Senate passes bill limiting public access to government documents

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The W.Va. Senate, on Thursday, passed SB 21 – which seeks to change the status of certain documents currently designated as public information. 

“On construction contracts that require prevailing wage, the construction contractors are required to submit certified payroll reports to the appropriate agencies so that the government can confirm whether taxes are paid and the prevailing wages are paid properly,” Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer – sponsor of SB 21 – explained. “Those documents also include personal information on the employees themselves.”

Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer.

According to Swope,in addition to wages and tax information, the documents in question also include information about specific employees, such as name, social security number, and home address. 

“If anyone is interested in identity theft, all they have to do is FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request these reports,” Swope said. “They can get the names of hundreds, if not thousands of these people, and take out false credit cards, etc. So the purpose of this bill is to simply protect the employees from identity theft.”

During the Jan. 20 meeting of the Senate’s Workforce Committee, WV Press Association Executive Director Don Smith spoke in opposition of the bill, saying, “As a rule, the press association opposes government documents and public records being made confidential. We already have 23 exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, and Amendment 2 covers personal information that can be struck. So, if there was something in this record that they felt needed to be withheld, it could be redacted from the record already.”

Read Autumn Shelton’s full report regarding the Senate Workforce Committee’s debate over SB 21 here. 

SB 21 was passed by the Senate by a vote of 28 to two, with four absences. Only Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, voted against the bill. SB 21 will now be forwarded to the House of Delegates for their consideration. 

RealWV will provide updates regarding the progress of SB 21 as additional information becomes available. 


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