By Robert Storace
NEW BRITAIN — Members of the city’s five-person legislative delegation is mixed on whether or not to sign a pledge to protect the independence of the Freedom of Information Commission and oppose weakening it, but all agreed the FOIC serves a vital purpose in the state.
“I do not sign pledges, it’s been a practice of mine. But, I do support the FOI and the people’s right to know,” said State Rep. Betty Boukus, D-22. “Transparency in government is very important.”
As of the week of Feb. 10 only 30 of the state’s 187 legislators, or about 16 percent, signed the pledge which was mailed late last year and emailed again last month. Several legislators, including Boukus, State Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-6 and State Rep. Rick Lopes, D-24, said they never received the pledge. Others who didn’t sign said they just never got around to signing it or oppose it.
James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information for four years, said there were 10 exemptions to FOI law in 1975. Today, he said, there are 27.
“Legislative bodies need to openly and publicly debate issues, that is how democracy works,” said Smith, who was in the newspaper business for 42 years, including a stint in 2009 and 2010 as the Herald’s executive editor. “If to much legislation gets passed secretly that is not good for democracy.”
Smith said the next bill his organization will be pushing is related to getting access to the historical and medical records from the Connecticut Valley Hospital where Civil War soldiers died.
“What happened to those Civil War soldiers can shed light on post traumatic stress disorder” for today’s soldiers, Smith said.
The pledge reads: “I will support and protect Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, including the independence of the state’s unique Freedom of Information Commission, and oppose weakening it. If proposals are made to limit public access, I will, within my authority, assure such proposals are subjected to the public processes, including public hearings, and will support changes only when the public’s interest in non-access to records or proceedings clearly outweighs the public’s interest in access.”
Gerratana said she’d like to “see and read” the pledge “before I sign it. I’d imagine, though, it’s very reasonable and appropriate.”
Gerratana added, “I’m obviously supportive of the FOI. The commission serves an important purpose in the state. It provides sunshine and transparency within the function of government.”
Lopes said he’d have to “think about” whether or not to sign the pledge. But, said, “as important as what the legislators do, what the media does is more important. The media’s role in disseminating information to the public is one of the things that keeps this country safe and free.”
State Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-25, said, “I would not sign a pledge unless I am completely sure it will not go into horrible stories of how children have been murdered, such as in Sandy Hook. What would happen if pictures of murdered children could be in newspapers and on social media? I would not be in favor of that.” Sanchez added, “I do believe in transparency in government. Government should be telling the people what they are doing, it’s their tax money.”
And, State Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-26, said, “If someone puts a pen in front of me, of course I will sign it.” He added, “As soon as government starts keeping secrets people start losing faith in their government.”
Robert Storace can be reached at (860) 801-5202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Robert Storace