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Indiana University Journalism

Fargo testifies at Indiana Senate to support open meeting bill

Gena Asher | Jan. 23, 2009
Associate professor Tony Fargo testified before the Indiana Senate’s Local Government Committee on Jan. 21 in support of Senate Bill 232. The bill would empower judges to levy civil penalties against public officials who knowingly and intentionally violate the state public records and open meetings laws. The bill also would allow members of the public to request advance notice of meetings, which public agencies are now only required to provide to the news media on request.

Also, the bill would give judges the power to review documents that public agencies edited to remove information exempt from disclosure under the public records law to determine whether the agencies correctly interpreted the law or withheld information that should be public.

Fargo testified about a survey conducted by the School of Journalism and the IU Center for Survey Research in 2007 for the Indiana Coalition for Open Government that asked people who had sought formal advisory opinions from the state Public Access Counselor about their experiences with the PAC office. About 91 percent of the respondents said they favored giving the access counselor the power to enforce the access laws in some way.

Fargo, who is a member of the ICOG board, testified that the responses indicated a strong preference by people who use the access laws for some type of enforcement mechanism, such as the civil penalties that the bill would provide. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, was not voted on at Wednesday’s hearing pending amendments to clarify portions of the bill.

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