Letters: Legislators studying open government need to hear from you

To the editor:

As a supporter of open government in the state of Indiana, we strongly encourage you to sign our petition urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto HB1523.

HB1523 has passed through both the House and the Senate. The Indiana General Assembly has taken steps to make government less open and insufficiently accountable on all levels by adding additional barriers to the public’s access to records. The information sought after by the public via the Access to Public Records Act has already been paid for by the public.

In the hearings before the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee and Senate Local Government Committee, the testimony by those in favor of the bill claimed that broad requests have been made to their agencies, in particular, county clerk offices and that charging for the search time would decrease the burden on the agencies.

Other tools already exist within APRA.

APRA currently allows a government agency to demand reasonable particularity in a request and therefore provides sufficient narrowing of the search before the request starts to be fulfilled.

With the language in HB1523, the public will be at the mercy of slow computer equipment, inadequate training, poor search techniques, flawed database structure and other aspects outside of their control.

HB1523 is silent on who will audit the government agency, relying instead on good faith, to assure the public is being given an accurate account of their time. Who determines what is a reasonable search time for a particular request? Will the government agency put their best individual on the task to obtain the records or will they assign their slowest employee?

The one bone thrown into the bill, which is grossly unnecessary and unneeded, is an addition to APRA stating that records stored electronically must be provided in an electronic format. As members of the public who make regular use of APRA, receiving documents in electronic format is not a problem that needs to be addressed via legislation.

If the Legislature’s intent is to improve access to public records, make government more open, and increase accountability the Indiana Coalition of Open Government encourages proactive transparency measures, legislation and education. Together, we must find ways to incentivize government agencies to make records ready for the public as they are created, releasing them on the Internet before requests are made, and educating the public to make appropriate and reasonable requests.

Government agencies must engage with the public as constituents instead of as adversaries when APRA is exercised. ICOG is happy to facilitate any such programs with government agencies across Indiana and will continue to fight for these ideas in future.

As a supporter of open government in the state of Indiana, we strongly encourage you to sign our petition urging Holcomb to veto HB1523. Then-Gov. Mike Pence vetoed the bill when it was before him in 2015 citing: “(T)he cost of public records should never be a barrier to the public’s right to know.”

Please help spread the word. Tweet, share on Facebook and email to your friends, family and colleagues who support an open and accountable government in Indiana.

The petition can be found at change.org/p/indiana-governor-keep-public-records-public-reject-hea-1523.

Thank you.

Zachary Baiel, president, Indiana Coalition for Open Government

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