A busy year for access bills at the Indiana General Assembly

The 2013 legislative session included a host of measures related to public access, including the controversial “ag-gag” legislation that ultimately failed to pass. Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for ICOG affiliate Hoosier State Press Association, provided a round-up of some of the bills, both successful and not:

S.B. 373, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, became known as the ag-gag bill. It originally would have made the dissemination of photos/videos of agricultural, manufacturing or mining operations without the owner’s permission a crime. The threshold for whether the crime occurred was if the intent was to annoy, defame, harass or harm the business owner.

The genesis of the bill was agribusiness concern over YouTube videos showing alleged cruelty to animals. The images sometimes were taken by animal rights activists who had secured employment with confined feeding operations for the purpose of gaining access to the operation to take the video.

A coalition of opponents – including HSPA, Humane Society of Indiana, Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana Broadcasters Association, Motion Picture Association of America and AFL-CIO – argued that the bill would violate the First Amendment and offered no protection to whistleblowers.

Despite a variety of amendments in response to concerns raised by opponents, the bill ultimately died.

H.B. 1175, authored by Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, would have allowed a government unit to charge a search fee if a records request requires more than two hours to find the records. The fee would be capped at $20 an hour and could not include computer run time. HSPA was able to get language inserted to allow an individual to request electronic records, such as Excel spreadsheets, to be delivered via email. Current law allows the public agency to require the citizen to come to the office and pick up a paper copy of electronically-stored records. A later amendment, opposed by county recorders, would have allowed individuals to copy records without a fee by taking their own digital photos. The bill died in the Senate.

S.E.A. 162, authored by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, creates greater transparency for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. It was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence on May 8.

H.E.A. 1102, authored by Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, give public agency governing bodies more leeway to hold executive sessions to discuss litigation. It also allows a school board to directly negotiate collective bargaining agreements without triggering the Open Door Law. Gov. Pence signed the legislation on April 29.

S.E.A. 369, authored by Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, creates a criminal intelligence exception to the Access to Public Records Act and allows law enforcement to neither “confirm or deny” the existence of investigatory records to protect an ongoing investigation or public safety. The basis for the change was to prevent, for example, a public official from making a request for Indiana State Police records pertaining to an investigation of that official. Previously, the State Police could deny the request, but the denial would confirm there is an investigation and could give the official the opportunity to destroy evidence. The bill was signed into law on May 11.

S.E.A. 243, authored by Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, allows lists of the home contact information of first responders to be kept confidential to protect against terrorism. The bill was signed by Gov. Pence on May 7.

H.E.A. 1219, authored by Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, originally would allow law enforcement officers to request that county government redact their home addresses from records posted on the county’s website. (The language did not impact access to records requested from a county office.) After HSPA and the Association of Indiana Counties raised concerns about the practical application of the language and where the exemptions would end as other groups sought the same privilege, the bill was amended making the language optional at the county level with a fee allowed to cover the redaction costs. Gov. Pence signed the bill into law April 29.

H.E.A. 1116, authored by Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, was a bill pushed by the state Department of Local Government Finance concerning the administration of property taxes. It includes a provision eliminating DLGF hearings on local government unit’s budgets unless a citizen requests such a public hearing. The bill was signed by the governor on May 9.

S.B. 139, authored by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, was requested by the Indiana School Boards Association and would have allowed school boards to have an executive session to discuss the sale of school property. Alting withdrew the bill after hearing objections from HSPA.

H.B. 1195, authored by Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, would have curtailed access to the cause of death in records maintained by county health departments after someone dies. The bill died without a hearing.

H.B. 1376, authored by Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, includes a provision that makes confidential the Social Security number, home telephone number and email address of anyone who applies for or receives a certification or registration from a state licensing board or is a board member. The request was made by the Professional Licensing Board. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Pence on May 2.

H.B. 1506, authored by Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, would have extended the time between the filing of campaign finance reports and when they would be available for public inspection and copying. The bill died in committee.

S.B. 458, authored by Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, would have eliminated the publication of public notices, replacing the publication with postings on local government websites. HSPA testified against the proposal, and the bill died in committee. Similar language in H.B 1589 also failed.

H.E.A. 1427, authored by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, concerns education matters, including a provision replacing the publication of annual school financial reports with postings on school district websites. An amendment dropping the provision was inserted by the Senate and approved by conference committee. It was signed by Gov. Pence on May 11.

H.E.A. 1321, authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, concerns insurance matters and originally contained language eliminating the requirement that out-of-state insurance companies publish statements of their financial condition. Lehman agreed to restore the publication requirement, and the bill was signed into law on May 11.

S.B. 156, authored by Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, would have prohibited law enforcement from downloading information from cell phones without a warrant. The bill passed the Senate but died for lack of a hearing in the House.

S.B. 35, authored by Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, would have prohibited police from interfering with or preventing someone from filming police actions. The bill died without a hearing.