That proposal recently was undone by the legislature's appropriations committee – subject to a vote by the full House and Senate – but Murphy called it "disheartening" that the governor even brought it up.
"Government oversight and transparency keep government accountable to the people it serves," Murphy said. "Government oversight agencies must be given the tools in the form of appropriate resources and support or they will merely become ineffective artifices. "Moreover, they must remain independent as well as separate and distinct from one another if they are to maintain the public's confidence."
Malloy's director of communications, Andrew Doba, said the governor isn't trying to rein in the watchdogs. He said the rationale for putting the lawyers together in a single pool is that "folks across many agencies… are being asked to do a bit" under the state's dire budget circumstances. If lawyers for one of the agencies have "downtime," then they can help another agency, he said, "It seems like a common-sense way of doing more with taxpayer dollars."
The watchdogs say the budget savings would have been only $180,000 out of a $21.5-billion annual state budget, and, besides, they don't have any downtime. Brandi said his short-staffed agency is only now nearing completion of its audit of Malloy's 2010 campaign finances.
Doba also said "I would disagree that there's been an effort by the administration to reduce transparency. On economic development deals, there's a certain amount of confidentiality that's needed to move a deal forward. But by and large, we've made every effort to make this administration transparent in all of its endeavors."
The Dec. 14 Newtown school massacre, in which 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death, sparked the highest-profile debate on freedom of information of the 2013 legislative session in Hartford.
"I was shocked, dismayed and deeply disturbed when, on Dec. 17, I got a call from the town clerk about the prospect of having a reporter standing beside her during one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the United States in Newtown looking for death certificates of children,'' Bolinsky, the freshman representative, said in February. He objected to "the outrage, the pain of observing the jackals descend upon my town clerk's office at a time of great, great community loss.''
He proposed a one-paragraph bill to restrict release of a copy of a certificate "when the disclosure of the death certificate is likely to cause undue hardship for the family of the child.''
Now, after legislative committee deliberations, two death-certificate bills are still alive but not yet voted on in either the House or Senate. Bolinsky's would restrict public access until six months after the death of a minor. The other would create a "short form" death certificate for release to the public.
Jim Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said in February that death certificates are factual documents lacking the details of an autopsy report. "There isn't anything in a death certificate that is going to hurt the deceased,'' Smith said. "It's been public for centuries." It's not going to invade anyone's privacy.''
Open-government supporters say that the first reaction to tragedy shouldn't be legislation. But, Murphy said, if one of the two pending proposals is going to pass this year, she would prefer the one delaying their release for six months instead of the "short form."
Bolinsky, in an interview, said that by "jackals" he meant "a particular tabloid [whose name] I'm not going to say." He called the comment "unfortunate" in retrospect. "I shouldn't have said that."
$16 Per Peek
The state police asked lawmakers this year to approve a bill that would let them charge $16 to look at a report on an accident or investigation – even if no copy is requested. The request, by Commissioner Reuben F. Bradford of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, came after his agency lost a court appeal an FOI Commission ruling that the public must be allowed to look at records at no charge.
Bradford said in written testimony to the legislature that searching files for requested reports "takes substantial staff time" and requires "making redactions" – deletions, that is – "for reasons ranging from the identify of juveniles or sexual assault victims to protecting the privacy of the public."
State police want to charge the fee even if a citizen just reads a report or takes a picture of it with a mobile phone.
But FOI officials say that producing documents for citizens should be considered part of a government agency's normal function – not an extra. Fees for copies are okay, the FOI commission said in written testimony, but it added: "Allowing for free access to inspect public records, as opposed to free copies, is an important measure to ensure that individuals who may not be able to afford copies still can have access to public records."
The bill has not been voted on in the House or Senate. After going through two committees, the bill now says people would be charged 25 cents a page to merely look at a report. A copy would cost $16, and there would be a $16 search fee if a citizen's request for a report resulted in no document being found.