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Ken de la Bastide: Ken de la Bastide column: Lawmakers considering decorum bill for government meetings

Jan. 20—It has been an ongoing problem at several local government meetings in Madison County for quite some time.

A lack of decorum at the meetings, where people interrupt discussions, get involved in personal attacks and actions has at times led to pandemonium at the meetings.

The Anderson City Council allows public comment on legislation being considered, and the general rule is that individuals are allowed to speak for three minutes.

The Madison County Council allows public comment, again limited, in general, to three minutes before voting on new money requests.

Very rarely is the three-minute rule enforced, and at times the comments are not related to the issues being considered by elected officials.

The Indiana General Assembly in 2022 passed legislation to regulate public comments during meetings of local school boards. That legislation requires that public comments take place before school boards take action.

That law also determined that limiting comment to agenda items is not appropriate, according to a ruling by the Indiana public access counselor.

It also allows school boards the authority to limit public comment to residents of the school district. Although a person's name and address are not mandatory, school boards can ask if a member of the public resides in the district.

I'm not sure why a government body can't request a person's name and address when they wish to make a public comment.

If you want to address a committee of the Legislature, you are required to provide your name.

The Anderson City Council asks a person speaking to give his or her name when making public comments, and most supply an address or ZIP code.

County officials request a name, and in most cases the speaker will provide an address.

Lawmakers are currently considering legislation to establish decorum guidelines for public comment at government meetings.

If adopted, the presiding officer of a government meeting can warn a person twice verbally for not following the comment rules, and then ask the person to leave on the third violation.

Refusal to leave could result in the filing of a criminal trespass charge. The rules would have to be posted prior to a meeting.

Luke Britt, the public access counselor, spoke in favor of the legislation, saying a lack of decorum is a statewide problem.

"I think that gives more competence to local officials to keep that decorum, to keep civility, to keep those business meetings professional," he said.

Britt said the proposed legislation allows local public officials the ability to craft policies for public comment.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.