Nov 27, 2006

LSJ editorial supports Sunshine Laws and transparency in government

Good job by The Lansing State Journal. The newspaper came out in favor of Sunshine Laws and transparency in government with its editorial against Senate Bill 647. The bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the lame duck session.

The bill states its intent clearly and chillingly: "To restrict the use and disclosure of certain statements made by law enforcement officers."
Here is how this cover-up legislation would work: A police chief suspects that an officer uses excessive force while making arrests or harasses motorists during traffic stops. He questions the officer, whose statements support the chief's belief. Incredibly, what SB 647 seeks is a seal of secrecy of testimony by police officers making it a confidential communication not open to public inspection without the officer's consent.
The motorist who files a harassment complaint or victim of a beating could not learn that the police officer acknowledged these acts. In fact, so sweeping is this measure that if the bad cop sought a job with a different police department, his acknowledgements of beatings and harassment couldn't be shared with the new employer. That is bad policy that weakens Michigan's belief that open government is good government.

The Michigan Press Association has come out against it, and every newspaper in the state should too. Hopefully, every citizen will too. Police officers not only should be held to the same standard as ordinary citizens, but maybe an even higher standard should be in place. Every citizen who supports openness in government should oppose this bill. The argument in support of the bill just does not make sense.

Supporters of the bill say that unlike private citizens who have the right to remain silent when charged with a criminal matter, police officers must testify when ordered to do so by their department. This defense of SB 647 is purposely misleading. Americans have the constitutional right against self-incrimination. But it doesn't apply to their jobs. If an employer suspects that there is theft in the company, it has the right to summon its workers and investigate. Employees refusing to cooperate can be dismissed. They have no special right to refuse questions about wrongdoing. Why are police officers different?


Eric said...

Didn't this come up a few years ago, too? I seem to remember the MPA issuing one of its semi-annual "Here we go again" alerts about Legislative attempts to weaken the public's ability to hold officials accountable.

Communications guru said...

Apparently it was because the editorial said Sen. Alan Cropsey, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, helped derail the bill two years ago. Why it’s back now I have no idea, but my experience tells me some bad laws get by in a lame duck session.
By the way, welcome to the blog, and thanks for posting. I will return the favor.