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Private School Police Record Access Weighed

(CN) - The Indiana General Assembly is considering a bill that will require police departments at private universities across the state to disclose records related to arrests and incarcerations to the public.

House Bill 1022, authored by state Rep. Patrick Bauer and introduced on Jan 5, would effectively make private schools with private police forces subject to the same public disclosure laws that public police departments must abide by. On Tuesday the bill passed out of committee by a 13-0 vote.

The bill comes in the wake of a January 2015 lawsuit filed against the University of Notre Dame by ESPN to compel access to campus police records pertaining to student-athletes. The St. Joseph Superior Court case, which the university won, has since been appealed by sports network.

It is scheduled to be heard by the Indiana Court of Appeals on Feb. 24.

Bauer, a Notre Dame alumnus, has said the bill is not a direct consequence of the ongoing litigation, but grew out of concerns he heard from fellow Notre Dame graduates after it was filed.

In court, attorneys for the university maintained that a private university is not subject to the state's public records requirements.

But in a statement published in the South Bend Tribune, Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said the university "offered its support, perspective and assistance to the leaders of the Independent Colleges of Indiana as they worked with Rep. Bauer to craft revisions to the Access to Public Records Act to open police records, while still maintaining compliance with federal regulations regarding student privacy."

Some, however, believe that while Bauer's effort is a step in right direction, House Bill 1022 doesn't go far enough.

Among them is Stephen Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, an organization that has filed an amicus brief in the ESPN case, backing the network's position.

"When we consider that, under the authority of state power, police officers at private colleges and universities are authorized to conduct traffic stops and criminal investigations, to assist in emergencies and even use force when necessary, then holding these police departments to the same disclosure standards as municipal police forces makes it possible to better inform the public, to make people more aware of the extent or lack of crime in a certain area," Key told Courthouse News.

"This is the kind of information people use to make crucial decisions such as where to live, or whether to send their son or daughter to this school or that one ... For these reasons and many others, transparency is vital," he said.

Others who filed amicus briefs in the ESPN case are Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and the South Bend Tribune newspaper.

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