Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, 406/542-4400 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — Two unprecedented bills flying through the Indiana Legislature would revoke public access to government records and should never become law, says the Society of Professional Journalists.
Senate Bill 436 would prevent the public from viewing autopsy photographs, videos and electronic recordings without first obtaining a court order. House Bill 1083 would exempt all state lawmakers from Indiana’s public records law, allowing legislators to block — at will — all letters, e-mails and other forms of communication from public view.
"What do Indiana lawmakers have to hide?" asked Ray Marcano, SPJ president and an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "These irresponsible attempts to shield information from public view should outrage a public used to living in a free and open society. If these laws pass, Indiana lawmakers are saying, ‘Elect us so we can do what we want, when we want to, without public scrutiny.’ This is worse than a slap in the face; it’s a kick in a gut to anyone who believes they have the right to inspect public information."
Marcano, on behalf of SPJ and its 10,000 members nationwide, sent a letter today to Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon, requesting a personal meeting with the governor to discuss SPJ’s opposition to these bills. Marcano also issued March 8 a letter to O’Bannon regarding HB 1083, asking for the governor’s support in keeping records open to the public.
A few states in the nation already have laws that exempt legislators from open records laws. If Indiana passes its proposed exemption law, it will become the eighth state in the nation to do so, a frightening trend.
O’Bannon has said he will consider vetoing legislation that revokes open records laws. Both the exemption and the autopsy records measures, however, are gaining support in the House and Senate, and a simple majority vote from both state legislative bodies can override the governor’s veto.
The Indiana Senate approved April 5 an amendment to SB 436 that would prevent the public from viewing autopsy records without first obtaining a court order. The amendment, introduced by Rep. James Buck, R-Kokomo, mimics a Florida state law passed March 29. Florida passed its new law after a heated open records battle over the autopsy photos of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who died Feb. 18 in a crash at Daytona International Speedway. The Orlando Sentinel has filed a lawsuit to prevent the Florida law from being enforced, and SPJ stands behind the newspaper in its battle to maintain open records in the state. SB 436 — before the amendment — originally was meant to reimburse counties for autopsies performed in other parts of the state.
The Indiana Senate’s Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee voted April 4 to approve HB1083 and expand it to exempt the Legislature from Indiana public records laws. This measure would allow members of the Indiana House and Senate to make their own rules on which records they choose to disclose to the public. HB 1083, introduced by Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Danville, passed March 6 in the Indiana House and originally revoked the public’s right to government officials’ e-mail and Internet documents, a proposal SPJ strongly opposed.
"It amazes me that Indiana lawmakers want to exempt themselves from public records law in the name of protecting the privacy of their constituents," said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman and special projects coordinator for KPAX TV in Montana. "The whole point of public access laws is to allow citizens to monitor what their representatives and officials are doing. The Legislature is trying to protect its own interests, not the public’s. Gov. O’Bannon should throw this bill back. And while he’s at it, he can reject the NASCAR protection bill, too."
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON INDIANA SENATE BILL 436 AND INDIANA HOUSE BILL 1083, SEE THESE WEB LINKS:
The complete text of SPJ’s April 6 letter to Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon (below)
For the complete text of Senate Bill 436.
The complete text of Indiana House Bill 1083.
For The Indianapolis Star’s April 6 news article on the autopsy photo bill.
For The Indianapolis Star’s April 5 news article on the Legislature’s attempt to exempt itself from Indiana’s public records laws, go to.
TO EXPRESS YOUR OPINION ON THESE BILLS BEFORE THE INDIANA lEGISLATURE, VISIT THESE LINKS:
Indiana residents — How to contact your state senators and representatives.