Media Access Loophole fix eviscerated in Senate committee

By Chad D. Baus

Since April 2005, this political action committee has been documenting legislative attempts to remove Bob Taft's ridiculous media access loophole, which calls concealed handgun license records private but gives journalists access to the private, personal information of license-holders.

The first attempt involved Rep. Bill Seitz, who tabled a proposal to modify House Bill 9, the media and Taft-backed public records reform bill, after Taft vowed a veto. Later that year, another attempt to close the media access loophole came when Rep. Jim Aslanides introduced HB347. The provision was removed from HB347 in March 2006, when Taft again vowed to veto the bill over that provision, and finally inserted into HB9 via a floor amendment introduced by Rep. Tom Brinkman. The bill passed 93-1 and was sent to the Senate, which has taken the bill up under consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil Justice, chaired by Sen. David Goodman.

On Wednesday, December 6, a substitute bill was introduced in the committee, and the provision dealing with media access has been altered significantly.

From the December 6, 2006 Hannah Report:

[The substitute bill] amends the current process that allows journalists to access copies of lists of names of concealed carry permit holders. The sub-bill stipulates that journalists may see the list of permits that have been revoked, but may not have copies. According to Sen. Fingerhut, the bill is silent as to whether journalists may copy the names in "their little notepads" or by some technology. Fingerhut speculated that perhaps they ought to use "photographic memory" when accessing these lists.

And later in the story:

Senators debated the definition of journalist with Frank Deaner from the Ohio Newspaper Association. The definition in law has not kept pace with the expansion of web-based and blog writing. Deaner addressed the question of journalist access to the concealed carry list saying the bill really has two problems (beyond the one Fingerhut noted). The first dilemma is that of granting access to public records based on the profession of the requester. Deaner said concealed carry records ought to be open to anyone. The second question is whether or not that teenaged blogger is a journalist or whether only paid employees of traditional news outlets are.

The Hannah Report noted that Chairman Goodman said the bill will be discussed further and perhaps amended before it is brought to a vote.

Senator Lynn Wachtmann, who sits on the committee, voiced his displeasure with having the fix removed, and this writer can report that Wachtmann plans to offer an amendment (LSC 123 0243-12 - "Journalist access to concealed carry permit list") to reinsert the original language back into the bill next week.

In coverage of the modifications, the Columbus Dispatch reported that while the bill would no longer eliminate a journalist’s ability to view county lists of concealed-carry gun-permit holders, the latest version will not allow reporters to get physical copies of the list.

From the story:

"It still allows a reporter to go in and make sure (the sheriff) is running an honest process," said Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

"It’s not everything we asked for, but I think this is a fairly decent compromise," he said of the whole bill.

Sen. David Goodman, a New Albany Republican and chairman of the Senate Civil Justice Committee, said he expects the bill will be voted out of committee next week.

As noted earlier, the bill passed the House overwhelmingly in March. However, as the Dispatch notes, the
Senate is dismembering several compromises worked on by House members, including Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, an influential voice in crafting the bill.

Again, from the story:

Seitz said he hasn’t decided whether to recommend the House reject the Senate changes, but he’s concerned about the changes to the definition of records, the elimination of the access counselor and the gun-permit records compromise.

"Journalists can simply copy all the names down and publish them anyway," Seitz said.

Citing Governor Taft’s new-found championing of Home Rule authority, as reflected in his veto of H.B. 347, Buckeye Firearms Association is calling on Governor Taft to veto H.B. 9 on the same grounds if it reaches his desk.

“This is an area of home-rule where local government is absolute and cannot be infringed, unlike firearm laws,” said Ken Hanson, the organization’s legislative chairman to the Toledo Blade. “State-level public records laws are a clear infringement on home-rule authority delegated to municipalities to the extent the state dictates to municipalities how to meet, what paper to keep, and who they must give it to.”

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