Indiana's Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act need teeth, but the Senate leadership is barking up the wrong tree.
Senate leaders plan to let House Bill 1093 die by not letting this bill be heard in committee.
That bill contains some provisions that Hoosiers need in a beefed-up Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act:
• A judge could levy a civil fine of up to $100 — or $500 for a repeat offender — against a public official who deliberately violates either of these public access laws.
• A resident could ask for email notifications of meetings while allowing the agency to post its notices on its website. This would prevent the agency from sneaking in a meeting that would be unnoticed unless the public visits the website each day.
• "Reasonable" would be the standard for when a public agency must produce records for inspection or copying, taking into account the size of the request and the workload of the agency.
With Senate leadership balking at these reforms the public should be demanding, all might seem lost. But legislative alchemy leaves another option: the conference committee.
The language from HB 1093 should be added to other legislation being negotiated in a conference committee — where differences between House and Senate versions of a bill are ironed out — so these public access provisions can become law.
Senate leaders want to keep secret the senators' work product and correspondence with constituents, along with the work of the partisan staff and the Legislative Services Agency. That should make the public wonder what they're hiding.
It's the public's business, after all, so members of the public should be able to see what their government is doing.
Including the language from HB 1093 in another bill is not the elegant solution the public deserves, but if that's what it takes to get this done, so be it.
A public access law that is all bark and no bite doesn't do enough to protect the public.
That's why members of the public should urge their senators to support including HB 1093's provisions in another bill.
Remember, what the government does is the public's business. Taxpayers are footing the bill for it, and they deserve to see what they're getting for their money.