Dan Johnson public records bill

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, addresses the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.

Sen. Dan Johnson today introduced legislation to add a blanket exemption to the Idaho Public Records Act for personal information contained in any public record, including sex, race, marital status, birth date, personal telephone number, email address, social security number and driver’s license number. Johnson said his bill came after a district court in an Ada County case recently “indicated personal information such as phone numbers and email addresses could not be redacted unless there is a specific statutory exemption.” He said, “Personal information can be found in many public records.”

In the bill’s Statement of Purpose, Johnson wrote that he’s worried about “for example, if a requester has ill intentions and the agency is required to provide home addresses or the personal information of juveniles who participate in a city’s recreation programs.”

In the Ada County case, the court found the county had improperly redacted the names and email addresses of people who had submitted public records requests to the county, which are public records in themselves. The county said it did so to protect privacy. Full disclosure here: I’m the current president of the Idaho Press Club, which brought the successful lawsuit against the county over a series of violations of the Idaho Public Records Act, of which that was just one.

While numerous existing exemptions in the Public Records Act specifically exempt personal information, including the items mentioned in Johnson’s bill, contained in specific records, Johnson proposed a blanket exemption to apply to all public records, which include every level of state and local government in Idaho. That means it would cover everything from voter records to county assessment records to filings by candidates for public office.

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, told Johnson, “I will support printing this. I’m really interested in some of the issues behind it.” Johnson said, “I’m sure there are a lot of exceptions and situations out there.”

Sen. Kelly Anthon moved to introduce the bill, Sen. Don Cheatham seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee,, clearing the way for a possible full hearing on the bill.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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