http://articles.courant.com/2014-03-12/news/hc-ed-open-government-20140312_1_public-act-bad-law-homicide-victimsRepeal Bad Law — Go Back To Open Government
State Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. couldn't have been clearer and more forceful than he was Monday in describing his complaints against proposed legislation that would place significant new restrictions on the public's ability to obtain law-enforcement records such as 911 tapes and crime-scene photographs.
The legislation "is not only counterproductive — it is destructive," the Senate Democratic leader said of a measure based on the recommendations of the post-Sandy Hook Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public's Right to Know. "If enacted," he warned, "this would result in an unprecedented denial of previously available information."
Mr. Williams and a small but growing number of lawmakers have become disenchanted with the crushing burden that laws like this are placing on the free flow of public information — a commodity owned by the people and not by the government agencies in question. They spoke their minds at two legislative hearings on the anti-freedom-of-information bills Monday.
Good for them, up to a point. It's just too bad that the Senate president and like-minded legislators didn't experience their epiphanies last year, before the final days of the 2013 session, when the seeds of today's freedom-of-information crisis were sown.Passed Without A Public HearingMaybe then the General Assembly wouldn't have gone overboard and passed — without public hearing — the ill-considered Public Act 13-311, a statute that allows law-enforcement agencies to lock away from public view homicide photographs and other crime-scene information.
Last June, Mr. Williams, one of the legislature's most powerful members, cast his vote for this draconian and overreaching bill, which passed overwhelmingly in a swell of sympathy for parents of children murdered in the 2012 Newtown shootings. Two brave lawmakers dissented because they understood that hiding information isn't what an open society does. "Suppression of horrific conduct, as this bill dictates, invites history to repeat itself," said state Sen. Ed Meyer, one of the two who voted against it.
This year, Mr. Williams must lead an effort to repeal Public Act 13-311 — and kill the legislation encapsulating the privacy task force recommendations.
A return to the status quo ante — to the time before the Sandy Hook massacre caused victims' families to clamor for unwise exemptions from Connecticut's respected freedom-of-information laws and traditions — would be best.Where's The Evidence Of Harm?
Task force recommendations were heard by the Judiciary Committee and the Government Administration and Elections Committee on Monday. They represent an improvement, but not by much, over the legal landscape shaped by the passage of Public Act 13-311.The task force bill, for example, would permit members of the public to view photographs and other images of homicide victims and listen to homicide-related 911 calls.
But the information could not be copied unless an appeal was made through a time-consuming process in which the burden is on the citizen to make the case for disclosure. Historically, the burden has been on the government agency to prove why the public record should not be disclosed.
The task force bill also makes unauthorized copying of a public document (with a cellphone camera, for example) a crime. Where are we, Pyongyang?
Much of what the Newtown parents who want the restrictions (not all of them do) have asked for is understandable, considering their loss. But is it necessary?
Dan Klau, in his testimony for the Connecticut Bar Association, had a persuasive answer."Not a single person who appeared before the task force," Mr. Klau said, "presented testimony or evidence of a past disclosure of a government document, pursuant to an FOIA request, that actually resulted in the widespread dissemination … of graphic crime scene photographs, embarrassing or humiliating 911 calls, or documents identifying witnesses that put the witness at risk of harm or caused embarrassment or humiliation.
He concluded "The legislature should not curtail the public's cherished right to access to government documents based on conjecture and speculation."
Clearly, Connecticut has been on the wrong track the past year. Defeat of the task force legislation and repeal of Public Act 13-311 are in order.