State House passes legislation to block access to information on school employees

GEORGIA — The state House of Representatives unanimouslyapproved a billon Feb. 5 to block access to public school employees’ personalinformation, adding further exemptions to the state’s open-recordsact.

House Bill 65 is the legislature’s response to The AtlantaJournal-Constitution‘s request last year to the state Departmentof Education for access to computer files on about 200,000 schoolemployees. The newspaper said it wanted access to the files todetermine whether any school bus drivers had criminal drivingrecords and needed the drivers’ Social Security numbers to cross-referenceemployee files with driving records.

The bill would exempt the Social Security numbers, home addresses,telephone numbers and health insurance information of public schoolteachers and employees from the Georgia Open Records Act. Thisinformation is already protected for law enforcement officers,judges, prosecutors, prison workers and crime lab scientists.

In a statement released to the press, Hollie Manheimer, executivedirector of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, criticizedthe bill, saying the law may be used to cover up government inefficiencies.

"Despite some very valid competing concerns, the abilityof the public to watchdog the activities of government must notsuffer," she said.

Buck Levins, an aide to Thomas Murphy, speaker of the GeorgiaHouse of Representatives and a sponsor of the bill, said the intent"is to help protect teachers." It prevents public accessto "personal information that doesn’t have anything to dowith [the employees’] ability to do their job."