Florida lawmakers pitch more privacy for voters, themselves

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TALLAHASSEE – Privacy from big tech is high on legislative priorities this year, but lawmakers are also pushing legislation that would shield voter registration data and their own personal information from the public record.

This is the second year legislation to shield state lawmakers’ and cabinet members’ home address, phone number and date of birth from the public record has been filed.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Fla., couldn’t be reached Monday for comment, but last year she said the legislation was aimed at protecting elected officials’ families from danger.

“What I’m trying to solve the problem (of) is someone who’s in the heat of a moment, of an anger, of a frustration, get online, Google and the first thing that pops up is my home address,” said Stargel in an interview in January 2020.

The First Amendment Foundation argues shielding lawmakers’ addresses from the public eye would make it harder to ensure officials live in the districts they represent.

The foundation also takes issue with an exemption in the bill for the employer of elected officials’ spouses.

“It’s impossible for the public to really know if there’s any conflicts of interest,” said Virginia Hamrick, an attorney with FAF.

Another bill filed this year would shield registered voters’ emails, addresses, date of birth and phone numbers.

Mark Earley, vice president of the association representing Florida’s election supervisors, supports the effort.

“We need to have better protections. Our voters are trusting us with their data. If they can’t trust that they can get registered to vote and still maintain some kind of personal privacy that’s a bad statement about where we are,” said Earley.

There’s one notable exception in the bill.

Political parties and candidates could still access the voter registration data.

“So it’s just available to some and not the public,” said Hamrick.

Whether the records exemption proposals will fare better this year than in previous sessions might depend on how successful the governor and legislative leaders are in their push for privacy from big tech.

Any public records expeditions must be passed by a two thirds vote in each chamber.