Marilyn Odendahl. 2024-03-04. The Indiana Citizen.

A bill allowing local government officials to remove disruptive individuals from public meetings has been expanded to include new limits on the Indiana public access counselor’s ability to offer guidance about the state’s open door and open records laws.

House Bill 1338, authored by Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, was amended in the Feb. 27 hearing of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. The new language requires the public access counselor to consider only “public access law, as plainly written” and “valid opinions” from the Indiana courts.

Committee chair Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, introduced the amendment. He told his committee colleagues the provision was needed because the public access counselor has “issued some opinions that I vehemently disagree with, and, I think, others in our body and in this building vehemently disagree with.”

However, a handful of senators on the committee and some public access advocates expressed concerns the amendment’s language will harm the effectiveness of the public access counselor’s office.  Common Cause Indiana sent a letter to its supporters on Monday, warning the new provision in HB 1338 “will only hamstring (the public access counselor’s) ability to serve as an impartial referee for open and transparent government in the Hoosier state.”


Zachary Baiel, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, said the new language in HB 1338 would have a “chilling effect” on Indiana’s public access laws. Baiel, who spoke after the amendment had been passed by Freeman’s committee, said the bill, as it is now written, would allow public officials and governmental entities to evade Indiana’s open door and public records laws by claiming that state law does not specifically prohibit or require certain actions.

He said an individual asking for a copy of a visitors’ log from the mayor’s office could be denied permission under the new bill on the basis that the office has all visitors sign a guest list, rather than a visitors’ log.

“I think the law, outside of … some of the carve-outs that had been done on some definitions … it’s stood up because it was decently broadly defined,” Baiel said, explaining the legislature did not have to write every possible scenario into the Indiana Code. “The intent was to then be applied liberally to the situation, so (the law) wouldn’t have to be touched (by the legislature) all the time so you couldn’t weasel your way out.”

Freeman did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

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