House Gets One Step Closer To Voter Lists With FOI Fix
It’s not the governor’s bill, but the Democratic majority fast-tracked a bill they feel strikes the right balance between the public’s right to know and public safety.
In an attempt to remedy a Supreme Court decision that cut off access to numerous public records in the state, the House approved a bill 120-11 Thursday that will start to give the public access to land records, voter lists, and grand lists once again. The bill also seeks to ensure that the names and addresses of police officers, judges, and correction officers won’t find their way into the hands of someone who wishes to do them harm.
Under the court ruling, any public official who releases a list that includes the name of a protected individual could be held liable for the release of the information. Lawyers across the state have warned public officials to err on the side of caution and decline to release the lists or records.
The bill the House passed Thursday exempts land records, voter lists, and grand lists, and requires a protected individual to opt in if they want to have their name and address withheld from certain types of public records.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, who voted in favor of the bill, said he didn’t appreciate how the legislation came to fruition, but he wasn’t opposed to its content.
The bill, which was drafted Wednesday, was introduced on the House floor Thursday evening without going through the regular legislative process.
The sense of urgency may have been related to the campaign cycle and the inability of politicians to get access to voter files, which are exempted under the bill.
“That has been a concern of people that legislators won‘t know who the voters are,” House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said Thursday after the vote. “The Secretary of State was not releasing any information. We struck a balance where now information is being released.”
“The attempt is to determine a way to get information out in a way that retains the protected classes, but also stifles certain information getting out,” he said.
Donovan said lawmakers wanted to deal with this back in October during the special session on jobs, but they ran out of time.
The legislation is different than that which was proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The governor’s bill would have created an opt-in system for protected classes, but would not require public officials to comply with the court ruling.
“While it goes in a different direction than the governor’s legislation, the bill is acceptable,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said Thursday.
Click here to read more about the evolution of the bill.
Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, voted against the bill. She said that aside from rushing to get the bill to the floor for a vote, the legislation leaves too many questions unanswered. She said there’s still no clear answer about where a member of the protected class needs to go to tell their local officials that they want their information redacted.
And while Cafero voted for the bill, he said it is “apparent the unions have a lot of control over what goes on in this building on a day-to-day basis.”
Most of the protected classes are represented by unions, representatives of which testified in favor of drafting legislation similar to the bill that was approved Thursday.
“We wanted to make sure there was more protection for those people who provide services to the state,” Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, said. Making sure the names and addresses of the 12 protected classes would be redacted was the “guiding” force in drafting the legislation, he said.
Some of those protected include employees with the Department of Children and Family, the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and the Judicial branch.
Some lawmakers were baffled that the state would even try to keep some of this information from public view.
Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, said that in this day and age of the Internet it’s almost impossible for anyone to keep that information protected.
“A good detective in 48 hours can find out where somebody lives, “ Mikutel said. “The more we expand the protected classes under this law, the more we weaken, and undermine the public confidence and integrity of our government records.”
He voted in favor of the bill, but cautioned against creating any more protected classes.
Chris vanDeHoef, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, said the group is “disappointed that the legislature has chosen to pass significant changes to the Freedom of Information Act and the right to open government without a public hearing.”
The Senate is expected to take up the legislation Wednesday, Feb. 29.