Idaho bill seeks to block lawmaker emails from public view

Mar 2nd, 2017 | By | Category: Government

By Kimberlee Kruesi/Associated Press

A bicyclist rides in front of the Idaho Capitol in Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, June 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

A bicyclist rides in front of the Idaho Capitol in Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, June 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — All emails, texts and other communications between members of the Idaho Legislature would be considered private and blocked from public disclosure under a proposal introduced Wednesday.

The measure would create a massive change to the Idaho Public Records Act by shielding most of the communications Idaho lawmakers have with fellow legislative members and legislative staff.

The exemption would also hide research requests made by lawmakers and all personal identifiable information of private citizens who have contacted a lawmaker. It would not exempt communications between lawmakers and lobbyists.

“This is an issue we’ve needed to address for some time I think,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, the bill’s sponsor. “What we’re doing here is trying to exclude here is certain communications.”

This type of secrecy is critical to protect the deliberative process of making laws and that the Legislature should protect the privacy of citizens wanting to petition their government, Barbieri said.

The state legislature’s House State Affairs Committee agreed to advance the proposal Wednesday with no debate or discussion about the bill. It must now clear a full legislative hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Barbieri’s proposal comes at a time when multiple state legislatures have already exempted themselves from public-records laws.

While practices vary state to state, a 2016 review by The Associated Press was met with more denials than approvals when seeking out emails and daily schedules of legislative leaders.

Currently, Idaho lawmakers’ email and personal calendars are available to the public upon request.

Under the Idaho Public Records Act, which the Legislature adopted in 1990, officials can request for an extension before turning public records over in order to review them for possible exemptions. For example, state employee personnel information is exempt from disclosure.

State law also allows officials to charge after providing one free hour’s of work.

The Idaho Press Club criticized Barbieri’s measure.

“We are group of working journalists. We rely on openness in government and public records to do our job of keeping people informed about their government, a fundamental mission of our free press,” Betsy Russell, the group’s president, said in a statement. “The making of laws to govern Idaho is the public’s business, and we believe it should remain so.”

Like all legislatures, Idahoans can watch and listen to state lawmakers debate bills during legislative committees and floor sessions.

But in Idaho, legislative leaders allow closed-door caucus meetings — where lawmakers typically discuss policy positions and vote counts before public debates.

Committee chairmen have the authority to restrict the public from taking photos and videos during committee hearings.

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