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June 24, 2024 1:39 am

Local News

Legislation to Redact Government Employees’ Information from Georgia Public Records Falls Short

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by Aaleah McConnell, Georgia Recorder

Legislation that would shield a government employee’s personal information from public records did not survive Crossover Day.

State senators declined to act on  Senate Bill 176, which proposed to redact the personal information of government workers, such as home addresses, phone numbers and Social Security identification from public records. 

A broader redaction bill, Senate Bill 215, cleared the Senate, sweeping to approval 53-0.

Monday was Crossover Day, the last day of the 2023 legislative session for a bill to clear one chamber for a smooth path to the governor’s desk.

Unlike SB 215, the bill that died a quiet death proposed to allow public officials to pursue civil action that could result in a misdemeanor charge for people who knowingly publish a state employee’s private information with malicious intent, said sponsor Sen. Jason Esteves, an Atlanta Democrat.

“If someone is upset with a police officer, or is upset with a judge, and is posting their home address and their personal phone number on social media with the intent of harassing that person, this bill would allow for a civil remedy and a misdemeanor against that person,” Esteves said.

Modeled after New Jersey’s Daniel’s Law, the intended shield was written in response to growing threats against state officials and judges who are often involved in politically charged decisions.

Free speech advocates expressed concerns over the unintended consequences that occurred as a result of similar legislation elsewhere. 

The redactions could result in slower response times to open records requests and even in agencies taking their records offline for fear of legal risks if they inadvertently disclose a government employee’s personal information.

“We know these bills are well intentioned, we know that there are potential problems here, but we do not believe that these bills as written will solve these problems without potentially creating chaos,” Richard T. Griffiths of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation said.

This bill is narrower than the one that passed the Senate unanimously, Esteves said.

“I think that the intent behind the bill is to target information that is being published with the intent to harass and with a disregard for the well being of someone’s health and their family,” Esteves said.

Esteves’ proposal could still be added on as a provision to SB 215, which is set to be settled in the House chamber as sine die approaches. 

“There are ways that you can protect the identity or the location of where people live without it being a First Amendment concern,” Esteves said. “There’s always a balance between the right to information, the right to free speech, and someone’s safety.”

This story was written by Aaleah McConnell, an intern at the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.