Georgia Senate committee approves bills to redact public employees' information

A state Senate committee approved two bills Monday afternoon designed to protect public employees' private information, but some fear the measures could have unintended consequences.

Senate Bill 215 would allow workers employed by local, state or federal government entities to request their information be removed from local property records.

"In Georgia, you can go onto any county's website, you can look up just about anybody's where they live or whatever property they own," explained state Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan. "We don't want people to be able to track these folks down and cause harm, 'cause there's no good that going to come from looking for these people."

Under Senate Bill 176, governments would not be allowed to make any judge, law enforcement officer, public defender or prosecutor's home address or phone number publicly available without their permission. The legislation would also make it illegal for any private person or business to share those government workers' information with the intent to harass them.

State Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta, said his legislation was based off a similar law in New Jersey after the murder of a judge's son there.

That New Jersey law, however, led to what Richard Griffiths described as "a bit of a train wreck." Griffiths is the President of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that exists to expand access to public information and protect free speech.

"We know these are bills are well-intentioned," said Griffiths. "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."

Griffiths listed several examples potential problems that could result, including:

  • The public will not be able to tell whether a public employee is paying the proper amount of property taxes
  • A public official could dodge paying his or her water bill knowing it will not be discovered 
  • It may be impossible to check whether a public official running for office lives in the district he or she wants to represent

He said the bills may lead to less transparency if government entities pull down public databases for fear of violating the law by accidentally including a police officer or judge's information. 

Committee members adopted one amendment to Sen. Esteves' bill adding the word "knowingly" to the portion about governments, which Griffiths called "encouraging."

The bills now head to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether to schedule them for votes on the Senate floor.