work needs to be in the public light.

Why is this case important? The appeals court again was resounding and clear: “There is a danger that the public will be denied access to important public documents.” * * *

Notre Dame is no stranger to controversies over public safety. Sex assaults on campus remain an annual topic of debate. In recent years, a student died when a scissor lift fell, a man on a tree crew was killed by a falling tree and a man was critically injured falling down a stairwell.

Hundreds of thousands of people visit the university each year. The Notre Dame Security Police department is entrusted with ensuring public safety. We’re not knocking those police officers or their dedication.

But the public should have a view of how the department works and the cases it handles. An appeals court just agreed. Clear, right?

If only it were that simple.

As the court case was being heard, Notre Dame and other private universities were working the levers of government.

State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, sponsored a bill that would supposedly boost transparency by college police departments. Another local legislator, John Broden, D-South Bend, signed on.

In reality, House Bill 1022 hacks away at transparency. It severely restricts the types of cases on college campuses that would be subject to open-records laws.

The move was a clever end-around to the court case. By the time the appeals court announced its ruling, the bill had passed, promising to severely limit the impact of that ruling.

Who helped Bauer write the bill? An organization called Independent Colleges of Indiana — of which Notre Dame is a member. Oh, and Bauer serves on the board on Independent Colleges.

The bill passed nearly unanimously in both chambers. It’s not clear how many legislators understood what they were voting on.

Bauer now says the law would need to be “re-examined” if ESPN prevails before the Supreme Court, where ND says it will appeal the case. Broden says he actually wanted a more expansive bill but determined there wasn’t enough time to push for one.

Those weak comments only reinforce that the bill never should have been drafted in the first place.

The matter now rests in the hands of Pence. In his previous role, as a congressman, he helped lead the effort to pass a federal law protecting journalists from being forced to reveal sources.

Last year, as governor, he vetoed an Indiana Senate act that would have allowed state and local government agencies to charge a fee for lengthy public records searches.

In the ND case, Indiana’s attorney general, Greg Zoeller came out in support of ESPN. He wrote a brief backing ESPN ‘s stance and, on Tuesday, hailed the appeals court ruling. “The public has the right to transparency and accountability when police power is being exercised,” he declared.

March 24 is the deadline for the Governor to act on the bill.

"And more"
in the heading refers to this long, just-posted story by Kristine Guerra of the Indianapolis Star, about which the ILB will be posting more shortly. It is headed: "Indiana court's ruling for ESPN could be short-lived."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 18, 2016 11:28 AM
Posted to Indiana Government