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Rep. Adam Dunsby (R-135-Easton) Supports Bill (HB 5175) Aiming to Limit Citizens from Submitting FOI Inquiries to Obtain Desired Information from Public Officials

Report by Paula Antolini
February 25, 2018 11:00PM EDT

 

 

OPINION / LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Rep. Adam Dunsby (R-135-Easton) Supports Bill (HB 5175) Aiming to Limit Citizens from Submitting FOI Inquiries to Obtain Desired Information from Public Officials

In a letter submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly / Government Administration and Elections Committee, dated February 26, 2018, for the upcoming Public Hearing of the same date, CT State Representative Adam Dunsby (R) of the 135th District, submitted his testimony in support of HB 5175: An Act Concerning Appeals Under the Freedom of Information Act.

Apparently Dunsby, and others, want to limit how much information a citizen can obtain from public officials or how often, indicating that anything over an amount determined by public officials to be “vexatious” is an aim to harass them and not simply to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In his testimony Dunsby states in part (view full testimony here), “The public has the right to access public documents and to observe the meetings of public agencies. However, the public’s right to records must not be transformed into a right to harass and burden public officials. Unfortunately, the unrestricted ability to request records and the FOI process is often used as a tool to harass public officials.”  So the desire of citizens to obtain information they need is a now able to be termed harassment or a burden if this bill passes?

Dunsby states that the bill would “restrict, for a limited period, requesters it identifies as vexatious.  For instance, should an individual submit repetitive, ongoing requests to an agency, the agency could petition the FOIC for relief, for a limited time.”  The exact number of requests that make them “vexatious” is not listed, and by what parameters does an official judge that a requester is annoying or harassing? That is not listed either, and the bill is a bit vague in these areas.

Dunsby also indicates that a person’s record of attending hearings should be weighed in the decision of the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC).  Dunsby states,“The bill also further clarified circumstances the FOIC should consider when judging an appeal as frivolous, such as the complainant’s failure to attend a hearing they requested.”   The stipulation that a person must attend hearings that they are requesting information for was never required before. What does attendance have to do with asking for records on file?

If anything, a person who was unable to attend a specific meeting or meetings might have a greater need to obtain the information about that meeting. In our Town of Bethel it is very common that many important meetings are all held on the same day and time, forcing residents to constantly have to choose only one meeting to attend.  Despite numerous requests to town officials to adjust the schedules to better accommodate residents being able to attend all important meetings, and not have meetings constantly overlap in scheduling, it remains as such for the present time.  This makes an even greater need to request records.

This was HB 5354 in 2017, where the action was: Reserved for Subject Matter Public Hearing … and you can see the members of the GAE committee here.

You can read the public hearing testimony from 2017 here.

In 2017 Representatives from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Connecticut Council of Small Towns were in support of Dunsby’s bill.

Opposed in 2017 were Dan Barrett of the ACLU, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Mike Savino, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, and Chris Vande Hoef, executive director of the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association.

 

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CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW TO TESTIFY at the February 26, 2018 Public Hearing.

Or write your letter:

Government Administrations and Elections Committee

  • Legislative Office Building, Room 2200
  • Hartford, CT 06106
  •   (860) 240‑0480
  • Email: gaetestimony@cga.ct.gov
Public Hearing Testimony and Other Written Submissions: Please be aware that all submitted testimony is public record. Depending upon the information you supply, this may reveal some or all of the following: Email address, physical address, phone number, name, age, and other personal information. Mail and FAX submissions are scanned and linked on the Connecticut General Assembly website. This information would also be available to be found using internet search engines.

And/Or contact your legislators to let them know how you feel about HB 5175.

In our area (click on names for info.): Senator Michael McLachlan, Senator Toni Boucher, Representative Stephen Harding, Representative Will Duff.

 

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If you’d like to speak to Rep. Dunsby please know that he will be in Danbury on March 5th when he is hosting a Greater Danbury Transportation Forum with area legislators on at Danbury Town Hall, 155 Deer Hill Avenue in Danbury, CT, with the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner James P. Redeker. You might be able to speak to him in person before or after the forum, about the HB 5175 concerning rights of citizens to obtain information via FOI .

 

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About Adam Dunsby
Adam Dunsby proudly represents Connecticut’s 135th House district, which includes Easton, Weston, and most of Redding. He was first elected in 2016.
He serves on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee; the Education Committee, and the Environment Committee.
Adam is the First Selectman of the Town of Easton, elected in 2013 and running unopposed in 2015 and 2017.

 

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