The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 10, 2020 1:00 am

Indiana voices

Costly effects of legislative secrecy

The outcome of a six-year-old case regarding lethal injection drugs in Indiana could jeopardize the public's access to information.

The public has a right to information about how the state is executing people. Such life-and-death decisions shouldn't be made in the dark. The issue has nothing to do with your position on the death penalty – and everything to do with government accountability and transparency.

The state of Indiana sees it differently. In 2017, Republican lawmakers went so far as to quietly – stealthily – insert a last-minute provision into the budget bill authorizing the state to conceal details of the purchase of new lethal injection drugs. The measure wasn't debated in committee and became public when the budget was released on the last day of the session in 2017.

These machinations were in response to a lawsuit filed after the Department of Corrections refused to release information regarding the drugs used in executions and any correspondence related to execution procedure.

Katherine Toomey, a Washington, D.C., attorney who had made the request in 2014 under Indiana's Access to Public Records Act, won a non-binding decision by the Public Access Counselor and summary judgment in the Circuit Court in 2016. Indiana appealed and lost.

The law that was conveniently tucked into the budget bill – which was retroactive – was struck down last year by a Marion Circuit Court judge. The judge also awarded $538,000 in attorney fees to plaintiffs who had sued the department to obtain records about the means it would use to execute a condemned criminal. The department is asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn the court's order.

The $538,000 in attorney fees is just part of the cost to Hoosiers when state officials enact laws in secrecy. The greater price is exacted by the undermining of the public's right to know.

– South Bend Tribune

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