Legislation redacting government employees' information from public records in Georgia is inadequate

Laws that would protect a government employee's personal information from public records did not survive Crossover Day.

State senators declined to take action Senate Bill 176which proposed removing government employees' personal information, such as home addresses, phone numbers and Social Security cards, from public records.

A more comprehensive editorial law, Senate Bill 215approved by the Senate 53-0.

Monday was Crossover Day, the final day of the 2023 legislative session for a bill that would clear a chamber to allow a smooth path to the governor's desk.

Unlike SB 215, the bill, which died quietly, proposed giving officials the ability to pursue civil lawsuits that could result in misdemeanor charges against people who knowingly publish a state employee's private information with malicious intent, the said Sponsor Senator Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta Democrat.

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

Modeled on New Jersey Daniel's lawThe intended shield was written in response to increasing threats against civil servants and judges, who are often involved in politically explosive decisions.

Free speech advocate expressed concerns about the unintended consequences resulting from similar legislation elsewhere.

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

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

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

“I think that the intent behind the bill is to target information that is being made public with the intent to harass while disregarding the well-being of the health of a person and their family,” Esteves said .

Esteves' proposal could still be added as a provision to SB 215, which is scheduled to be cleared in the House as the deadline approaches.

“There are ways to protect people’s identities or where they live without it becoming a First Amendment issue,” Esteves said. “There is always a balance between the right to information, the right to freedom of expression and the safety of a person.”