Federal laws such as the Freedom of Information Act, and state laws like Ohio’s Public Records and Open Meetings acts, were designed to promote citizen involvement and government accountability. Transparency allows for increased public awareness of government functions and actions, a higher level of efficiency and accountability, and a deeper sense of trust between leadership and the community.
What's Happening in Ohio
UPDATE: On November 19, 2014, the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee voted 9 to 4 to approve House Bill 663. The bill then went before the full Ohio House of Representatives on November 20, 2014, where it passed 61 to 25. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted to approve the bill on December, 11, 2014. Key majority party legislators were replaced on the committee in order to pass the bill. Although the bill was greatly amended during the committee process by removing several unjust components, the secrecy provisions still remain in place and the ACLU of Ohio remains adamantly opposed. The full Senate passed the amended bill on December, 11, 2014 with a vote of 20 to 10. HB 663 will now be sent back to the full House for a vote.
It’s no secret that Ohio has had major problems with executions. In under a decade, there have been four botched executions. Now legislators want to make sure the public and certain legal counsel will be kept in the dark about what happens in the execution chamber, shrouding all aspects of lethal injections in secrecy.
Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, we all must agree that executions must adhere to our Constitution and basic human decency. By removing all transparency and accountability, it will be impossible for us to know whether lethal injections are humane and legal.
For more information, please read ACLU of Ohio Testimony against House Bill 663 before the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, and listen to The Civil Liberties Minute: Secret Executions in America podcast.
Secrecy only undermines public trust. The stakes are especially high because Ohio wants to use unregulated compounding pharmacies to supply lethal injection drugs. These companies’ drugs are not monitored for safety and efficacy, meaning another botched execution is even more likely.
We don’t need more problems with our executions and a hastily passed secrecy bill is a recipe for disaster.
In 2011, Ohio began a plan to privatize the state’s Department of Development, replacing it with a non-profit known as JobsOhio. The plan was a centerpiece of Governor John Kasich’s legislative agenda. It also allowed JobsOhio to meet in near secret, and exempted them from portions of state public records law.
The plan was made even worse in 2012, when additional loopholes were proposed that further shielded JobsOhio from the public eye. After backlash from public records advocates, including many Ohio newspapers and the ACLU, the new legislation was revised. However, this revision did nothing address the fundamental lack of transparency built into the original JobsOhio plan.
In 2013, a new controversy erupted over whether the state auditor has the authority to audit JobsOhio’s financial records. Click here to learn more this controversy and what’s at stake with JobsOhio.
In April 2010, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court to require Cuyahoga County transition committees to comply with Sunshine Laws. The ACLU sent a public records request to the county for transition records, but the county claimed that the Sunshine Laws do not apply to the committees and refused to turn over those records. Read the press release announcing the suit.
On February 16, 2011, the Court ruled that the transition committees did not have to abide by state public records laws, and found they were private entities. Read the ACLU’s press release and the Court’s decision here.
On November 5, 2009, the ACLU of Ohio announced it would provide legal representation to community activist Brian Bardwell. Bardwell previously requested records detailing the Medical Mart project in Cuyahoga County. When part of his request was denied, Bardwell filed suit, representing himself.
The Eighth District Court of Appeals chastised Bardwell for filing too many lawsuits to enforce public records requests, even though the law contains no limit. The court fined him $1,000 for filing the lawsuit and warned they might bar him from filing future lawsuits. The ACLU of Ohio has appealed his case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
On October 26, 2010 the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision on the groups that there was not enough evidence to show it abused its discretion. Read the ACLU’s press release on the case and the Court’s decision here.