Posts Tagged ‘Connecticut General Assembly’

New law blocks Conn. inmates from accessing guard files

June 8, 2010

By James H. Smith, executive editor, The Bristol Press and New Britain Herald

Both houses of the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation by unanimous acclimation and Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed it into law last week preventing inmates from reading the personnel records of prison guards. 

It is a wholly unnecessary law.

The state Department of Correction, Connecticut’s most secretive agency, did not want inmates having access to guards’ personnel files. Department spokesmen pitched it as inmates after “personal” files. They waned to protect the home addresses of guards. Connecticut state law already protects the home addresses of virtually every state public employee — a no doubt unconstitutional statute, given a recent ruling by a federal judge in Florida.

But Connecticut public officials, when it comes to transparency and open government, too often opt for hiding information.

The state Freedom of Information Commission had lobbied against this most recent piece of legislation as both redundant and against the spirit of open government, but not one politician listened.

Meanwhile in Florida, state and Tallahassee authorities agreed to pay $60,000 in damages and legal fees to Robert Brayshaw and his lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union. Brayshaw, who was arrested and briefly jailed for posting a local police officer’s home address on a cop-rating website, said last week his ordeal was “completely crazy.”

“Just because I posted it, I got arrested. It wasn’t like it was the Pentagon Papers,” Brayshaw, a 35-year-old Tallahassee man, told Now unemployed, he said it has been difficult to get a job because of his 2008 arrest. He spent nearly three hours in jail and was prosecuted under a 1972 statute making it unlawful to publish personally identifying information of a police officer.

Brayshaw’s comments came after the deadline passed for Florida to appeal a federal judge’s decision that declared the First Amendment trumped Florida’s law protecting the privacy of police officers.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak in Tallahassee ruled the First Amendment does not protect “true threats, fighting words, incitements to imminent lawless action, and classes of lewd and obscene speech.” But publishing an officer’s phone number and address, he said, “is not in itself a threat or serious expression of an intent to commit an unlawful act of violence . . . The release of personal information, even with the intent to intimidate, is not per se a true threat . . . Rather, disclosing and publishing information obtained elsewhere is precisely the kind of speech that the First Amendment protects.”

 Brayshaw said the officer “basically had her information listed publicly in the phone book.” He had a beef with the officer regarding a trespassing flap in which he was not charged.


Conn. bill threatens newspaper legal notices

April 4, 2010

By James H. Smith, executive editor, The Bristol Press and New Britain Herald

A committee of the Connecticut General Assembly voted a 13-1 slap at the traditional press and sent to the state Senate a bill that will bleed legal notice advertising out of newspapers.

The bill, originally proposed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, allows requests for bids on municipal projects and other legal notices, to run on municipal websites for free. The notices have been a staple of newspaper advertising for more than a century.

The governor’s budget office predicted towns and cities would save about $2.1 million annually, and, of course, newspapers would lose that revenue at a time they are losing ad revenue like a river flowing inevitably to the sea.

The one committee vote against the measure, came from Tim O’Brien, Democrat of New Britain. There are better ways to save taxpayers’ money, such as through regionalization of services, said O’Brien, a free press advocate.

The Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association has argued that online legal advertising lacks the permanent, archival value of printed ads in a newspaper, while The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities maintains that Internet sites are more accessible to the public and posting online would save towns money.

There is no doubt technology has changed the news business and the media needs to find online revenue streams. But thousands of our readers do not have computers, and thousands more never look at municipal web sites. Legal notices are one way citizens know what their town is doing. Taking that information out of newspapers leaves citizens less informed.

With the intense lobbying going on, it remains anyone’s guess whether the bill will get to the governor’s desk, where she would most assuredly sign it.