2018-04-11 / Front Page

Legislative update from Hoosier State Press Assoc.

Following are bills that the Hoosier State Press Association, which represents the state’s paid circulation newspapers, has identified that impact the ability of the public to know what state and local government is doing or contemplating. There are three statutes that are the pillars supporting government transparency:

• The Open Door Law (I.C. 5-14-1.5) – This statute requires governing bodies of state and local government to meet in public sessions so Hoosiers can observe and record, with some exceptions outlined.

• The Access to Public Records Act (I.C. 5-14-3) – This statute requires state and local government units to make its records available for copying and inspection, with some exceptions.

• The Public Notice Advertising Law (I.C. 5-3-1) – This statute outlines the rules when the General Assembly has determined that certain information is so important to share with Hoosiers that it requires state or local government units, or sometimes citizens, to publish the information in local newspapers as a paid public notice.

2018 General Assembly

One of the bills at the end of the session that illustrate the precedence bureaucracy can take over the public’s right to know in legislative efforts – one of which may resurface in a special session of the legislature. H.B. 1315 – This bill deals with the financial management of school corporations. There are provisions concerning the state takeover of school districts in Muncie and Gary. It talks about schools that will be placed on a Watch List – indicating action must take place to avoid a state takeover.

And H.B. 1315 establishes a process where the executive director of the state Distressed Unit Advisory Board (DUAB) creates a list of schools not ready for the Watch List, but may need an action plan to steer the school corporation onto a sound fiscal course. But the bill’s language makes this report secret and allows the DUAB to meet behind closed doors to discuss this list. And all interaction between the state agency and an ailing school district shall be secret. The records are confidential and school board discussion will be held in executive sessions. Families in those schools and community leaders are effectively placed in double secret probation. They won’t be told their school is nearing the danger level or given the opportunity to voice their opinions or support for decisions that the school’s superintendent or school board will be asked to make.

Why the secrecy? Rather than involve the families and community, the bureaucracy believes the families will flee the district at the first whiff of a financial crisis. It’s a jaded view of the public. HSPA would argue that it’s the school administrators who are more likely to bail on the troubled school district before it slips onto the watch list to avoid the association on their resume of being involved with a school district.

The bill’s author was Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville. The sponsor was Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen.

The bill was among the handful that died in the last hour of the General Assembly. It may be resurrected in the special session contemplated by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

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