Good news, bad news on open records legislation

By Dennis Hetzel, OCOG President

Several statutes related to open records are moving through the Ohio Legislature.

Unfortunately, we still cannot get traction on House Bill 8, which would remove the names of minors whose names appear in accident reports involving school buses.  We are particularly concerned about the precedent this could set to undermine the long-standing rule that initial police incident reports, including traffic accidents, are public records.

We have made several reasonable compromise suggestions with no luck. We also are unhappy about confusing, unnecessary language being added to protect the release of individual medical claims information. While no one believes this information should be public, we maintain that existing law covers the concern. The new language is murky and could result in unwanted interpretations.

The bill has passed the House and is headed to the Senate floor, where we will again seek to amend the legislation.  If the bill makes it to the governor’s desk as written, we will request a veto.

Here is the status of some other items we are following:

Mugshot sites: Gov. Kasich signed HB 6 into law, which makes it illegal to charge people for the removal of criminal or arrest records – something our members wouldn’t do. The bill is aimed at the websites that charge hundreds of dollars to remove booking photographs of arrests. ONMA worked with the sponsor, Rep. John Barnes, to craft acceptable language.

Destruction of arrest records: HB 64 is a well-intentioned bill that seeks to help people wrongly arrested by police. However, we opposed the expungement (destruction) of the arrest records as the answer for a number of reasons, particularly because destruction of these records provides no accountability for why the government wrongly accused someone. We have been working with the bill sponsors on a compromise idea that would keep most of the information open.

Campus free speech: Many of you are covering controversial campus speakers and how college officials are dealing with campus free speech issues. HB 363 makes it harder for local officials to block speakers based on the content of their speech, possible security issues and other concerns.  (The bill also makes payment of student activity fees voluntary.)

Ohio Citizen Participation Act: Ohio would have a national model “anti-SLAPP” bill under this legislation that we strongly support. Senate Bill 203 just had its first hearing. ONMA and other supporting groups expect to testify on Nov. 8.  The bill creates an expedited court process to dispose of cases against those who are sued for exercising their free-speech rights under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.