Indiana transparency legislation

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Transparency legislation proposed in Indiana.


See also: Indiana Access to Public Records Act

Senate Bill 232: Public Access Issues

Senate Bill 232[1] has been passed by the Indiana Senate Committee on Local Government and the full Senate and was referred to the House on February 24, 2009 .[2] The bill provides for civil penalties of up to $500 against government agencies -- or their individual employees -- tha violate Indiana's Public Records Act or Open Door Law.[2] This bill would allow public agencies or workers who are deemed to have violated the Public Records Act or the Open Door Law to be fined by a judge.[2] Officers or employees of the agencies that are found to be in violation of one of these acts and are thereby assessed fines, which they must pay out of pocket.[2] Any fines assessed against government agencies, however, are paid by the agencies' budget.[2]

The bill also proposes to allow employees and agencies to provide notice of meetings to individuals that request such notice annually.[2] That notice may be provided via email or on the state agency's website forty-eight hours prior to the meeting.[2] This advance notice is currently available to news organizations, and the bill proposes extending the privilege to all citizens.

The bill also allows government agencies to keep information regarding minors under the age of 19 confidential.[2] Currently, individuals that are denied access to public records can take legal action against the employee or agency that refused to disclose the records.[3] The bill proposes the creation of an education fund to provide training for the public and for public officials as to their responsibilities under public access law.[2] Finally, the bill proposes that where a formal complaint is filed regarding the unavailability of a document or redactions within a document, a "public access counselor" is to review the records to determine whether the elimination of information violates public access laws.[2]

The Committee and Senate have both passed the bill; it now moves to the House for a final vote.[2]

Reaction to the bill

The bill has received a negative response from various groups representing elected officials at the local level, including the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Association of Indiana Counties. They argue that the proposed meeting notifications are too time consuming for local governing agencies to comply with, and that the bill may subject government employees to liability and fines for denying open record requests at the direction of their superiors.[3][4]

The bill has received support from representatives of the Hoosier State Press Association, citizen activists and journalists. In support of the bill, they argue that until now, there have not been any enforcement measures to deal with a government agency that refuses to comply with the law. The Indiana Coalition for Open Government referring to the Public Records Act stated, "An Indiana Code provision that has no enforcement capability is like a toothless dog that barks loud but has no bite," said Fargo, Indiana University journalism professor who serves on the .[4]

Tony Fargo, associate professor of the Indiana University School of Journalism, testified in favor of the bill before the Senate's Local Government Committee.[5] The Indiana Tribune-Star[6], Palladium-Item,[7] and[8] have all endorsed the bill.

Senate Bill 32: Notice of Meetings

Senate Bill 32[9] having to do with notice of meetings is related to Senate Bill 232. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce and Public Policy & Interstate Cooperation.[10] The bill requires government agencies to provide notice of meetings to anyone who requests such notice annually.[10] According to the proposed bill, notice may be given by mail five days in advance for any non-emergency meetings for a $10 fee annually.[10]

Senate Bill 1230: Publication of Notices

Senate Bill 1230[11] having to do with notice of meetings was passed by the Senate Committee on Local Government.[11] The bill includes proposals to require newspapers that publish notice of meetings to include the notice on their website and a proposal to eliminate the requirement for agencies to publish the ordinance setting the salaries of elected city officers.[11]

Senate Bill 1280: State Budget and Spending Information on Internet

Senate Bill 1280[12] was passed by the Committee on Ways and Means and the full House and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy.[12] If passed, the bill requires state agencies to report budget information to the state auditor's office so that it can begin to make available online all state expenditures and account balances no later than July 1, 2009.[12]