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Two bills threaten the public’s right to information | In Our Opinion
Two bills before the state House Rules Committee threaten the public’s right to information, as well as the public’s right to know what government is doing.
House Bill 1128 and 1651 would tighten regulations on how we, as journalists, do our job; and how closely you, the public, can watch government.
It's important for anyone, anywhere, to have the ability to check and question how a branch of government — federal, state, or local — is conducting business. However, House Bill 1128 would empower any branch of government to squash a public records request it feels is either "harassing" or "burdensome."
Proponents of HB 1128 are trying to convince lawmakers that public records requests are a burden that cost money the government doesn’t have. But, if passed, each government agency would have discretion on whether a request was "burdensome." Anyone requesting information could be hit with an injunction, and forced to fight the injunction. Government agencies, which would already have a lawyer on retainer, paid for by tax dollars, could be used to uphold the injunction.
Though an amended version of the bill would make news media exempt from being considered "burdensome," it would still go against the First Amendment's guarantees of "freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances."
The right for anyone to issue a public records request is at stake. House Bill 1128 should not leave the Rules Committee.
Though not as broad, House Bill 1651 would shield the juvenile justice system almost completely from the public's view. It would return the justice system to its pre-1977 state.
Journalists around the country do what they can to protect the identity of juveniles (age 17 or younger). However, it is important to be able to review juvenile court records.
In making sure the justice system is adhering to an equal administration of justice, court records should remain open for review.
House Bill 1651 would allow the juvenile justice system to operate in almost complete secrecy. That would make it nearly impossible to make sure everyone within the system is being treated the same.
The bill would also make background checks, before hiring for positions for schools, day cares and youth organizations, more difficult and costly. Keep public records and our court systems open to everyone. It's our right to know.