Bill allowing fines for violators of access laws dies

A bill that would have authorized judges to fine willful, intentional violators of Indiana’s open-government laws has died in the state Legislature for the second consecutive year. The reason this time: The law would have carried some costs with it. The Indiana Coalition for Open Government board had endorsed the proposed legislation.

H.B. 1075 would have allowed judges to impose a civil fine of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for a repeat offense against a public official for deliberately violating the Access to Public Records Act or Open Door Law.

The bill died because it was not given a hearing in the Senate Commerce, Public Policy and Interstate Cooperation Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, after passing in the House. Last year, the bill passed the Senate but wasn’t given a hearing in the House.

The Indiana Publisher, the publication of the Hoosier State Press Association, reported that Alting initially committed to hearing the bill but backed away after a fiscal analysis by the Legislative Services Agency determined the cost to implement it would be $67,500. Alting said Senate leadership had instructed committee chairs not to give bills with a negative fiscal impact a hearing.

More from the Publisher’s report:

“Working with Sen. Bev Gard, R-Greenfield, who was the sponsor of H.B. 1075, HSPA agreed to eliminate the bill’s provision for Public Access Counselor office review of redacted documents. That was the section Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack cited to LSA as a cost-increasing provision.

“That would have left the civil fines and language spelling out ‘reasonable’ time frame as the standard for when records actually have to be produced by an agency when requested by a citizen.

“Unfortunately, a fiscal analyst for the State Budget Agency still determined that there would be a $4,000 additional cost for the Public Access Counselor’s office and judges and local government agencies.

“The bill’s authors were House Majority Leader Russ Stilwell, D-Boonville; Speaker of the House Pat Bauer, D-South Bend; House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; and Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis.

“In addition to Sen. Gard, the sponsors were Sens. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis; Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond; and Bob Deig, D-Mount Vernon.”