Brittany Carloni and Kayla Dwyer, Indianapolis Star, 2024-03-01

🚨 This article is about an active amendment on HB 1338, which has grave consequences for how the office of the Public Access Counselor can function. Please contact your legislator in both the House and the Senate to express your opposition.

In the eyes of Indiana’s Public Access Counselor, two members of the Hamilton East Public Library board violated open meeting laws last year when they met with their attorneys at a coffee shop.

In the eyes of some state lawmakers, this interpretation was one opinion that went a bridge too far. Lawmakers quietly tacked language onto a House bill this week this week to curtail the Public Access Counselor’s interpretative powers.

“I’m not saying the Hamilton County situation was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Sen. Aaron Freeman said about the amendment he presented. “I’m saying it was probably one of a long line of things.”

Government accountability advocates, though, say the amendment would severely limit the powers of the state’s appointed expert on public records and open meeting laws.


Freeman’s amendment would require the public access counselor to only consider the exact text of Indiana’s access laws or applicable court cases when issuing advisory opinions. 

The Senate’s Corrections and Criminal Law committee voted Tuesday to add the change to House Bill 1338, from Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, which gives guidelines to local governments on how to deal with disruptive conduct at public meetings. 


“If the Public Access Counselor can’t issue an opinion because the law is too vague and can’t make an interpretation, that’s stifling and that’s a chilling effect,” said Zachary Baiel, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. “I don’t think that’s beneficial to open, accessible and accountable government.”


Britt ruled in October that Maddalone and Alerding made up two-thirds of a library board committee. The HEPL board at the time was facing heavy backlash for its policy to move books labeled “inappropriate” from the library’s teen section. 

But Freeman said that situation should not have been considered a public meeting. 

“Good god, we never intended the Open Door Law to apply to two people having lunch,” Freeman said.

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