Juvenile Justice secrecy bill fizzles at sine die
By JIM WALLS
March 29, 2013 — A bill to seal allegations of misconduct inside Georgia’s juvenile justice system remained stuck in committee when the Legislature adjourned last night.
Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Jack Murphy and others, would have exempted reports of “abuses or wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system” from disclosure under the Georgia Open Records Act. Representatives of the Department of Juvenile Justice testified that the bill was intended to protect the identities of children who provide information about gang activity or other “intelligence.”
As drafted, though, the bill made no mention of gang activity and seemed to be focused on putting a lid instead on accusations against DJJ employees. One sentence, imposing possible “suspension or discharge” for any DJJ employee who violated the code section, could be used to fire whistleblowers.
Georgia law already exempts juvenile detainees’ names from disclosure.
A House subcommittee considered the bill last week at a hearing where I offered some unplanned testimony on the public’s right to know about such allegations and how DJJ handles them.
The full House Juvenile Justice Committee was scheduled to consider the bill Monday. But the meeting was canceled (after Lesli Gaither, representing the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and I waited in the meeting room for three hours while the House floor session dragged on) and never rescheduled.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were preparing amendments that would have kept allegations of misconduct subject to public disclosure.