That rumble you hear is Ella T. Grasso turning over in her grave in disgust at the damage today’s public officials are doing to the cherished concept of open government that she and lawmakers of her time bequeathed to the state.
“Secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy,” declared the preamble of the landmark Freedom of Information Act signed by Gov. Grasso in 1975. Those proud FOIA pioneers who put Connecticut at the forefront of government transparency would be aghast at how much secrecy clouds the public sphere today and how much trickery is used to advance secrecy’s cause.
Many public officials — legislators, prosecutors and the police — simply find it inconvenient to trust the public with the truth.
The leading immediate battle in the fight against secrecy centers on House Bill 6750, which began life this session as a means to reverse a bad state Supreme Court decision.
The justices had, in their decision last year, severely restricted the amount of information that police departments are required to disclose about arrests to so-called blotter information and either an incident report or a press release. Under the court decision, police would not be required to release such vital information as the increasingly important footage from body cameras — information that holds clues as to whether law enforcement officers are doing their jobs properly and with respect for civilians.
House Bill 6750 as originally written was indeed a good antidote to the Supreme Court’s suffocating restrictions. It would have required that all arrest records be open to the public unless they are exempted for reasons already covered by law, such as to protect the identity of informants or to avoid prejudicing a prosecution.
The bill passed the government administration and elections committee comfortably — only to be bastardized in a surprise move by the judiciary committee. Judiciary, at the behest of Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, rewrote House Bill 6750 to restore the court’s meager disclosure requirements.
This is disgraceful. The disclosure of arrest records is needed to hold the police — in important ways the most powerful of government agencies — accountable and to elevate the public’s trust in government.
Mr. Kane and transparency advocates talk of negotiating a compromise. But HB 6750 should be restored to its original wording and passed by the General Assembly.