Hickenlooper made correct call on autopsy reports for minors

Friday, June 8, 2018 1:09 PM

Courtesy Pueblo Chieftain

Gov. John Hickenlooper stood for the public's right to know last week when he vetoed a bill that would have prevented access to autopsy reports of minors.

The Colorado Coroners Association had lobbied for Senate Bill 223, arguing that to release the cause-of-death reports involving children would be painful to families and, in the case of youth suicides, might inspire copycats or other consequences.

In his veto message, Hickenlooper said: "At its core, the issue before us is the proper balance between protecting grieving families from continued trauma due to public disclosure and (the alternative of) permitting such information disclosure to prevent future tragedies."

Most of the legislative debate focused on youth suicide when, in fact, SB 223 would have denied public access to autopsy reports involving any cause of death to a minor.

The Colorado Press Association and other media advocates strongly opposed the bill for weakening transparency under the state's open records law.

The bill's restrictions to public access were aimed at the news media for the most part. SB 223 would have allowed access to a long list of non-media people. They included parents, legal guardians, law enforcement investigators, district attorneys, child fatality prevention review teams, the state domestic violence review team, state health officials, medical record custodians, the state division of youth services and lawyers in both civil and criminal cases involving children's deaths.

Indeed, there are a lot of other causes of death, some of a violent nature, besides youth suicide.

Hickenlooper understood that in his veto message: "We need not look far for examples in which public disclosure, media scrutiny and good journalism led to positive changes to prevent tragedies, particularly in areas such as child neglect, abuse and trafficking."

Good for the governor for standing for the public's right to know.

Editorials are the opinions of The Pueblo Chieftain as decided by the newspaper's editorial board. Current members of the board are Jane Rawlings, publisher and president; Brad Slater, general manager; Blake Fontenay, editorial page editor; and Tom McAvoy, editorial research director.