Ga. bill to open private campus crime reports runs out of time

GEORGIA — A bill that would have forced open police incident reports and other police documents at private universities failed last week to make it through the House Rules Committee in time to become law, the bill’s supporters said, although they are optimistic it will pass quickly in the next term.

Senate Bill 153, introduced by Sen. David Adelman (D-Decatur), proposed opening records pertaining to the “investigation of criminal conduct and crimes” at private universities in the state. The bill was prompted by a case at Mercer University, where school officials have repeatedly denied that they are obligated to release campus crime incident reports. Public universities are required to make campus crime reports available under the state’s public records law.

The state court of appeals recently overturned a lower court decision that ordered Mercer University to release the records. That decision, released in February, is being appealed to the state supreme court.

Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) cosponsored the bill with Adelman. Lindsey attributed the bill’s failure to Georgia’s short legislative session. Bills have just 40 days to progress through committees in both the Senate and the House and be approved by members of both sides of the legislature before they can be signed into law. Senate Bill 153 was approved quickly in the Senate, but its progress slowed in the House Rules Committee, Lindsey said. The last day of the legislative session was Thurs., March 31.

“We just ran out of time,” Lindsey said.

However, he said, the bill will reappear in January 2006 in the House Judiciary Committee, where it will undergo some slight technical changes, such as its effective date, and then will go to the House floor for another vote.

Lindsey said he sees few obstacles for the bill, which has garnered support from members on both sides of the aisle.

Members of the Georgia legislature “see the need for this bill,” Lindsey said. “It’s a good, bipartisan bill.”

Carolyn Carlson, the vice chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ campus crime committee, agreed.

“It’s not dead forever. It just didn’t pass this year,” she said. “And it likely will pass early in next year’s session.”

Carlson said the bill’s supporters plan to use this year to educate Georgia legislators of the need for the bill.

“We don’t plan to sit back and wait,” she said. “We found that once we explained to [legislators] why the bill was needed, everybody has come over to the side of approving it.”

–By Campbell Roth

Read previous coverage: