2024 legislative session highlights

By Liz Gemski, Kozak & Salina

I have represented the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information (CCFOI) for the last five years and over that time, legislation that would add to the list of exemptions or would restrict the ability of the public’s right to know has steadily increased. What started-out as a handful of bills five years ago that would restrict information has turned into a baker’s dozen this year.  

These proposals spanned from adding to the list of state employees whose home address is exempt from FOIA to exempting police body cameras in certain situations and exempting all documents associated with the state’s public universities.  Yet what is being lost in these pieces of legislation is the public’s access to government records.  

Many of the proposals seem reasonable and designed to protect the personal privacy of citizens.  However, what is being lost in these discussions is the broader implications or unintended consequences of restricting the public’s access to government and government records.  

CCFOI plays a pivotal and often lonely role in these discussions and debates over preserving and protecting the freedom of information in cooperation with the Freedom of Information Commission.  Yet as the number of proposals that would chip away at the FOIA have increased over the past five years, so have the number of legislators willing to speak-out and act to preserve the freedom of information.  Which is why only three proposals — one a result of a compromise, one was altered to mitigate impacts to FOIA, and one unchanged — passed both chambers this session.  

Of the 13 proposals that were introduced, CCFOI worked with FOIC and the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) on compromise language to achieve the agency’s goal while ensuring that the impact to FOIA was minimal in SB 234.  The bill expanded the exemption of FOIA to signed witness statements during an investigation as well as images of individuals associated with victims.  

Of the remaining 12 bills, two passed.

These bills include:

  • 1) the proposal by the Office of Policy Management (OPM) to require FOIA requests be referred to the agency that originally held the information (SB 256) in the ARPA budget bill; and
  • 2) the election safety and security bill (HB 5498) which was greatly pared down to include only temporarily exempting election workers home address during the election season and was void of any restrictions on the voter file.

Unfortunately, the AI bill, SB 2, a continuation of efforts from last year regarding state government’s use of AI, did not make the hurdle with opposition from the governor, the business community and big tech.  That bill will be back next year as a major priority for the Senate.  Additionally, the FOIC’s legislative proposal, which would have updated current law to align with technological advances as well as remove irrelevant or outdated provisions of the FOIA, did not advance in either chamber this session.  

Additionally, the FOIC’s budget was not subject to budget cuts by the governor despite the General Assembly’s inaction to re-open the biennium budget.  The FOIC’s budget was also not swept in the current fiscal year because of deficit mitigation efforts.  

CCFOI had an eventful legislative session, right up until midnight on Wednesday, May 8 when two new FOI exemptions, in addition the previously mentioned 13, were inserted into legislation but failed to pass both chambers. 

Despite a handful of proposals clearing both chambers, CCFOI and FOIC had a successful 2024 legislative session.