After days of negotiations and competing proposals, the Connecticut General Assembly early Tuesday morning overwhelmingly passed legislation that would keep private images of homicide victims and some other records. The brokered deal passed quickly once it was agreed upon. It was in direct response to the Newtown massacre that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Parents of the slain children and other supporters lobbied lawmakers hard to keep from disclosure the pictures, images and videos of the scene.
Originally designed to address only the Newtown crime scene, changes were made so it applied to all homicide crime scenes. Singling out Newtown would have caused problems going forward such as deciding which crime scenes were “worthy” of being kept private. 911 recording will still be in the public domain with some exceptions. The legislation also sets up a task force to study how to best balance privacy with the public’s right to know and freedom of information laws.
Gov. Dannel Malloy is expected to sign the bill.
Critics object to two aspects of the bill. First, the deal was brokered between legislative leaders and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane in secret. It had no public hearing. It was only disclosed after the Hartford Courant obtained—ironically through a freedom of information request—an email from a Kane assistant.
Newspapers and other media outlets also question what they see as an erosion of freedom of information laws and the public’s right to know. It’s conceivable that not having crime scene photos and videos available to reporters would preclude them from investigating certain crimes and ultimately impede their ability to hold law enforcement accountable.
The last hours of every session ends in a frenzy as lawmakers try to get their priority legislation passed. Both the House and Senate must pass “implementers”—bills that actually put the new two-year budget into law. In that process it’s common for legislators to slip in “rats,”—measures or language that did not pass as stand alone bills but can have substantial impact.
At midnight in the state Senate, Majority Leader Martin Looney will move the adjourn “Sine Die” or “without another day.”