Two legislative committees met at the same time on Monday to discuss two very similar bills that would limit access to public documents. The bills are part of the state's response to the 2012 shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
State Sen. Don Williams
The bills at issue are the product of the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public's Right to Know, which lawmakers set up last year. The legislation would limit public access to 911 audio tapes, some crime scene photos, and law enforcement audio recordings.
Don Williams, the state's leading Democratic senator, voted to establish the task force, but he doesn't like what it came up with. "This legislation is unnecessary," he said. "It is not only counterproductive; it is destructive. It will result in less transparency in our criminal justice system; less attention paid to the needs of families in poor, high-crime neighborhoods; and will make it harder to discover flaws in our criminal justice system and bring about effective reform."
Kevin Kane, the state's top prosecutor, called this bill a good compromise. "We all agree that the public has an important right to know for very important reasons," he said. "We also agree that, in a civilized society, a government has the obligation to protect the dignity and the privacy of people who inadvertently come in contact with the government. Nobody asks to be murdered. Nobody asks to have a family member be murdered."
The bills themselves have generated a fair amount of discussion. But so has the legislative process by which they're being heard. Two committees -- judiciary and government administration and elections -- held simultaneous public hearings on the measures.
Representatives of the state's news organizations objected to holding two hearings at once, saying that the schedule would make it hard for people to testify to both committees. Legislators heard that concern, but moved ahead anyway.