My Sunday column tallied the open government and data bills that emerged from the (regular) 2015 legislative session and pronounced it an overall win. Some of them were long in the making: The new accountability measures for license plate cameras took nearly three years of wrangling, after my colleague Eric Roper revealed the potential invasion of privacy and lack of transparency in how police departments were using these devices.
Following Brandon Stahl's reporting on failures of child protection, the Legislature enacted sweeping reforms that include greater public access to case histories when children are killed or suffer life-threatening injuries as the result of abuse or neglect. Previously, those records were only available if the person responsible was charged with a criminal offense.
With the new law, counties have to disclose a summary of a child's case history whenever a finding of child abuse or neglect is made in these severe cases. That summary must include the age and gender of the child, any past reports and investigations that are "pertinent" to the current abuse, and what actions the agency took on behalf of the child.
This change, along with the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision last month to maintain public access to key child protection records in juvenile court, is a vote of confidence in public scrutiny to improve this vital role of government. Now it's up to the public to use that power.