August 1, 2014
The S.C. Supreme Court has made two rulings during the summer that will help to undermine journalism and transparency in the state moving forward and questions and concerns to boot.
In June the court ruled governmental bodies holding public meetings are not required to provide an agenda for the meeting itself. This may not seem like a big deal, but it does serve as a way for the media and public to know what business is being conducted.
The requirement of an agenda is an oversight tool, nothing more and nothing less. By requiring agendas be a matter of public record and required for these bodies, such as county councils, school boards, etc., issues of concern can be addressed in a public forum and the danger of controversial decisions being made without input is limited.
At present there is no legislative requirement and the agenda requirement has, to this point, been observed on tradition. By kicking the issue back to the Legislature to fix, the court has bypassed an opportunity to fix the situation. In the end, the hope and belief is the state will correct the issue by passing statutes requiring disclosure, eliminating future concerns.
July was a different story and may be an issue, unless the Legislature steps in and provides a statutory solution, which goes to the U.S. Supreme Court if allowed.
Autopsy reports, for media and other watchdog groups, have been and will continue to be a vital source of information, utilized once again as an oversight tool. The highest court in the Palmetto State has decided otherwise.
According to the July decision, autopsy results are no longer available under the Freedom of Information Act, stating the information contained therein are medical records and as such, confidential information.
Yes, the line between confidential and private information and the public good is blurred, but there is a larger question being answered which hasn’t been officially asked as part of the case. The decision also leads to questions about the future as well.
The question being answered: Does the privacy of an individual’s medical records extend beyond death, in perpetuity?
Apparently it does, even if the information is of vital importance. And again, the court sent the issue back to the Legislature, explaining the law wasn’t clear enough to include these records.
What questions could this create for the future? How about just one to consider, and it’s not a pleasant one: If you have been exposed to HIV, will the carrier’s right to privacy outweigh your right to know?
You may think it’s a stretch, but it might not be as big of a stretch as you imagined.