Cloudy Skies Threaten Indiana’s Sunshine Laws

Sixty years before the Indiana Legislature adopted our state’s Open Door Law, which was designed to ensure transparency in government for its citizens, the same body adopted the official state banner.

To mark Indiana’s 1816 centennial, the design of the state flag was codified to include the torch of “liberty and enlightenment” with golden rays representing the far-reaching influence of the Hoosier state.  It is to symbolize light chasing away dark.

But the significant benefit of open government and light reaching government’s dark corners took a blow with the very last bill of the session signed into law by our Governor a few days ago.

House Bill 1338 – cloaked as a “public meeting decorum” bill — was stuffed with a poisonous amendment at the 11th hour, and just 11 days before the end of the 2024 session.  The result guts the legal authority of the Public Access Counselor and puts that position on notice as a political appointee.

Indiana broadcasters are profoundly disappointed that our Legislature has significantly limited the scope of Indiana’s advocate for transparent government, the Public Access Counselor.  When there are questions about public meetings or government secrecy, Indiana’s Public Access Counselor provides an important check with advisory opinions that hold public officials accountable.

Radio and TV stations routinely ask the Counselor – a position championed by Governor Frank O’Bannon – for advice when it appears that a public body is operating outside of Indiana’s public records laws.

As examples, the Counselor took Hamilton Southeastern Schools to task for failing to respond in a timely way to a WTHR-TV reporter on a simple public records request.  In Fort Wayne, WANE-TV complained when police moved to keep certain body camera footage secret – a move the Public Access Counselor called a violation of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.

Apparently, some legislators bristled at the opinions of the Public Access Counselor when Indiana’s transparent government laws were flagrantly violated.  They felt the Counselor’s wings needed to be clipped.  Until a few days ago, the Counselor was appointed to a four-year term.  Now the Counselor will merely serve at the whim of the Governor in power, and the Counselor can easily be replaced.  When writing opinions, the Counselor will be restricted to the exceptionally narrow route of only considering written Indiana law – despite the fact that we live in a society with ever-growing technological challenges.

Going backwards is not helpful, and we hope that these changes will not significantly affect the work of the public’s advocate for open public records and open meetings.

We support civility and decorum in public meetings, but we opposed the move to fix what ain’t broke.\

The people of our state deserve better.  It’s our government, and we should know exactly what is going on.  That’s what the 1977 Indiana Open Door Law seeks to insure, and that’s why Governor O’Bannon and previous Legislatures have moved to bring more sunshine – not less – into state government.





Dave Arland is Executive Director of the Indiana Broadcasters Association of more than 250 radio and television stations serving every county of Indiana.


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