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Opening Arguments

An open-government incentive

Indiana has public access laws that say we have the right to attend most government meetings and see most government information, since it is, you know, our government and our information. But officials don't always obey the law, because there are no real penalties. Maybe that will change now:

A state Senate panel heard Wednesday from groups that want to put some "teeth" behind Indiana's open government laws, but local officials say their budgets can't withstand the bite.

Senate Bill 232 would allow a judge to impose fines of up to $1,000 against officials or government agencies that blatantly flout requests for public records or ignore requirements to make meetings open to the public. The measure also would require local governments to e-mail or otherwise make available meeting notices to citizens who request them.

Local officials say their budgets "can't withstand the bite"? Well, if they don't deny access to information or meetings, then there won't be any fines, will there? Or here's an idea: If they violate the law and can't pay the fine, just give 'em a little jail time. Bet that would be a wonderful incentive for open government.


Thu, 01/22/2009 - 11:42am

You get fined if you don't provide something that is a public record and you get fined if you disclose something the law requires to be kept confidential. So, if a citizen makes a kitchen sink request that generates 15,000 pages of documents or whatever, somebody from the government agency has to take time away from their job to sift through the pages to separate the disclosable from the non-disclosable. And, the government agency is forbidden from charging the citizen for the costs imposed by the citizen's request.