The Senate sent a bill that attempts to fix the state’s Freedom of Information laws to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday afternoon.
By a vote of 34-0, the Senate wasted little time debating the measure, which passed the House last week by a vote of 120-11
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said the bill attempts to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the safety of police, correction officers, and other protected classes who could be harmed if their addresses are made public.
The bill is a response to a Supreme Court decision, which found state and local officials could be held liable if they accidentally released the names and addresses of judges, correction officers, police officers, and other protected classes to the public.
Since the court ruling this summer public officials have been told by their attorneys not to release traditionally public documents, such as voter lists to the public. Erring on the side of caution has created headaches for town clerks, lawyers, and politicians.
Av Harris, spokesman for the Secretary of the State, has said that since the Supreme Court ruling they have had no way of knowing who is part of a protected class, so the office hasn’t been fulfilling requests for voter lists even though the lists would normally be available under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Until the General Assembly cleans up the law, we aren’t allowed to give out the voter file,” Harris said last week. “The burden is on the government agency not to disclose the information and we just can’t be certain.”
The bill asks police officers, correction officers, judges, and other “protected classes” to ask that their names be withheld from certain public records. Voter lists, grand lists, and land records are exempted under the legislation, which is different than what Malloy himself proposed as a solution to the court case. Malloy’s bill would have only exempted personnel records from public view.
Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, recalled Wednesday how outraged he was to learn the legislation was being fast tracked through the process by the Democratic majority.
He learned of the emergency certified bill last week during a Planning and Development public hearing on the governor’s bill. He said everyone who came to testify talked about the governor’s bill said it “was a good bill.“
“The problem is the process again,” Fasano said. “At least have that public hearing so people can say, ‘here’s the good and here’s the bad’.”
Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, called the emergency certification process “a dangerous tool in our hand.”
“I think we are taking the concepts of works in progress to a new level here when we actually are passing statutes with the expectation of correcting them some more down the line, as we seem to be doing today,” Markley said.
“What was an unworkable situation is by this legislation apparently changed into a lousy situation, which is an improvement,“ Markley said.
He said what made the situation into an emergency was politicians lack of access to the voter lists. Nevertheless, Markley said he was pleased to hear the concerns of the town clerks expressed by lawmakers.
Several Senators said they don’t believe the legislation will really protect the names of the individuals they are trying to protect, but believe it’s a step in the right direction.
The governor’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, said last week that while the emergency bill “goes in a different direction than the governor’s legislation, the bill is acceptable.”
Sen. Edith Prague and Sen. Ed Gomes were absent from the vote.