Legislative Alert: PNA Opposes House Bill 824

  • Oct 09, 2015

Paula Knudsen, Director of Government Affairs/Legislative Counsel

The House is scheduled on Monday, June 8, to vote on second consideration on House Bill 824.

Action Needed:  Please consider editorializing on this topic as well as contacting your representative to voice your opposition to this bill. Find your representative here.

HB 824, authored by Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks), would prohibit release of information related to "public safety officials," including home addresses, personal telephone numbers or email addresses upon request of the official, without standards or a right to appeal. The proposed changes would not be part of the Right to Know Law, and the PNA is opposed to the legislation.

HB 824’s prohibition on release of information would be triggered upon the request of the public safety official. “Public safety officials” are defined as certain persons enumerated in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(c) and any person determined to be a law enforcement officer pursuant to the Right to Know Law. Under HB 824’s current definition, “public safety officials” would include:

  • Police officer.
  • Firefighter.
  • County adult probation or parole officer.
  • County juvenile probation or parole officer.
  • An agent of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.
  • Sheriff.
  • Deputy sheriff.
  • Liquor control enforcement agent.
  • Officer or employee of a correctional institution, county jail or prison, juvenile detention center or any other facility to which the person has been ordered by the court pursuant to a petition alleging delinquency under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to juvenile matters).
  • Judge of any court in the unified judicial system.
  • The Attorney General.
  • A deputy attorney general.
  • A district attorney.
  • An assistant district attorney.
  • A public defender.
  • An assistant public defender.
  • A Federal law enforcement official.
  • A State law enforcement official.
  • A local law enforcement official.
  • Any person employed to assist or who assists any Federal, State or local law enforcement official.
  • Emergency medical services personnel.
  • A magisterial district judge.
  • A constable.
  • A deputy constable.
  • An individual engaged in the private detective business as defined in section 2(a) and (b) of the act of August 21, 1953 (P.L.1273, No.361), known as The Private Detective Act of 1953.
  • An employee or agent of a county children and youth social service agency or of the legal representative of such agency.
  • A wildlife conservation officer or deputy wildlife conservation officer of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
  • A waterways conservation officer or deputy waterways conservation officer of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The “public safety official” could request the same exemption for his or her spouse, child or parent. The current language of the bill permits public officials to exempt their addresses from public scrutiny based solely upon the official’s request. There is no standard applied to the official’s request and therefore, no basis required to limit access. Additionally there is no appeal mechanism. Finally, if information is released after a confidentiality request has been entered, there are criminal penalties including summary or misdemeanor charges.

Current law already provides protections for law enforcement officials and judges through the Right to Know Law. Sec. 708(b)(6)(C). In addition, protection for spouses and minor children is also provided for in the Right to Know Law. Sec. 708(b)(6)(B). Finally, there already is an exemption in the Right to Know that protects individuals who are at risk of a demonstrated harm. Section 708(b)(ii) provides an exemption for information related to an individual if it “would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of an individual.”

There are many reasons why home address information is and should remain presumptively public. The media and the public use home addresses in a number of ways that advance the public interest, including verifying residency requirements for those seeking public office and certain public employees. Members of the media also use address information on a daily basis, to confirm the identity of individuals about whom they are writing. This includes individuals charged with a crime, as well as those being honored in their community. For obvious reasons, it is critical that these individuals are properly identified (and that others are not incorrectly identified). Address information is critical to ensuring accurate identification. Voter registration records, which include home address – and other – information are widely distributed and used during elections.

If HB 824 would become law, there would be a serious conflict between the law’s amended language and a number of other state laws that require public and elected officials’ addresses to be public, including voter registration records, property tax records and court records. Exemptions to the Right to Know Law have no effect on these other, more specific laws that guarantee public access to address information, and proposals such as HB 824 have the potential to create a confusing patchwork of law governing public access to address information.

For more information on PNA’s position, contact Paula Knudsen, Director of Government Affairs/Legislative Counsel: (717) 951-6314 or paulak@pa-news.org.

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