FROM: The Society of Environmental Journalists
P.O. Box 2492
Jenkintown, PA 19046
Telephone: (215) 884-8174
Fax: (215) 884-8175
November 2, 2005
TO: W. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton)
Chairman, Ohio House Committee on Civil and Commercial Law
Ohio House of Representatives
77 South High Street, 13th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215-6111
Telephone: (614) 752-2438
FAX: (614) 644-9494
Dear Chairman Oelslager:
On behalf of our more than 1,450 members, we are writing to endorse Ohio House Bill 9 and to urge lawmakers to vote for it. The legislation, with its emphasis on education and enforcement, embodies the spirit of open government. We appreciate Ohio's progressive approach to freedom of information and would like to see other states follow its example by considering similar legislation.
The Society of Environmental Journalists (www.sej.org), founded in 1990, is the world's oldest and largest organization of individual working journalists covering environmental issues. The SEJ First Amendment Task Force was formed in March 2002 to, among other things, provide SEJ members with services to help them obtain and use public records and to combat efforts to withhold those records.
Quick access to public records that shed light on topics from water pollution in Lake Erie to air pollution from coal-fired power plants can have an immediate effect on the health and well-being of residents and voters. The information, generally gathered or maintained with taxpayer dollars, belongs to citizens. The proposed law spells out what is public, how to handle records that aren't public, and how to evaluate information requests much more clearly, making it easier for well-intentioned public officials to understand and follow the law. On the other hand, the law packs a new punch for those who try to hide public information. The proposed penalties show that Ohio lawmakers mean business. Those who support the proposed bill are taking a stand for their constituents' right to know about the environment in which they live and the way their tax money is spent.
Some open records violations are caused simply by a misunderstanding of the law. The training included in the bill is among its most valuable measures, helping assure that those who face penalties are deliberate law-breakers.
SEJ encourages Ohio lawmakers to seize this opportunity to become a model for other states and a national leader in its approach to freedom of information. Vote for House Bill 9.
Perry Beeman (Reporter, Des Moines Register)
Ken Ward Jr. (Reporter, Charleston (WV) Gazette)
Chairman, SEJ First Amendment Task Force