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Indiana Statehouse

Source: (Photo: Abdul-Hakim Shabazz/WIBC)

STATEHOUSE — When Hoosiers have questions about public access laws they go to the state’s public access counselor who then issues opinions on those situations citing state law.

The office was created by Gov. Frank O’Bannon by executive order in the early 2000s. A bill in the Indiana legislature will have some impact on how whoever is in the offices conducts themselves.

The bill would place some new guidelines on the job which was the subject of some debate in the Indiana House on Wednesday.

They discussed a Senate amendment authored by State Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) to the bill that would require the public access counselor to only consider “plainly written” public access laws and “valid” Indiana court rulings when writing the advisory opinions.

But another part of the amendment would also have the public access counselor serve “at the pleasure of the governor” and not a four-year term which is what they currently serve once appointed by the governor.

Democrats say that leaves the door open for a revolving door.

“That person for four years has the independence to make rulings and advisory opinions that might upset people, that might make people mad,” said State Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington). “This bill is changing the term … so that essentially means that if someone gets made enough, or maybe the governor themselves gets mad, they could just remove the person.”

Pierce said that is inserting politics into what is supposed to be a nonpartisan job.

State Rep. J.D. Prescott (R-Union City), who is the original author of the bill, said the amendment will have little changes on the day-to-day of the job.

“People are still going to be able to go to the public access counselor, ask for opinions,” he said. “It’s just going to clarify that he or she will be using Indiana law, Indiana court opinions. ”

Democrats also say the amendment does not address what the public access counselor should do if there is a true gray area for a situation brought to their attention in trying to give an advisory opinion. Prescott countered that if that happens then the counselor can bring it to the attention of lawmakers who can then act accordingly.

The bill was one of several more to be passed by lawmakers on Wednesday as they have now less than 48 hours to get bills through the legislature and onto Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk by the end of the session.