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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

Gov. Holcomb signs bill limiting state public access counselor’s interpretation power

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Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, on March 18, signed House Bill 1338, which will limit how the state’s access counselor interprets public records and open meetings laws. 

The bill, written by Rep. J.D. Prescott (R-Union City), largely focuses on disruptive conduct at public meetings, according to an IndyStar article. This would allow certain local government agencies to adopt rules or policies allowing the presiding member of the governing body of the local agency to issue warnings to disruptive attendees and direct them to leave on the third warning. 

But an amendment from Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) requires the public access counselor to only interpret the exact text of state laws or applicable court cases when issuing advisory opinions. 

Currently, the state’s public access counselor, Luke Britt’s job involves educating citizens and government officials about state public records and open meeting laws according to the IndyStar. His job also involves sharing advisory opinions if a complaint is submitted to his office with questions about how a public agency handled state laws.  

Another amendment makes appointed committees of government agencies, like the Indiana Arts Commission, Indiana Parole Board or the Charter School Board, not required to adhere to the state’s Open-Door law, mandating government agencies hold official meetings of most of their governing bodies, publicly.  

The Indiana Coalition for Open Government criticized the bill in a letter writing, the bill could narrow the scope of transparency and accountability through “arbitrary” rules.  

Additionally, the law changes the counselor’s term from a fixed four-years, according to the article, to serving at the governor’s pleasure. Because of this, counselors must be appointed or dismissed by the governor.  

In a statement, according to Fox 59, Holcomb said he signed the bill to provide local government entities with the ability to better control public meetings when faced with unruly and disruptive behavior. He said he considered concerns about the provisions impacting the Office of the Public Access Counselor, but in his opinion, these concerns are mitigated because judicial review of these decisions is not changed, and that the governor can appoint the position in the future. 

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