House Bill 601 — Legislative public records

Lindsay Atkinson 2020 House bill ratings Leave a Comment

Bill description: HB 601 would add new exemptions to public records law. 

Rating: -2

Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability?

HB 601 adds new exemptions to Idaho’s public records law. Some exemptions in this bill make sense. For instance, if a legislator makes a note about some personal matters (for only his own reference and not shared with anyone), that note should not be open to the public record. 

But other exemptions do not make sense. For instance, there is a particularly concerning exemption for personal communication by or between legislators that “does not relate to the conduct or administration of the public’s business.” It is fine to exempt the personal email accounts, texting numbers, and other lines of communication held and paid for personally by a legislator. But this provision reads such that personal communication between legislators, using state email accounts and other public communication lines, would also be exempt. Additionally, there is no definition of what qualifies as personal communication.

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There is also the exemption of “personally identifying information relating to a public citizen” who is communicating with a legislator. But the bill does not give a definition of that information. As we saw already this session with the early version of Senate Bill 1338 (before it was amended), personally identifying information sometimes plays an important role in government accountability, especially when it comes to the press. There may be nothing wrong with exempting, for example, Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers from public disclosure. But being unable to tell who a government official is talking to reduces public oversight of government to a virtual impossibility. And, as this bill is currently written, there is no identification of what identifying markers will be exempt.

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