Posts by Michael Savino

Testimony Sought for FOI BILLS

Connecticut SPJ’s Board of Directors strongly urges journalists and news outlets to submit testimony during public hearings this week on a number of proposed bills that affect public access to information.

The Government Administration and Elections Committee’s March 7 public hearing includes legislation that, as written, would greatly expand when a public board or agency could call an executive session (HB 5501). The proposal would allow public officials to close off meetings from the public for any consultation with an attorney of the public agency concerning legal matters. This is a tremendous expansion beyond what is currently allowed under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

A second piece of legislation (HB 5512) would allow municipalities to charge additional fees whenever someone files a FOI request for commercial purposes. The bill expressly states that journalists are exempt from the legislation, although it doesn’t define what constitutes a news outlet. Additional, this bill goes against the FOI Act, which does not grant a public agency to consider the intent of a requester, and this proposal would thus go against the spirit of the FOI Act. The bill also appears to give tremendous flexibility to how much a town can charge, making it potentially cost prohibitive for a requester whose intentions are deemed to be for commercial purposes. Lastly, this bill sets a dangerous precedent in chipping away at the public’s ability to easily access information.

GAE will also hear comments on a proposal requiring the preservation of and improving access to some historical records of value (HB 5499). The bill would improve access to some government records of value, including medical records. This would allow for a better examination on the way certain health ailments or conditions were treated in the past, as well as how the medical history of historically significant people may have affected their actions.

The committee’s hearing begins at 1 p.m., or written testimony can be sent to

The Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee will hear testimony during its March 8 public hearing on a bill that would moderately expand the amount of information that the University of Connecticut Foundation is required to make publicly available (SB 333). It would allow the foundation, though, to otherwise maintain its statutory exemption from the FOI Act.

Testimony can be sent to

Letter to lawmakers regarding police records and FOI

The Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has sent the following letter to the co-chairs of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. The committee is hearing a proposal to undo a Supreme Court ruling from July and make the FOI Commission’s 20-year standard on police records into law. The committee was scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday but instead held it to allow for a compromise.

Chairmen Rep. Jutila and Sen. Cassano,

The Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists asks that you allow the Government Administration and Elections Committee to pass HB 6750 as originally proposed.

The bill, as proposed, still provides exemptions that address the concerns raised by Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane and law enforcement officials.

But it also provides the public access to the information that it needs to hold police departments accountable when there are allegations of excessive force or other wrong doing.

While all information becomes public when police close an investigation, that process can take years.

It can be very difficult for the public to hold officers accountable years after allegations of wrong doing, which is unacceptable given the fact that police departments are charged with protecting and serving that very public.

The original proposal puts into statute a standard that the Freedom of Information Commission had utilized successfully for 20 years. Efforts to scale back this standard will greatly harm the public’s ability to seek transparency. And with court rulings and public policy decisions, both in Connecticut and nationwide, that have limited the public’s access to information, it is important that the General Assembly say that transparency still matters.

Advocates urge more access to police records as legislature considers bill

The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee held a public hearing Friday on H.B. 6570, which would restore public access to police records to its level prior to the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Commissioner of Public v. Freedom of Information Commission.
That ruling requires police departments to only make available to the public booking information and one other item, be it an arrest report, incident summary, or basic press release, while an investigation remains pending. HB 6750, though, would make all documents available with the exception of specific exemptions.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane testified that the additional information required under the proposed bill could potentially harm witnesses or victims, hamper police investigation, and even disgrace defendants who are later found not guilty. That Connecticut Police Chief’s Association raised similar concerns in its testimony. Kane said the State’s Attorney’s Office is currently working on a blanket policy for state, and even local police, and urged legislators to wait for it before deciding if more steps are necessary.
But FOIC Executive Director Colleen Murphy said the state’s FOI statutes and the commission’s interpretation granted exemptions for police when the release of information posed an actual harm. She said the burden was placed on police to claim the exemption, but the FOIC rarely questioned police when basic proof was provided. She also said that legislation would be much strong that policy, which police could change whenever they wanted.
Others, including CT SPJ, the Connecticut Council on FOI, and the CT ACLU, testified that access to this information is crucial for those who wish to hold police departments accountable. They also said that waiting for a case to resolve could take years, at which point the information may not longer be relevant to public discussion or concerns.
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