By Mitchell Pearlman
I have been following closely the progress — or perhaps more accurately, the lack of progress — of HB 6750, An Act Expanding the Requirement for Disclosure of Arrest Records during a Pending Prosecution under the Freedom of Information Act.
I am not exaggerating one iota when I say that failure to enact this remedial legislation will be one of the final nails in the coffin of open and transparent government in Connecticut — a state which originally was considered one of the enlightened pillars of good government, but more recently has earned a reputation as one that tolerates corruption and governmental misconduct. This is a stain on the entire state and an embarrassment to all of us who call Connecticut home.
HB 6750 would reverse a divided Supreme Court decision that overturned some 20 years of law when it concluded that law enforcement agencies need only disclose a bare minimum of arrest information pending prosecution, even if other information is not exempt from public disclosure. The Supreme Court majority itself recognized that its tortured reading of the law is in need of legislative clarification.
Because government gives its law enforcement agencies monopoly power over the use of force and incarceration, they pose one of the greatest threats to a democratic form of government, if and when that power is misused or abused. All one has to do is read what is currently occurring in Russia, Venezuela and other countries that are retrenching from democratic governance. Recent events and their aftermaths in Florida, Missouri, New York, California, Wisconsin and elsewhere, including here in Connecticut, illustrate how police, prosecutorial, and indeed judicial secrecy has led to the widely held perception of official government cover-ups. This has led to a general distrust of, and a lack of confidence in, all of our institutions of government – something public opinion polls report consistently.
For these reasons, HB 6750 needs to be moved out of committee and passed into law at the earliest possible moment.
Mitchell is a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors.