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Five bills that could affect your access to public information in CT

Connecticut State Capitol
Jim Bowen
/
Creative Commons

During this year’s legislative session, Connecticut lawmakers are considering a handful of bills that could affect access to public information and public participation in government business.

These bills concern the records of cemetery associations, public comment periods and remote meetings.

Here’s five of the bills this session that could affect public information and participation.

House Bill 5269

What it does: House Bill 5269 would allow municipalities to continue holding remote public meetings. Public agencies started using these in 2020 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the piece of the public act that allowed remote access meetings is set to sunset April 30. The bill extends that time and includes requirements that agencies post notice of the public meeting.

Where it is in the legislature: It passed through the Planning and Development Committee on March 18 and has been filed with the legislative commissioners’ office.

Support: Supporters say that remote meetings make it easier for the public to participate in meetings because it offers more flexibility for people to participate from home. The Freedom of Information Commission was among the groups that voiced support.

Opposition: Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, opposed the bill and said that remote meetings make it harder for people to talk directly with their elected officials.

House Bill 5362

What it does: House Bill 5362 requires public comment periods at public agency meetings. The goal is to make sure the public can participate in government meetings and share their perspectives ahead of any votes.

Where it is in the legislature: The bill passed through the Planning and Development Committee on March 18 and has been filed with the legislative commissioners’ office.

Support: Ken Girardin, the director of policy and research for the Yankee Institute, filed testimony in support of the bill. Girardin noted that the bill codifies a Connecticut tradition of allowing participation in local government without adding cost.

Opposition: None was noted in public documents.

House Bill 5211

What it does: House Bill 5211 would officially designate cemetery associations that use public funds as public agencies that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The associations would have to hold annual meetings and keep the meeting minutes for at least 20 years.

Where it is in the legislature: The bill had a public hearing March 4 and was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Support: The Freedom of Information Commission and the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information submitted testimony in support of the bill. The commission said it would increase government transparency.

Opposition: Robert Gross, a volunteer for the Center Street Cemetery Association in Wallingford, said he felt “we are being harassed by this bill,” because the association is a non-profit. Gross also noted that there are other organizations that receive public funding that aren’t subject to the FOI Act.

House Bill 5378

What it does: House Bill 5378 would add employees of the attorney general’s office to a list of public agency employees whose home addresses are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Those employees already include judges, law enforcement officers and Department of Correction workers, among other staffers.

Where it is in the legislature: The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections and had a public hearing March 11.

Support: Attorney General William Tong submitted testimony in support of the bill, as did the Association of Connecticut Assistant Attorney Generals, Local 6574. Supporters say that some of the issues handled by the attorney general’s office can get contentious, and some employees have been harassed. Tong cited one case in which an assistant attorney general was stalked and harassed, resulting in an arrest.

Opposition: The Freedom of Information Commission submitted testimony against the bill, saying that while the initial statute was meant to address safety concerns, particularly for those involved in the justice system, “every year, it seems, another agency or another profession attempts to have the addresses of its employees included in Section 1-217 without really understanding the limited scope of the statute.” The commission added that there are other ways, including the internet and land records, to find residential addresses.

Senate Bill 203

What it does: Senate Bill 203 increases fees paid to the state marshal for services such as delivering summons, restraining orders and subpoenas and adds the marshal to the list of state employees whose home addresses are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Where it is in the legislature: The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee and had a public hearing on March 4.

Support: The State Marshal Association of Connecticut was among those to submit testimony in favor of the bill, saying that state marshals have the “status of peace officer but we lack the privacy protections that other peace officers are afforded under our laws.”

Opposition: The Freedom of Information Commission opposed the portion of the bill that concerned home addresses for many of the same reasons listed for House Bill 5378.