The names on Idaho hunting and fishing licenses are closer to being off limits to open records requests. On a 7-2 vote, with the two Democrats on the committee voting no, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee Wednesday approved legislation to make hunters’ names and business information confidential.
The legislation comes in the wake of the names of wolf hunters being publicized after they were obtained by a public records request. The legislation would also bar anyone from harassing or threatening any hunters through personal contact or using e-mail or a website.
“I have not had an issue that has filled my e-mail up more than this,” said Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth. “Privacy is one of the great issues of today.” He said Idahoans assume that information on their hunting license would be private, which the legislation would bring. “It does bring the protection to the state of Idaho that the people expect.”
“The right to hunt is one of those things that’s reserved to the people,” said Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, who will sponsor the legislation on the Senate floor. He said people are using public records requests to harass people exercising their right to hunt. “We have a responsibility to protect people from that.” Schroeder also said during the meeting that criminals could make public records requests for hunters’ names to identify people who own guns. “We’re basically providing a list of houses that people would like to break into.”
Bob Minter, the president of the sportsmen organization, Ada County Fish and Game League, agreed that hunters expect that their licenses won’t be released. “If you want hunters to help manage game in this state … then these are the kind of laws that are going to have to be provided to us,” he said. Minter added that while most of the harassment of hunters recently has surrounded wolf hunters, it could spread to other elk and other animals.
The two Democrats on the panel, Elliott Werk of Boise and Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, wanted to change the legislation so that hunters would need to check a box on their license or tag application if they wanted their names kept private. The legislation would allow hunters to tell the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) if they would allow their name to be made public. “An opt-out box would be just as easy to implement,” Werk said. “What we’re doing is we’re reaching far down into the fish and game system, and making it in every instance that this information wouldn’t be released.”
Stennett said she has a hunting license and wouldn’t want to be harassed, but said there are reasons why people would request these records besides intimidating and threatening hunters. “There are places in time where you would want that information released for general consumption,” she said. That could include verifying that candidates for office or board appointees have valid hunting licenses.
If the additional protection for hunters becomes law, IDFG could quickly stop accepting public records requests for licenses, but would take longer to create a system to manage written requests to make licenses public, according to IDFG policy director Sharon Kiefer. She said that since this legislation has been introduced, someone has requested a hard copy of all the hunting licenses and tags that were issued in 2009.