A busy session for public records legislation

First Amendment Committee report

By Scott McIntosh

The 2022 Idaho legislative session was a surprisingly busy one for the Idaho Press Club.

In all, the Press Club, represented by our lobbyist, Ken Burgess, of Veritas Advisors, worked on seven pieces of legislation having to do with open government and public records. We worked with legislators to help make a couple of bills better, we helped to get a couple of bad bills quashed and we carried a bill that requires disclosure of phone numbers as part of campaign contact information.

Here’s a rundown of what we worked on this session:

Campaign contact information: This legislation affirms that campaign contact information is publicly available from the Secretary of State’s Office to those who request it, as has been the historical practice. As some of you may have noticed, candidate contact information has been missing the past couple of years, making it difficult to contact candidates to invite them to candidate forums and editorial board meetings or even just fill out voter guide surveys or reporter interviews.

After some wrangling and last-minute drama, Burgess and club president Betsy Russell were able to get this bill passed, ensuring that campaign contact phone numbers are publicly available upon request.

Public records custodian bill: The Idaho Press Club worked with Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, on a bill that adds language to the Public Records Act to designate a custodian of public record requests for the Legislature. Lakey’s bill was altered by the House, removing its main section (which would have made the Legislative Services Office, rather than individual lawmakers, the custodian and responder to all public records requests to the Legislature), but still leaving several smaller changes.

Here are the changes as a result of the bill that journalists need to be aware of when making public records requests of the Legislature: 

  1. The bill clarifies that any request must clearly indicate in the heading it is a public records request.
  2. In the case the request is to the entire Legislature, the Speaker of the House and Pro Tem of the Senate shall be copied as well as Legislative Services Office.
  3. In the case the request is of the entire House, the Speaker and LSO shall be copied, and likewise if to the Senate, the Pro Tem and LSO shall be copied. 
  4. If the request is of an individual legislator, the LSO shall be copied on the request as well as the individual legislator.

Additionally, the bill clarifies that public agencies shall declare and make prominently posted on their website a designated custodian of the public records for that agency with appropriate contact information, and keep that information updated.

The final version of this bill was the third one printed this session. The Press Club had concerns about the first version and worked with Lakey to resolve those concerns. The final version had been reprinted in the House and at that point was one we agreed not to oppose. 

Mugshot legislation: The Idaho Press Club worked with Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, on a bill that sought to delay the release and publication of arrest booking photos in the case where the person arrested was suffering from a mental health condition and committed for treatment within 24 hours of the arrest, provided that the crime was a misdemeanor not involving assault or battery. Again, earlier versions of this bill had problematic language that the Idaho Press Club opposed, and we communicated with Green on that language. She reworked the bill, the final version of which we did not oppose. The bill passed the House unanimously, but an objection from the Sheriff’s Association stymied the bill in the Senate.

Execution drug bill: The Idaho Press Club opposed and testified against this bill that protects the identity of people and entities associated with carrying out the death penalty, namely providers of the drugs used to administer lethal injection. Despite our testimony and letters in opposition, the bill passed and was signed by the governor. Can’t win them all.

Cybersecurity: The Idaho Press Club worked with the Association of Idaho Cities on a public records exemption regarding cybersecurity records and successfully reached agreement after they agreed to include the Press Club’s proposed changes (basically restating an existing exemption, in our view, and isn’t problematic.)

Camera footage: The Press Club opposed this bill, proposed by the city of Idaho Falls, that governs which types of video camera footage must be retained and for how long. We reviewed the draft of this bill and found it to be way too complicated and poorly written.  We offered to work with the city to come up with something acceptable, but they ultimately never introduced the bill.  This may be something we will have to work on next year.

Personal identifying information: Another bill pitched by the city of Idaho Falls would have exempted personal identifying information from public records disclosure, including name, phone number, address, birth date, along with a laundry list of other basic information. The city of Idaho Falls claimed that the bill was in response to a public records lawsuit that it lost – in 1994 – but we failed to see the connection. As it was, the bill was horribly written, overreaching and failed to take into account the changes to the public records laws since the court case.  The Press Club and the Newspaper Association of Idaho both strongly opposed the bill. After we met with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Chaney, he agreed to hold the bill, and it never received a hearing.

A big thank you to Ken Burgess, of Veritas Advisors, for working so diligently on our behalf (pro-bono!!) this session. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude. It wasn’t an easy session, and he helped tremendously in our cause for open government and transparency.

Scott McIntosh is the chair of the Idaho Press Club’s 1st Amendment Committee, and is the editorial page editor of the Idaho Statesman. Any Press Club members interested in joining the 1st Amendment Committee next year are encouraged to contact Scott or Betsy Russell. The committee meets weekly (virtually) during the legislative session to track legislation and coordinate with our lobbyist.