Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers took a step back Tuesday from requiring cities and counties to remove law enforcement officers' personal information and addresses from online records.
The measure, Senate Bill 78, was sponsored by Rep. Chris Malone, R-Wake. He argued that it would make it more difficult for criminals to find and threaten or harm court officials and officers who've arrested or prosecuted them.
When Malone first introduced the bill in House Judiciary C Committee on June 18, he brought Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen to testify. Janssen's father, Frank Janssen, was kidnapped by a drug ring whose leader Ms. Janssen had sent to prison.
"It will make it that much harder to locate the home addresses of prosecutors, law enforcement – people who are put in the position on a regular basis of creating enemies out of these kinds of people," Colleen Janssen told the committee.
"There are steps you can take to help control other sources of information about you," she said. "But it doesn't do any good if someone can just log onto wakegov.com and see a photo of your house with a picture of the car you drive in the driveway."
Committee members pointed out, however, that Malone's bill would not hide Janssen's father's address – only the prosecutor's.
"I agree that this bill will not solve the problem," she said, "but this is a problem that doesn't have a perfect solution, a single solution."
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Tuesday that actual tax records on file at city and county offices would still bear the officials' information. Local officials would be required to remove it only from the online files.
"This information is still out there in the public domain, but the person who wants it is going to have to go down to the courthouse to get it."
Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, was skeptical, asking whether "bad guys" couldn't just get the information through a search engine.
Moore conceded that other sites, from Google to Internet directories, might also have the officials' address and information. "We can't do anything about that," he said.
Concerns about the cost to cities and counties, as well as disagreement about which officials and officers should be included under the protection, kept the bill off the House floor last week.
It finally reappeared Tuesday, with an amendment by Malone to turn it into a study by the North Carolina Courts Commission instead.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, chairwoman of the committee that heard the measure, commended the change.
"The bill he wants to do is an incredibly good thing for law enforcement officers, but It creates a lot of unintended consequences," Stevens said. "I’d like the people on the courts commission to take a look at it."
The proposal now goes back to the Senate for final approval.