EDITORIAL: Mixed news on public access issues

2013-04-16T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Mixed news on public access issues nwitimes.com
April 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Hoosiers must remain ever vigilant when the Indiana General Assembly is in session, alert to any action that could affect the public's access to government records and government meetings. There's mixed news so far this session.

House Bill 1427

Our compliments to the Indiana Senate, and especially Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, for voting to continue to require schools to publish annual financial reports in widely read newspapers, where the public is more likely to find the data than on school district websites.

This is not to say the reports shouldn't be posted on those websites. By all means, do so. But publishing them in print, and especially in newspapers, serves vital functions.

The first is to offer independent verification of publication. Newspapers, rather than government websites, accomplish this.

The second is to provide a permanent archive. A posting online can be changed easily, but not the printed legal notice.

Newspapers offer this service at little cost -- about 7 cents on the dollar compared to other advertising.

Newspapers also improve the visibility of public notices. School websites cater to far smaller audiences. People who don't have children in the schools, for example, typically have little reason to go to the schools' site. And not everyone has Internet access. Newspapers are easily accessible to all segments of society, as these notices should be.

Rogers led the Indiana Senate to the right decision on this legislation. HB 1427 is headed to a conference committee.

Senate Bill 369

On Senate Bill 369, however, shame on Reps. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, and Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, for leading the Indiana House of Representatives astray.

Arnold and Moseley are cosponsors of this legislation that would allow government agencies to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of public or criminal intelligence records if doing so would endanger an individual or threaten public safety. That brush is way too broad, creating a loophole large enough to fly a jetliner through.

Refusing to acknowledge a record's existence is even worse than refusing to release it, with or without redaction. Building the public's trust in government, not destroying what's left, should be the order of the day.

Government agencies must remember they are working for the public, not the other way around.

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