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Gard's Bill Could Strengthen State's Public Records Laws
February 25, 2009 - A Senate committee unanimously passed a bill last week to allow Hoosiers who are wrongfully denied access to public records the ability to recover court costs.
Gard’s bill passed the Senate Committee on Local Government this week by a unanimous vote.
Sen. Beverly Gard (R-Greenfield), author of the legislation, said the only recourse for someone who has been denied access to a government meeting or public documents is a civil lawsuit where often times paying court fees can be a deterrent.
A judge can only tell the agency to share the documents or declare invalid any action taken at an illegally closed public meeting. Senate Bill 232 allows government agencies or personnel to be fined if Indiana’s public access laws are knowingly and intentionally violated. The first violation could result in a $100 fine and $500 for subsequent offenses.
In 1998, Indiana’s response to public access complaints was to create the office of the public access counselor, the counselor can take no punitive action against elected officials and government agencies, only issue a report on the complaint.
“Making government records and meetings reasonably accessible to all Hoosier citizens is important to maintaining an open and fair government,” Gard said. “By setting these fines I believe it gives officials an appropriate deterrent and helps protect the peoples’ right to know.”
Gard said at least 17 states impose fines ranging from $100 to $5,000 and many include up to six months in jail for violations. SB 232 now moves to the full Senate for further consideration.
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