PNA Opposes Amendment to Senate Bill 411 creating blanket exemption for home addresses

  • Oct 20, 2015

Paula Knudsen, Director of Government Affairs/Legislative Counsel

Action needed: Call your Senator and tell him or her why home addresses are so important for newsgathering. Ask your Senator to vote against any legislation that excludes home addresses from the Right to Know Law. Find your senator here.

The Senate voted yesterday to significantly expand the home address exclusions in the Right to Know Law, and voted again today to amend Senate Bill 411 to clarify additional home address exclusions. Yesterday, the Senate voted on Sen. Dominic Pileggi's SB 411, legislation that would amend various sections of the Right to Know Law. During the floor debate, Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Mercer) offered an amendment to SB 411 that would prohibit disclosure of public employees' home addresses, including teacher home addresses. Sen. Brooks' amendment was adopted in a 26-23 vote.

On Monday, PNA issued the following statement regarding SB411, prior to the home address expansion.

PNA opposes the newly-added home address exemptions in SB 411 as overbroad and unnecessary. Senators who voted in favor of the exemption voiced concern about safety for public employees whose home address information could be released through a Right to Know Law request. However, the law already contains an exemption that protects individuals who are at risk of a demonstrated harm (Section 708(b)(ii)), and already provides for home address protection for law enforcement officials, judges and minors (Sec. 708(b)(6)(C),(30).

There are many reasons why home address information is and must 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).

As a more practical matter, home address information is widely available through private databases, internet search tools, voter registration, court, property tax and other records expressly made public by law. In the years since the White Pages were the primary source for home addresses and phone numbers, home address information has become more, not less, publicly available. And Google Streetview has taken this information to a new level. Voter registration records, used by every public office-seeker in this Commonwealth, contain home addresses and dates of birth. Court records and property tax records contain address information as well. SB928, which passed the Senate 46-3 this session, would require PennDOT to sell 'basic driver information,' including name, address, driver's license number, and date of birth, to distributors and insurers. Any suggestion that a blanket exemption for public employee addresses in the Right to Know Law is necessary for public safety reasons is disingenuous at best. As explained by Commonwealth Court President Judge Pellegrini in his dissenting opinion in PSEA v. DCED (regarding access to teacher home addresses):

"Most teachers are well known in the community in which they teach. In any event, finding out where they live is not all that difficult. Free online services provide home addresses, telephone numbers, a person's age, who else lives in the house, their ages, picture of the home address and prior home addresses. For a small fee, these services will then provide you with a search of every public database and social media site. In the not too distant past, home addresses were readily discoverable; it was called the White Pages, which had both a person's home address and telephone number. To say that disclosing the home address affects personal security of a teacher is like saying disclosing the name of the teacher involved is a substantial and demonstrable risk. Nothing has been cited to us that disclosing information unique to an individual caused harm to anyone. When asked, PSEA counsel could not cite one example. Home addresses are known or readily available so if they are released to the public, there can be no demonstrable risk because they are already known."

110 A.3d 1076 (2015), dissenting opinion.

We urge you to contact your Senators to oppose these damaging amendments. For more information, contact Paula Knudsen, Director of Government Affairs/Legislative Counsel: (717) 951-6314 or paulak@pa-news.org

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