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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Opposes Indiana Legislature’s Attempt to Shield Public Officials’ E-mail, Internet Files

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SPJ Opposes Indiana Legislature’s Attempt to Shield Public Officials’ E-mail, Internet Files

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3/8/2001


Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ President, 937/225-2323 or rmarcano@spj.org; Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, 406/542-4400 or ian@kpax.com

INDIANAPOLIS — An unprecedented bill to revoke Hoosier residents’ right to access government officials’ e-mail and Internet documents flies in the face of the public interest and should not become law, says the Society of Professional Journalists.

SPJ President Ray Marcano today sent a letter to Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon urging him to veto the House Bill 1083, should it pass in the Indiana Senate. The Indiana House of Representatives passed the bill — introduced by Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Danville — Tuesday, March 6, on a 92-1 vote.

"We urge Indiana lawmakers to drop attempts to make e-mails and Internet documents secret," said Marcano assistant managing editor for production at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "E-mail messages have replaced the typewriter as the most essential form of drafting memos and other communications. Blocking e-mails would have the effect of making all communication between public officials confidential. The public might no longer know how public bodies operate, how they reach their decisions, and how they spend public dollars if those discussions are passed in e-mails.

This is a dangerous piece of legislation that would result in keeping the public in the dark."

The Society is asking media professionals and other interested parties, especially in Indiana, to contact government officials and express in the strongest terms their opposition to the legislation.

"Remember, Indiana lawmakers snuck this provision on the end of a bill without public comment," Marcano said. "It’s not unreasonable to assume they might also want to pass these restrictions into law with as little scrutiny as possible."

If HB1083 passes the Senate and is signed by the governor, it would make Indiana one of the first states to shield e-mail and Internet documents from the public. The measure would have far-reaching implications and take Indiana’s access laws a step backward, said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman.

"It’s disappointing that lawmakers in Indiana, a state that has made such great strides in improving public access to information in recent years, now want to block access to a significant mass of public records," said Marquand, special projects coordinator for KPAX-TV in Montana. "I certainly hope that Gov. O’Bannon has his veto pen ready if the Legislature sends him this ill-conceived bill."

O’Bannon told The Indianapolis Star in a March 7 article that he would veto the bill "if it’s going backwards and we lose our right to see public records."

SPJ’s Indiana Pro Chapter also planned to issue a release today strongly opposing the bill. Chapter President James W. Brown said Indiana legislators clearly are afraid of conducting the public’s business in public.

"I suppose their next proposal will be to abolish open records and open meetings altogether. They seek to avoid accountability to the people that put them in office," Brown said. "Openness and accountability are fundamental to a democratic society. E-mail and Internet records are part of the work product of the legislative process. They are, in part, the record of how our legislators do their jobs. These records are fundamental to the principle of accountability. The Indiana legislators’ action reflects badly on themselves and the state. Their action should be condemned."


Thursday, March 8, 2001
Gov. Frank O’Bannon
Office of the Governor
State House, Room 206
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dear Gov. O’Bannon,

The Society of Professional Journalists writes to express its great concern about the General Assembly’s unprecedented efforts to shield government officials’ e-mails and Internet records from the public.

We know that you, Gov. O’Bannon, understand firsthand the risk that House Bill 1083 poses to the public’s right to know and the media’s role as a government watchdog. From your background in the newspaper publishing business, you know that passing such legislation can have far-reaching implications.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest journalism organization, representing not only working journalists — in print, online and broadcast — but also academics, high school and college students, public relations professionals, media attorneys and government officials.

Our members adhere to common goals — protecting the public interest and ensuring that ethical and credible professionals report the news.

We know you are aware of the case in Florida, for example, where public access to Internet documents became vital to the public interest. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris released 40,000 e-mails to the public and the news media when embroiled in the presidential recount.

The Indianapolis Star reported March 7 that you are considering a veto of this bill "if it’s going backwards and we lose our right to see public records."

The Society of Professional Journalists believes that HB1083 does just that. We strongly and respectfully ask that you veto HB1083 should it be passed by the Indiana General Assembly.

At this point, we know the nation is watching to see if you will be setting the best example for governors across the country by vetoing this measure.


Sincerely,

Ray Marcano, National Board President
Society of Professional Journalists
937/225-2323
rmarcano@spj.org

cc: James Maguire, chief of staff for the governor;
Robert Kovach, legislative director for the governor;
Thad Nation, press secretary to the governor;
President Pro Tempore Bob Garton;
Democratic Floor Leader Richard Young;
Speaker of the House John R. Gregg;
House Republican Leader Brian Bosma;
Rep. Jeff Thompson;
Rep. James Buck; Sen. James Merritt


Gov. Frank O’Bannon
Office of the Governor
State House
Room 206
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 317/232-4567
Fax: 317/232-3443
fobannon@state.in.us

President Pro Tempore Bob Garton

Indiana State Senate
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 317/232-9416
Fax: 317/232-9903
S41@ai.org

Democratic Floor Leader Richard Young

Indiana State Senate
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 317/232-9427
Fax: 317/232-9903
S47@ai.org

Speaker of the House John R. Gregg
Indiana House of Representatives
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 317/232-9628
Fax: 317/232-9795
H45@ai.org

House Republican Leader Brian Bosma

Indiana House of Representatives
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 317/232-9604
Fax: 317/233-0538
H88@ai.org

Rep. Jeff Thompson

Indiana House of Representatives
200 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 317/232-9790
Fax: 317/232-7644
H28@ai.org

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