Ohio House concurs with Senate amendments to HB9; Act heads to Gov. Taft
By Chad D. Baus
It's getting tougher and tougher to know what to believe when the Ohio media writes about legislative action in Columbus.
On Friday, December 15, the Associated Press put out a wire service report entitled "Public records bill clears Legislature". The story, which was subsequently picked up by several Ohio news outlets, said in part:
A bill mandating public-records training for elected officials and stiffening penalties for withholding records, cleared the Ohio Legislature this week.
...Sponsored by Sen. Scott Oelslager and backed by Ohio newspapers, the bill contained one key concession: journalists will no longer have free access to information on concealed-carry permit holders.
As I noted in a story on HB9 earlier that day, Senate passage of the bill on December 13 had gone virtually unnoticed by the media. I also noted that the bill still faced concurrence in the House.
And then came this mysterious AP story. Knowing that HB9 had been withdrawn from the House calendar for further study on Thursday, and that the House had not held session on Friday, I was immediately suspicious that the story was wrong.
Was it possible that the Associated Press had mistaken Senate action on the bill to mean that it had "cleared the Legislature"? Indeed, had the word "Legislature" been replaced by "Senate", the AP story would have been true. But as written, the headline and opening paragraph were completely, 100% wrong.
Hard to believe? Then consider the following Cleveland Plain Dealer article, dated five days later, Tuesday December 19, 2006:
The Ohio House today is expected to give final approval to a bill that open government advocates say will improve access to public records.
... The House is expected to agree to Senate changes to the bill, including a few that open government advocates don't like.
... The bill - which has been debated off and on for much of the 126th General Assembly-is a result of a statewide public records audit done by media organizations that showed that only 52 percent of public records requests were being fulfilled.
It can now be reported that HB9 truly HAS "cleared the Ohio Legislature", a full five days after the Associated Press erroneously claimed that it did. A vote of 52 yeas, 39 nays was cast at 2:20 p.m. Tuesday December 19.
HB9, which includes an attempt by the legislature to clarify its intent for giving journalists access to records of concealed handgun license-holders, will now face the threat of a gubernatorial veto. Earlier this year, Bob Taft threatened to veto the legislation if the House version remained. Thus far, there is no indiction as to whether the current provision would appease Taft.
If HB9 becomes law, the burden will be, as it has always been, on the media to honor the will of the General Assembly, and to prove they want the information only for the purposes they originally claimed (verifying training and background checks were being properly conducted), and not as a means of gaining access to foster a wholesale publishing of the list.
One wonders how the AP will cover today's events, given that they already did...five days before they happened.
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