CCFOI testimony: SB 355 and HB 5410

CCFOI supports SB 355, which clarifies confusing language in the law.

CCFOI opposes HB 5410 as overly broad and unnecessary, as the FOIA already allows exemptions for investigative records and personal safety concerns. The language as proposed would limit access to key information regarding the decision-making processes of the state police as well as the administration of a vitally important program.

See Michele Jacklin’s full testimony here and below.

SB 355, AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION FOR REVISIONS TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT; and

HB 5410, AN ACT EXEMPTING INFORMATION CONCERNING CERTAIN VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS FROM DISCLOSURE UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

Government Administration and Elections Committee

March 8, 2024

Good morning Sen. Flexer, Rep. Blumenthal, Ranking Members Sampson and Mastrofrancesco and Honorable Members of the GAE Committee:

My name is Michele Jacklin, and I am legislative co-chair of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information (CCFOI). We are a 69-year-old organization comprised of CT news media outlets and First Amendment supporters. Our mission is to advocate for and promote government transparency, public access, strong Freedom of Information laws and other measures that guarantee the rights of individuals and journalists under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the state Constitution.

CCFOI supports SB 355 in its entirety. It is a bill that is virtually identical to one approved by this committee in 2022 and 2023 but which was not taken up by the House and Senate. Simply put, much of the bill clarifies statutory language that is confusing and/or ambiguous, including the definition of “governmental function.”

As an example of statutory language in need of clarification, SB 355 specifies that the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) should not be required to conduct training on smoking and vaping in public buildings, duties that have nothing to do with FOIC’s mission or with government transparency or public access to records.

Most notably and on a positive note, the bill would drag Connecticut into the 21st century by acknowledging technology that has existed for many years. It would broaden the definition of hand-held devices to include mobile phones and allow the public to use such phones to take photographs of public documents. The bill DOES NOT change the existing fee structure.

CCFOI opposes HB 5410 on the grounds that it is so broad that even final dispositions by the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) could be withheld from public disclosure. With respect to records compiled during the course of an investigation by the CHRO, that information is already exempted in other statutes. Thus, this particular language in HB 5410 is redundant and unnecessary.

Similarly, if there is a concern that revealing information in the “Bring Me Back Home” registry could imperil an individual’s safety and security, there is a statutory exemption in the FOIA that addresses that concern.

The FOIA allows public agencies to shield records “when there are reasonable grounds to believe disclosure may result in a safety risk, including the risk of harm to any person.” Thus, creating this new exemption is the equivalent of statutory overkill.

Lastly, CCFOI does not object to withholding personally identifiable information in the “Bring Me Back Home” registry, but again, as it is written, the language is overly broad and would limit access to key information regarding the decision-making processes of the state police as well as the administration of a vitally important program.

Thank you for your consideration.
Michele Jacklin
CCFOI Legislative Co-Chair