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Monday, July 14, 2014
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Published: Monday, 11/26/2001

Openness in Indiana

Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon has wisely vetoed a bill that would have let state lawmakers exempt themselves from their state's open records law.

The House speaker called off a vote to override that veto in light of intense pressure from the Hoosier State Press Association, a newspaper trade group, and days after a newspaper-TV poll showed that two-thirds of those surveyed opposed the lawmakers' ploy. Legislative leaders did the macho thing, denying that the poll or the pressure had affected their decision. Yeah, right.

It must be a disease among lawmakers, this notion that keeping the public out of the conduct of public business makes sense. To the contrary, it invites corruption and suspicion.

Governor Taft correctly vetoed a similar bill in this state. Too bad he was not as strong when it came to legislative working papers, of value as history and as evidence of the presence or lack of government integrity. Now Ohioans don't know when lobbyists are writing bills for their clients and when elected officials are passing laws that benefit everyone.

Key to the lawmakers' stated concerns was protecting the privacy of citizens who send them letters that include personal matters. That might be worth talking about. But what legislators do to resolve those problems is something else again. One has to wonder why this is now so pressing an issue. Constituents have been pouring out their hearts to legislators since there have been legislators.

A second critical issue was the House version that would make all e-mails to public officials private. What were they thinking?

E-mails, in and of themselves, have no more of a right to privacy than does snail mail or telephone call records.

Legislators could discipline themselves by keeping private business off their government computers and out of their publicly supported work day. Or they could bring in their own computers for personal messages and business during the work day.

Doing the public's business in public is smart policy. Legislators who think otherwise should either not run or step down.



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