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Bills on the Governor’s desk: Economic enhancement district, public access counselor bill

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Posted at 10:15 PM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 22:15:24-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The legislative session is nearing the end and lawmakers are scrambling to get their bills pushed through.

One bill that was amended to make some major changes is House Enrolled Act 138. The bill allows for governing bodies to create rules and policies for public meetings.

Republican Sen. Aaron Freeman tacked on language to that bill that changes how the Public Access Counselor interprets state code and law.

When issuing an advisory opinion, the Public Access Counselor may consider only the plain text of the public access laws and valid Indiana court opinions. It also specifies that the Public Access Counselor serves at the pleasure of the Governor.

Freeman says there have been concerns about the opinions that counselor has released in the past. He says some feel those decision were to liberal.

"This doesn't change anything about the open-door law,” Freeman said. "It doesn't change anything about public meetings, it simply says the code is written in a way that we send out of here and that code should mean something."

Freeman says the controversy where two Hamilton East Public Library Board members met at a coffee shop with a lawyer drew concern.

The Public Access Counselor ruled they violated the open-door law, an opinion some thought was too liberal.

While Freeman believes this won’t change the counselors job, government transparency experts say this could limit the how the Public Access Counselor does his job.

"I am worried that there might be a chilling effect on the access counselor when it comes to making decisions about contentious disputes between members of the public,” Gerry Lanosga, a Journalism professor at IU and member of the Indiana Coalition for open government, said.

Another bill on the governor's desk is House Enrolled Act 1199. The legislation changes the economic enhancement district in the city of Indianapolis.

It no longer requires apartments or homeowners to be included in the tax. It also expands the mile square boundary to two miles of downtown. These changes will require the city to pass a new ordinance by the end of this year.

Advocates of the district say even though there are changes, this is a win for Indianapolis and Indiana as a whole.

"This is a huge step forward to be able to have those dollars,” Taylor Hughes, with the Indy Chamber, said. “We will continue to go out and bring more partners into this conversation, whether from a financial resource perspective or partners in implementation.”

The Indianapolis economic enhancement district would take funding from businesses to address safety, cleanliness and homelessness in downtown Indy.