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New Bill Would Bring Penalties for Willful Access Law Violations
March 4, 2009 - Senate lawmakers unanimously passed a bill today adding teeth to enforcement of the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.
Sen. Beverly Gard’s (R-Greenfield) bill would allow citizens to recover court costs if they are wrongfully denied access to public records. Gard said the only recourse for someone who has been denied access to a government meeting or public documents is a civil lawsuit where often paying court fees can be a deterrent. Senate lawmakers passed Senate Bill 232 by a 49-0 vote.
Currently, 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.
“Establishing these fines may help deter agency and government officials from wrongfully denying the peoples’ right to know,” Gard said. “This legislation has gained momentum and I am hopeful the measure will pass in the House of Representatives.”
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 House of Representatives for further consideration.
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