Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Monday that his "strong bias for the public's right to know" will weigh heavily as he decides whether to veto a measure that would shelter police departments at Notre Dame and 10 other Indiana private colleges from following the same crime reporting requirements as all other law enforcement agencies.
The bill by Democratic Rep. Pat Bauer, whose district includes Notre Dame, was approved recently by the Legislature amid a high-profile court fight between the Catholic university and ESPN over police records. Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of ESPN, which sought records from Notre Dame for crimes involving student athletes who may have received favorable treatment. The university is appealing.
The bill creates a dilemma for Pence.
"We are examining that bill very carefully," Pence said. "I have long believed in the public's right to know and have championed public access throughout my career, and I bring my bias to that discussion."
Last year, Pence vetoed a bill that would have tacked additional fees onto many public records requests. As a congressman, Pence sponsored so-called reporter shield legislation to protect journalists who face jail time for not revealing confidential sources under court order.
The Republican governor has until Thursday to make up his mind on the measure, which was pushed by the state's private colleges and would allow them to escape more stringent crime reporting requirements faced by Indiana's public universities.
Critics say the measure doesn't do much beyond enshrining into state law the limited reporting requirements that are already mandated under existing federal law, including the time, location and type of crime that occurred. Under the bill, private college police wouldn't have to release a detailed report if no arrests are made, which is required of police departments on public university campuses.
That could be used to hide important public safety information from private college students about campus crime trends, including thefts and sexual assaults,
But Richard Ludwick, president and CEO of Independent Colleges of Indiana, disputes this interpretation of the bill, which he describes as a "transparency" measure.
Ludwick said the law would spur the state's 11 private college police departments to release more crime records than they currently do and he called critics who have disputed his view as "exceedingly disingenuous."
"It either means the speaker doesn't understand what the current law is or what (the bill) does," Ludwick said.
Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said Ludwig's assertions about the bill are "not correct" and argued that the private college association pushed the bill this year because of the court battle between ESPN and Notre Dame.
If the bill becomes law, it would render moot any court precedent established by the ESPN case that would have otherwise forced private colleges to release more police records, Key said.
"I suspect they knew exactly what this legislation is doing," Key said. "You could have a court ruling that would effectively make them like other public university police departments."