JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A bill in the Mississippi House that would ban businesses and government agencies from releasing personal information about employees could make the agencies less responsive to the public, open-government advocates said Thursday.
The personal information ban would include work telephone numbers or e-mail addresses.
“This seems to create a faceless bureaucracy, and that’s what people hate the most,” Barbara Powell, lobbyist for Common Cause Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, said Thursday at the Capitol.
The bill appears unlikely to pass.
One of the sponsors, House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, told The Associated Press he might not even bring the bill up for debate in his committee, which would kill it.
Blackmon said bills sometimes are filed just to create discussion – but he did say this one has some merit.
“I don’t think you give up everything about your life because you work for government,” Blackmon said.
Attorney General Jim Hood said he requested the bill because he doesn’t want government agencies to sell people’s contact information to other governments or to private businesses.
Hood said he contacted another state to inquire about pheasant hunting on public lands, and he gave his personal e-mail and traditional mailing address. He said after that, he was inundated with tourism brochures from several other states.
“I just hope they weren’t making money off my information,” Hood said.
He said he didn’t anticipate that the bill could potentially restrict people from being able to contact government workers.
Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, is listed as a co-sponsor of the bill, but he said he thinks his name was put on it only because he had agreed to sponsor other bills for the attorney general. Moak said he disagrees with restricting public access to government employees’ work contact information.
“I’m of the mind that our tax dollars allow me to contact the person who is a state employee at their office. I don’t get to harass them after hours, but I do get to harass them 8 to 5 every day,” Moak said. “And if they’re a public official, I get to harass them 24-7.”