A state Supreme Court decision that threw havoc into the offices of town and city clerks across Connecticut now has been "fixed" by the General Assembly. Gov. Dannel Malloy offered a better solution, but the legislature rejected it and the governor signed the lawmakers' version of the bill.
At issue is a long-standing effort of police, correction officers, and other civil servants to keep their personal information such as addresses from the public. The claim was that they were engaged in dangerous work and their residences should not be a matter of public record.
The General Assembly has steadily expanded the list to include Judicial Branch employees, federal and state judges, all employees of the Department of Children and Families, employees of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services who engage in direct patient care, any lawyer who has been a public defender or a social worker in those offices.
The Day believes the so-called "protection" granted by keeping addresses secret is an illusion. In the modern computer world, anyone who wants to find the address of another person can almost surely do so.
Under the court decision, the protected classes of state employees were not required to request non-disclosure from the clerks. Somehow, the clerks were expected to be able to identify the thousands of people protected in the state law. This is a folly that places a terrible burden on the clerks, who can't be expected to know the information what the badly drafted law requires.
Town Clerk Joyce Mascena of Glastonbury, who headed the statewide clerks' association, said at the time of the Supreme Court ruling, "I'll be honest with you. I don't know the status of the job of everyone who lives in my town. I don't know how I would know that."
The issue got thornier last year when the state Supreme Court decision defying common sense came down. It said that the address restriction should be expanded to protect such things as voter registration lists, real estate transactions and grand list assessments of property, to include motor vehicle tax lists.
The decision by the court thus created a whole, new dilemma for the clerks and for attorneys, real estate agents and anyone else who expects to find information pertinent to civil transactions. The decision lacked even a glimmer of what would happen in the real world of state and city governments.
The court decision would have made the routine work of planning boards zoning boards of appeal and similar agencies bound up by secrecy. After all, how could an agency discuss and rule on a matter without stating the address?
Moreover, having large numbers of voters in protected classes keeping their names off voter lists would have been a nightmare at election season.
Finally, at least the General Assembly understood, as the Supreme Court did not, that the court decision would produce widespread problems. So, after more than six months since the decision, the legislature sprung into action. It passed a new law without conducting a public hearing on the bill, and without even letting anyone know what was afoot. Apparently, the General Assembly thinks the public has no interest in or the right to comment on the bill heading for approval.
The Connecticut Daily Newspaper and the state Commission on Freedom of Information objected strenuously to this dead-of-night secrecy regarding the legislation. But legislators seem unruffled by their improper behavior
The legislature's "solution" was to pass a requirement that municipal land records, voter registration lists and grand lists must be released in full to the public starting June 1. That part is good. But the law also allows protected classes of state employees to request of local agencies that their names and addresses be kept private.
The whole matter has shown both the legislature and the Supreme Court at their worst. In protecting and advancing a so-called protected class of public officials and ramming legislation through without a hearing, the two agencies have undermined public trust.