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May 19, 2023

CT Senate passes two bills curtailing Freedom of Information Act

YEHYUN KIM / CTMIRROR.ORG Connecticut State Capitol in Hartord.

The state Senate’s Democratic majority voted Thursday for the second time in 24 hours for legislation that would curtail the Freedom of Information Act at the request of public employees and over objections by open-government advocates.

Supporters of both bills, which now go to the House, say the measures are necessary to protect public employees and researchers in public universities from harassment.

Senate Bill 1157 would bar public agencies from disclosing residential addresses of municipal, state or federal employees from personnel or similar files, expanding a protection that had been focused on public safety and judicial employees. 

It passed Thursday on a 21-13 vote with every Republican and two Democrats, Sens. Cathy Osten of Sprague and Rick Lopes of New Britain, opposed.

“It is quite easy to contact our members at their jobs. There is a public good to protecting state employees from harassment. There is no public good to exposing them to it,” said Brian Anderson of AFSCME.

Tom Scheffey of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information said the new exemption would hamper legitimate news reporting about property-tax liabilities or criminal arrests while offering little protection to employees.

Senate Bill 1153, which passed Wednesday night on a party-line vote, would exempt from disclosure public higher education files arising from “teaching or research on medical, artistic, scientific, legal or other scholarly issues, including any such records of legal clinics or centers.”

The American Association of University Professors told lawmakers at a public hearing that freedom of information laws have been weaponized to harass researchers, sometimes by obtaining email exchanges.

“Discussions between faculty in the early stages of research exploration can be misinterpreted and used to discredit or defame faculty,” said Michael Bailey, executive director of UConn-AAUP.

The Freedom of Information Commission testified that the bill was overly broad and that the law already provides protections against the disclosure of preliminary drafts, trade secrets, commercial or financial information, attorney-client privileged communications and student records.

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