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FOI Advocates Pleased With Legislature's Lack of Action

Chion Wolf

Efforts to change the state's laws regarding access to public information have apparently stalled. That comes as good news to those who advocate for freedom of information. 

Lawmakers passed a bill restricting access to audio and crime scene photos having to do with homicides. Efforts to expand those provisions failed to gain support.

Since the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the state legislature has wrestled with how to protect crime victims and public information at the same time. At the end of the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that restricted access to audio and crime scene photos having to do with homicides. Efforts this year to expand those provisions failed to gain support.

Jim Smith, a former newspaper editor, and head of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, appeared on WNPR'sWhere We Live. He said, "The most destructive part about that legislation was that it, for the first time, shifted the burden of proof from the government to the people. It has always been that the government must say why they can hide information, and prove why. Now, under this legislation, it would be that the people have to prove why they can have it."

Two bills came before the legislature. At various times, they included measures that would have created a procedure by which the public could see, but not copy, some crime scene photos. Violating that law would have been a misdemeanor.

Where We Live host John Dankosky asked Smith why the public should care. "The founding fathers made the press free so it could be a watchdog on government," Smith said, "so it could inform the people what the government is doing. The more that is kept from the people -- the more that is hidden from the people about what the government is doing -- the less of a democracy we have."

The law passed last year restricted access to some audio recordings depicting homicide victims. That law expired this week. Smith called it a small victory.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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