A bill shielding legislator’s personal information from the public passed the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Wednesday in a 5-4 vote along party lines.
Despite the close vote tally, no one spoke for or against the legislation aside from the bill’s sponsor.
The bill (SB 1488), filed by Lakeland Sen. Kelli Stargel, would create a public-records exemption for information about home addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth of state lawmakers, Cabinet members and their spouses and children.
The same exemption is currently extended to justices, judges, state attorneys, statewide prosecutors, and certain agency investigative personnel.
But the bill takes the exemption a step further by creating a new crime against those who publish the information. The bill would create a first-degree misdemeanor for any person “to knowingly and, with the intent to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt Cabinet officers or legislators in the performance of their duties, maliciously publish or disseminate the exempt information without express authorization of the officers or legislators”.
The legislation is similar to a bill (SB 832) Stargel proposed last Session, which was derided by free speech advocates who say it would erode the Sunshine Laws. That bill died in its second committee.
But at Tuesday’s committee meeting, no detractors came forward.
Stargel said the exemption is needed “in order to protect these public servants from threats and harassment that may arise out of carrying out their official duties.”
The bill now moves on to its second of three committee stops. Next up is Governmental Oversight and Accountability, the same committee where Stargel’s 2020 bill stalled out.
Rep. Mike Beltran sponsors the House companion bill (HB 1207). That bill is awaiting a hearing in the Government Operations Subcommittee, its first of three committee assignments.