Senate passes HB 9, attempts to clean up media access loophole

By Chad D. Baus

Little noticed after the first veto-override in more than a quarter-century was Senate passage of House Bill 9, the public records bill, which contains an attempt by the legislature to clarify its intent for giving journalists access to records of concealed handgun license-holders.

On Wednesday, December 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice, chaired by Sen. David Goodman, voted HB9 out of committee. The bill cleared the full Senate later that day by a 31-1 vote.

From the Canton Repository:

  1. When the legislation left the House on March 15, it allowed applicants for a concealed weapons license to opt out of the release of their names, counties of residence and dates of birth to journalists.

    There is no opt-out provision in current law, which allows journalists to copy the license information. The Senate version approved Wednesday said journalists can view the information but not copy it.

And from today's Dayton Daily News:

  1. Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, said Thursday that the provision would be a "better option" for people opposed to current journalists' access to the names. The Senate approved the bill Wednesday.

    "It's an improvement on existing law, but we don't think it's good enough," said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association. Irvine said his group wants the names of permit holders maintained by county sheriffs kept private. Under the concealed weapons law passed in 2004, journalists, but not the public, are allowed access to lists of the names, counties of residence and birth dates of permit holders.

    ...Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said the provision on journalists' access in the Senate bill represented a compromise that was necessary to win approval of the public records bill.

Following is the actual language of the pending legislation, and additional analysis on why the fix is likely not going to be enough to prevent anti-gun newspapers from obtaining and publishing the names of license-holders.

As per Substitute House Bill 9, as passed by the Senate, the media access loophole language was changed as follows:

  1. (2) Upon a written request made to a sheriff and signed by a (a) A journalist, on or after the effective date of this section April 8, 2004, the may submit to a sheriff shall disclose to the journalist a signed, written request to view the name, county of residence, and date of birth of each person to whom the sheriff has issued a license or replacement license to carry a concealed handgun, renewed a license to carry a concealed handgun, or issued a temporary emergency license or replacement temporary emergency license to carry a concealed handgun under section 2923.125 or 2923.1213 of the Revised Code, or a signed, written request to view the name, county of residence, and date of birth of each person for whom the sheriff has suspended or revoked a license to carry a concealed handgun or a temporary emergency license to carry a concealed handgun under section 2923.128 of the Revised Code. The request shall include the journalist's name and title, shall include the name and address of the journalist's employer, and shall state that disclosure of the information sought would be in the public interest. If a journalist submits a signed, written request to the sheriff to view the information described in this division, the sheriff shall grant the journalist's request. The journalist shall not copy the name, county of residence, or date of birth of each person to or for whom the sheriff has issued, suspended, or revoked a license described in this division.

Clearly, the Senate (where the media access loophole originated in the first place) is attempting to clarify that it never intended to have journalists printing the entire list of CHL-holders in newspapers. While we appreciate their efforts, comments from Sen. Eric Fingerhut suggest anti-gun journalists will quickly set about to find the loopholes in the loophole.

The December 13, 2006 Hannah Report quotes Sen. Eric Fingerhut as saying the provision in the bill dealing with media access to the lists of persons receiving a concealed handgun licenses is "blatantly absurd."

  1. "It's crazy to authorize a reporter to look at a public record but not be allowed to write it down. What if they memorize five names and write them down when they leave the building?

    "What if they have a photographic memory and can remember them all?

    "What does 'copy' mean? To xerox? Or write it in their notebooks?"

(It bears noting that Fingerhut never had such concerns about making sure gun owners had a clear definition of "plain sight").

This same problem was addressed by President Harris with the DDN, who seems to be suggesting that, at least in his mind, "copy" refers only to the xerox variety:

  1. Asked if the Senate version would permit reporters to take notes while viewing the [license] holders' names, Harris said he thought that reporters would be "sharp enough to have their pencil there.

    "They would not be copying, but they would be taking notes," said Harris.

    Tim Smith, a lawyer and journalism professor at Kent State University who specializes in public records issues, said the Senate version represented lawmakers "pandering to gun nuts."

    Smith said that the law wouldn't prohibit journalists from reading the names of permit holders into a tape recorder and compiling a list that way.

It is not yet clear as to whether the bill will become law, even if the House concurs with the amendments. As noted in the Canton Repository, Gov. Bob Taft had threatened to veto the legislation earlier this year if the House version remained, according to bill sponsor Rep. Scott Oelslager. On the other hand, if the Senate removed the provision completely to satisfy Taft, then the House was not expected to go along, thus killing the bill. Thus far, there is no indiction as to whether the current provision would appease Taft.

When one reads the entire bill, and considers how truly invasive this bill is when it comes to Home Rule, it serves to clarify how hypocritical the media and their bed-buddy Taft were in claiming they opposed HB347 over Home Rule concerns. (For more on this subject, see Home Rule Champions Need To Be Consistent In Their Logic, in which Buckeye Firearms Association prods Taft to veto HB9.)

Note also that the same editorial boards who were only days ago lambasting the "lame-duck" Senate as "over-reaching", "abusive", "unconcerned with the will of the people", etc. for overturning a veto of HB347, are now approving of this same Senate for moving their pet bill.

To wit, from the Canton Repository:

  1. "We didn't get everything we originally asked for," said Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. "But on balance, this is still a good bill. It does meet our original objective in incorporating improvements that help the process, procedures and recourse."

Passage of this bill would mark the first attempt by the General Assembly to clarify its intent in giving journalists access to the records. If it 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.

I won't hold my breath.

Related Story: Cleveland CHL-holder defends lives; Plain Dealer mum

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