2/23/2012 10:21:00 AM EDITORIAL: Public access bill deserves approval
Indiana lawmakers ought to revive a measure that would put some teeth into the state’s public access laws.
Right now, House Bill 1093 is tied up in the Senate where it is set to die without a hearing. The only way to save it at this point is to add the language to another bill during conference committee, a process whereby representatives of the House and Senate work out their differences on various pieces of legislation.
The measure backed by the Hoosier State Press Association and other champions of open government would allow a judge to impose a fine against a public official who deliberately violated Indiana’s open meetings or public records laws.
The proposed law would not likely result in many fines. To merit such punishment, the violation would have to be shown to be intentional, a clear effort to subvert the law.
Nevertheless, the measure would send an important message. It would tell public officials that flaunting the law can be expensive. The fine could be up to $100 for a first offense or up to $500 for a repeat offender.
The bill, which passed the Indiana House by a vote of 90-4, hit a roadblock in the Senate when lawmakers raised concerns that the measure would interfere with their ability to protect constituent correspondence and the work product of legislators, their staff members and the Legislative Service Agency.
At this point, public access advocates and Senate leaders are trying to work out a compromise.
Lawmakers have proposed language that would effectively exempt the Legislature from the law. Frankly, that’s not acceptable.
Government works best when it operates in the open, and the Indiana General Assembly should be no exception.
The American form of government depends on citizen involvemment. It works because the public has a right to keep an eye on what its elected representatives are doing. Public officials who intentionally subvert that process should be called to task, and hitting them in the pocketbook seems a good way to do that.
This measure is long overdue, and lawmakers should find a way to pass it into law.