The road to government secrecy is paved with good intentions—as most recently exemplified by this week’s Rogue, the Oregon District Attorneys Association.
The DAs persuaded lawmakers in the just-concluded legislative session to expand existing exemptions from the public-records law for the roughly 360 prosecutors and deputy prosecutors in Oregon’s 36 counties.
Those prosecutors could already request that their names, addresses and phone numbers as contained in voting and property records be exempt from disclosure. The new law, House Bill 2339, broadens the shield to include such records as liens, mortgage documents and even dog licenses. And it expands exemptions for cops, corrections officers, parole officers and ambulance dispatchers.
District attorneys’ association lobbyist Kevin Neely cites the need for greater protection by describing three threats to prosecutors’ lives in the past seven years.
“I think we can demonstrate unequivocally that lives and lives of families have been seriously threatened by determined and demented individuals,” Neely says.
Nobody wants to put any public official’s life at risk. But these risks aren’t new—nor unique to prosecutors. There also is a broader principle at stake: lawmakers’ willingness to restrict public access to basic information. County officials opposed these changes because the process of culling prosecutors’ info will be cumbersome. And like another bill lawmakers passed exempting military discharge papers from disclosure, HB 2339’s unwieldiness will limit access to other county records.
Two veteran state legislators who voted against the bill say the additional exemptions are unnecessary.
“If you make a chart of all the things that are exempt from disclosure, it’s pretty alarming,” says Sen. Rick Metsger (D-Welches).
Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene) says she’s skeptical the law would be effective, given all the avenues for discovering addresses.
“If somebody wants to find you,” Walker says, “they’ll find you.”