Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon is indeed a wise man. In May, O’Bannon vetoed House Bill 1083 that would have exempted Indiana lawmakers from the state’s public records law. The Indiana House and Senate passed this unthinkable bill, and despite threats of vetoes and, undoubtedly, the political pressure that comes with leading a large, important state, Gov. O’Bannon put the people first by using his veto powers. But the battle isn’t over. Lawmakers can override the veto with a simple majority. And the issue won’t die, because some lawmakers are dumbfounded that Gov. O’Bannon vetoed the bill. These same lawmakers say they have to exempt themselves from public records requests. They say they’re actually looking out for the public because they don’t want their constituents’ e-mails available for inspection. Under current Indiana law, any correspondence a lawmaker receives is available for public inspection. This is a law that wasn’t proposed by people interested in serving the public. It’s a law proposed by people interested in the kind of cloak-and-dagger government that spits in the face of the public, let alone the Constitution – you know, that little piece of paper that guarantees basic freedoms for Americans. Why would lawmakers want to exempt themselves? The real reason: They’re angry at The Indianapolis Star, which published a citizen’s guide to the Legislature that included the e-mails and phone numbers of senators and representatives. This sent some lawmakers into a tizzy. How dare a newspaper tell the people how to easily get in touch with their representatives? My Lord, if we let that go, the thinking seems to be, then we’ll actually have to talk to the people who elected us. We may even have to answer questions we don’t care to answer. Some legislators have tried to mask this as a privacy issue. Some claim their constituents shouldn’t have their privacy invaded by a nosy media that has the right to review all e-mail correspondence of elected officials. So which one is it, folks? Are you sticking up for the public or sticking it to the public? Seems to me that in Indiana, they’re doing the latter. If legislators were truly concerned about the public, they would understand that an informed public is much better than an uninformed public. This is just the latest attack on the free flow of information that results in government accountability. Gov. O’Bannon clearly understands this. But the question remains: Does the Indiana Legislature understand? BOOK COMMITTEE I mentioned a few months ago that SPJ would name a committee to spearhead its 100th anniversary book. Former SPJ Region 4 director Ginny Frizzi will chair the committee, which also will include Charles Davis, campus adviser at-large, and former national president Steve Geimann as co-chairs. Next, the committee will name at least four other ad-hoc members who will play a crucial role. Since this is, quite possibly, the longest-range project SPJ has ever undertaken, there’s a chance someone may not be able to see the project through to the end. The additional ad-hoc members will ensure the committee has enough strength to keep going. Watch Quill this fall, when the committee will start soliciting resumes from journalists interested in writing the book.
Ray Marcano is president of SPJ and assistant managing editor for production at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News.