(Hartford Courant editorial) “Hats off to Mr. Kissel.”

May 20, 2013

Editorial as it appeared in the Harford Courant


State Shouldn’t Make Pardons Process Secret
Gov. Malloy and legislative Democrats don’t trust the public
7:00 PM EDT, May 17, 2013

The latest attempt to draw the curtain of secrecy around state government would exempt pardon applications from the Freedom of Information Act. It is baneful.

Like so many similar proposals introduced in the General Assembly this year, it amounts to an attack on transparency that, if left unchecked, will breed even more cynicism and distrust of government.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s request for legislation to plunge the pardon process into secrecy would deny the public access to pardon applications and other records of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. The legislation would also exclude the public from hearings. These are an affront to Connecticut’s taxpayers, who deserve open, accessible government.

Why Hide the Pardon Process?

The Malloy administration and the pardon board say the change is needed to encourage offenders applying for pardons to be forthcoming in giving sensitive details — such as their mental health treatment or substance abuse recovery — in their applications about their efforts to rehabilitate.

These are details they don’t give now? Because of open records, are qualified offenders now being denied pardons?

The legislation is also needed, supporters say, to align the pardon process with other laws that permit the expunging of an individual’s criminal record if certain standards, such as being found not guilty at trial, are met.

People applying for pardons have, of course, been found guilty.

These are not good enough reasons to pass a law to place the pardons and paroles board behind a wall of secrecy. This legislation could even be used to justify the board’s conducting its meetings behind closed doors.

The state Freedom of Information Commission argues eloquently that the Malloy proposal is “a catastrophic blow to government transparency,” and that a “member of the public has the right to know for him or herself, through access to government records, that the decision-making process with respect to the granting of all pardons is fair, unbiased and free from influence.”

The secrecy legislation has been approved by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee and awaits a vote next by the Democratic-controlled Senate. It should be killed, but whether it will be is another question.

Ranking Republican Sen. John Kissel of Enfield tried but failed to remove the secrecy provision in committee, and was quoted as saying that it is “very important for the public to know who is being granted pardons and what are the grounds for the granting of those pardons.”

Hats off to Mr. Kissel. Don’t let up.

And a half-bravo to Rep. Bob Godfrey of Danbury, the only Democrat to vote for Mr. Kissel’s proposal to delete the secrecy provision in committee. But he then said he would vote for the bill in the House anyway — despite saying he was “really getting tired of this notion that the government should hide what it’s doing from people.”

“The courts system, the whole justice system needs to be open to public scrutiny,” he said. Well, vote your convictions consistently, Mr. Godfrey.

Backsliding on Open Government

It’s apparent that the majority Democrats can’t be counted on any longer to protect Connecticut’s “open government” reputation.

Mr. Malloy is continuing to pursue his ill-considered “reform” of the independent watchdog agencies, such as the FOI Commission. This year, he tried to put their legal staffs and investigators squarely under the gubernatorial thumb by having them supervised by his appointee. That effort appears to have foundered, for now.

A number of other awful proposals, however, are still alive in the Democratic-controlled legislature: charging a fee to see state police reports even if no copy is requested, restricting access to death certificates of children under 18, and more.

With such legislation, Democrats appear arrogant and distrustful of the people they claim to represent.