State Politics

Legislation would keep lawmakers’ texts, emails from public

Idaho lawmaker explains why he wants emails shielded from public disclosure

Rep. Vito Barbieri discusses the bill he has proposed that would exempt certain lawmaker communications from state laws on public disclosure.
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Rep. Vito Barbieri discusses the bill he has proposed that would exempt certain lawmaker communications from state laws on public disclosure.

Communications between Idaho lawmakers would be considered private and exempted from public disclosure under a proposal introduced in a House committee Wednesday.

But House Speaker Scott Bedke told reporters later that the bill predominantly was “borne out of frustration” from lawmakers buried in multiple public records requests. He said he would “probably not” support it.

Don’t panic.

House Speaker Scott Bedke to Idaho reporters

The measure from Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, would rewrite state public records law to shield most communications between Idaho lawmakers and their staffs. It would also redact identifiable information about private citizens in their communications with lawmakers. Communications between lawmakers and lobbyists would not be exempted.

The House State Affairs Committee moved the bill for a full hearing without debate or discussion. No date is scheduled.

Idaho lawmakers’ email and personal calendars are available to the public upon request. The Idaho Public Records Act, adopted in 1990, permits officials to ask for a time extension to review records for possible exemptions, such as employee personal information, before turning them over. State law also allows officials to charge a fee after providing one free hour of work.

Barbieri said Thursday there “ may be some difficulties” with the bill’s language and it might be revised to clarify the scope of the exemption.

“It's not the burden to us,” that prompted the bill, he said. “It’s more along the line of the substantive aspect of being able to feel like we can communicate freely.”

House Democrats issued a statement calling the legislation “a blow to transparency, accountability and freedom of the press” that would “do a great disservice to the citizens of Idaho who have the right to know what their elected officials are doing with their time and taxpayer money.”

The Idaho Press Club also weighed in against it.

Bedke said he understood concerns from lawmakers who “don’t have staff and get two or three or more public information requests each week.” But he said lawmakers “can do better” than the proposed bill.

“If we’re conducting the people’s business on the people’s computers, using the people’s system, that’s not ours,” Bedke said.

Bill Dentzer contributed. 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews

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