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Area legislators support making e-mails confidential

November 20, 2001

Two state legislators representing LaPorte County support the position to make all e-mails received and sent by lawmakers confidential.

House Bill 1083 would exempt the Indiana Legislature from Indiana's public-records law. The House had voted 71-28 in support of the bill, but Gov. Frank O'Bannon vetoed the measure.

It appears the General Assembly will try to override the bill in its session starting Tuesday.

State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, supports the idea of having e-mails between lawmakers and constituents made secret when they concern personal matters.

Pelath said he doesn't know where lawmakers would draw the line between what should be kept from public view and what's a matter of public record.

He said when someone calls to inform him of something of a personal nature, he keeps that information private.

"I think it's reasonable that e-mail should be treated the same way."

The General Assembly has made efforts to make the Legislature as open to the public as possible, including to bills, figures and discussions, Pelath said.

"So if anyone wants to know what I'm doing or the Legislature is doing, they can."

However, "In this one instance I think it's important to have a little discretion."

State Sen. Anita Bowser, D-Michigan City, said drawing the line of what is personal and what is a public matter in e-mail can be murky.

When people send personal e-mails, Bowser says, "there's a feeling that confidentiality should be maintained."

Bowser considered that maybe the bill should differentiate between what's considered personal and public.

She said personal issues could include anything from sexual orientation to request for advice.

But she said if the e-mail would contain information related to a public matter, it should fall under the open records law.

"It's very hard to draw the line," she said. "It's hard to draw a line on some of these sensitive things. Legislators are touchy about the privacy aspect."

Bowser and Pelath both said they don't receive e-mail of a personal content very often; many are by phone.

By Daniel Przybyla. Copyright © 2001 - The LaPorte Herald Argus


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