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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Connecticut lawmakers pass bill to keep murder records secret

This may sound familiar to Utahns: A bill drastically changing government-records laws is secretly drafted and rushed through with little time for public comment.

In a scenario reminiscent of the HB477 debacle, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill that makes records of murder cases private. The bill, which was drafted in secret by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s staff, the state’s top prosecutor and leaders in the legislature, was a response to the Sandy Hook shootings, where a gunman killed 20 students and six teachers before committing suicide.

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The bill, which did not go through the public hearing process and was passed at the end of the legislature’s session, exempts photos, film or digital images depicting homicide victims, as well as 911 calls describing the condition of a victim. It also shifts the burden of proof from the state to the requester, who has to make the case why a record should be released.

Malloy said the purpose of the bill was to protect the families from seeing the crime photos on the Internet. Some of the victims’ families support the move.

"I’m fully supportive of an open and transparent government, but I can’t understand how distributing graphic photos of murdered teachers and children serves any purpose other than causing our families more pain," Dean Pinto, whose 6-year-old son, Jack, was killed in the school shooting, was quoted in reports as saying.

The law initially only dealt with the Sandy Hook case, but was expanded to cover all homicides in the Nutmeg State, which sets a bad precedent, critics warn.

"What they’re doing here is protecting the family … but it becomes a slippery slope," said David Cuillier, president-elect of the Society of Professional Journalists. "Anything that makes someone uncomfortable, the government can make secret."

H/t to the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press.



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