Lawmaker proposes major change Idaho Public Information Act

Posted at 10:29 PM, Mar 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-02 13:19:38-05

A northern Idaho representative has introduced legislation that would shield most communications between lawmakers, their staff, and constituents from public records requests.

The bill would not exempt communications between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Republican Representative Vito Barbieri of District 2 introduced the legislation in the State Affairs committee Wednesday. 

Barbieri says the bill is needed to protect lawmakers privacy as they formulate legislative ideas.

"As we discuss policy and different aspects of policy, we also want to protect personal information from constituents," said Rep. Barbieri. "I think I should have a certain amount of privacy to make sure that I don't have to be guarded about what I say and how I say it."

House Speaker Scott Bedke understands why the bill was introduced, but says he is not ready to put his name behind it.

"There are a lot of ideas that aren't ready for prime-time and that correspondence as that issue develops, in my opinion, ought to be somewhat protected. But, if we're conducting the people's business, on the people's computer, using the people's system -- that's not ours. That's not mine. That's ours," said House Speaker Scott Bedke. 

In a statement, house Democratic leaders strongly condemned the proposal.

"This is the latest attempt by Republicans nationwide to call into question the importance of a free press and the role they play in holding our elected officials accountable," said House Minority Leader, Representative Mat Erpelding. "I am embarrassed I have to even address an issue so detrimental to our democracy." 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho is just one of several groups who have also expressed concerns with the proposed bill.  They say, while they understand there needs to be a balance between transparency and protecting privacy, this bill is too broad.

"It's very encompassing. It sweeps a lot of critical information under the rug. And, for those reasons, we feel that balance is not appropriate. It's really favoring censorship of government," said Kathy Griesmyer, the Policy Director for the ACLU of Idaho.

In a statement, the president of the Idaho Press Club also expressed concerns:

"The Idaho Press Club would strongly oppose this kind of expansion of secrecy in the operations of our state legislature. We are a 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," said Betsy Russell, the President of the Idaho Press Club.

At this time, the bill is still in committee, and it has not been scheduled for a hearing.