Lawmakers are public officials. The public should be able to find them, media coalition argues

The Utah Transparency Project offers real-time assessments of legislation that could either increase or decrease public access to government records and meetings.

The Utah Transparency Project will use these symbols to rate legislation on its openness to the citizenry.

House Bill 538 — Protection of Elected Official Personal Information (Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan)

Rep. Birkeland’s bill is meant to help keep public officials from dealings with threats against themselves or their family, which is reasonable. But the way she proposes to do it is to allow the Utah Division of Technology Services to contract with providers — at taxpayer expense — to scrub the Internet of “Personal Identifying Information.”

That’s a broad category of information. It includes, but is not limited to, a person’s name, birthdate, address, email address, phone number, driver’s license and Social Security number. It applies to statewide elected officials and legislators, but not, for some reason, to judges. The bill also exempts from open records laws the lawmaker’s request to have their information scrubbed and any record of what was deleted.

The law already allows for lawmakers to withhold certain information, but being a public servant also means the public needs to be able to communicate with their officials. Or even, to know if they live in the city or county they represent. Nobody should condone threats or harassment, but purging the internet of contact information undermines the notion of public service and gets a “Closed Door” rating from The Utah Transparency Project.

On this bill, the Utah Transparency Project reserves the right to change its rating, as its members work with the bill’s sponsor on amendments that would ensure people can learn about their lawmakers.