A bill being considered by Texas lawmakers aims to protect the personal information of all elected officials, including those serving in local government.
House Bill 1082 authored by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford was presented at a hearing Thursday morning before the State Affairs Committee.
“We as members of the Texas legislature and all statewide elected officials have the ability to opt out of having our home address, our Social Security number, our driver's license number, our family’s names released to the public,” King said, referring to the current statute. “This statute would just extend that to all elected officials in the state.”
King said he examined the issue after a conversation with Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson last summer.
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“One night last August, I got this panicky text from him. He said, ‘Phil you’re not going to believe this. I’m trying to get home … I’m not at home … but my wife just called. She and the kids are terrified. There’s protestors over in front of our house. They’re afraid and I’ve called the police, I’m heading over there now,’” King recalled. “His comment was, ‘You know … they didn’t run for office, I did. My kids didn’t, and my wife didn’t.’”
Johnson did not testify at the meeting Thursday, but his office sent NBC 5 a statement Thursday afternoon.
“I appreciate Representative King for authoring this bill. On a personal level, nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety. I understand that serving as mayor of the ninth-largest city in the country requires considerable sacrifices, but my wife and my young children should not have to pay the price for it. But this is not just about me or about any particular elected official. Anyone who chooses to run for office should have the confidence that they can have some modicum of privacy as they serve the public,” the statement read.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price testified at the hearing Thursday also voicing her support for the bill.
“You remember that last summer, I had protestors at my house. I never want to interfere with anyone’s right to protest, but there are other venues besides people’s private residences. It’s very hard for families when protestors show up,” Price said. “In that particular case, there were protestors … probably a group of 30, 35. They had guns and a stage. My neighbors were concerned.”
Price added on a typical Saturday morning, she would have been there with her grandchildren. That particular day, she was not home.
“They were respectful and nice, but they were in our yard and they were on our front porch. They rang the doorbell and they set up in the street and walked the street. I have a very much ‘open door’ policy and meet with anybody. I’ve met with this protest group a couple of times, so there are just better venues than for people to come to your residence,” she said. “It’s not unusual to have mayors and council-people to have threats and have protests more and more in this climate. It’s happening. I just think we need to be reasonable about where people can voice their opposition to things.”
Dr. Matt Wilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said he was not surprised to see efforts like this bill making its way through the state legislature.
“We have seen around the country more and more instances where aggressive protestors have confronted legislators in private spaces. At their homes, out at restaurants, shopping venues, and that has really frightened and angered elected officials, who feel like that private space ought to be off limits,” Wilson said.
Wilson added, he felt the bill had a reasonable chance of passing.
“It’s hard to make the argument that elected officials should give up all expectations of privacy, all ability to shield themselves and their families from citizen contact, as long as they’re making themselves available in their public role and their public space,” he explained.
King added during his presentation Thursday, the bill isn’t solely about public safety for current elected officials.
“I’m afraid at some point, we may have people afraid to run for office,” he said. “It’s perfectly appropriate for people to protest before us. That’s what we do here in Texas and in America, but that doesn’t need to be brought home. You would think common respect would prevent that, but it didn’t.”
At the hearing Thursday, there were no testimonies in opposition of the bill. The only question raised was whether the choice to opt out of releasing information such as personal addresses would be, in fact, a choice by the individual elected official.
King reassured the bill, if passed and signed into law, would be up to the discretion of the elected official whether he or she wanted that information released. It would not be required to opt out, he said.
According to the King’s office, the bill could be up for a committee vote as early as next week.