Dallas Morning News Opinion Blog: Bill to make birth dates confidential is dead

By Rodger Jones
Dallas Morning News
Originally published March 25, 2015

Just got off the phone with the office of Rep. Cindy Burkett to fact-check her bill (HB 2766) that would have amended the Texas Open Records Act to keep birth dates confidential.

Here’s an unexpected fact I learned: Burkett will not ask for a hearing on this legislation, according to her chief of staff, Allison Billodeau. That means the bill is dead.

That’s good for the public’s right to know. (It’s a semi-bummer for me, since I had an editorial written and ready to go on this proposal.)

This is also a good move for Burkett. Carrying this bill would have put her in the position of arguing for a king-sized exemption in the 42-year-old Texas Open Records Act. Open-government advocates would have lined up to testify in opposition. It would have been ugly. Burkett’s a smarter lawmaker than to let that happen.

Billodeau said Burkett filed the bill at the request of Mesquite officials to address a stalker’s attempt to track down a worker using a DOB. Establishing confidentiality of DOBs seemed harmless at the time, but the bill filing triggered lots of negative reaction, and Burkett’s office looked deeper into the matter, Billodeau said.

Ultimately, it seemed to create too many problems and block the flow of information that the public has an interest in, Billodeau said. That was never Burkett’s intention, she said, so the Sunnyvale lawmaker decided she will not ask for a hearing on the bill.

Because I don’t want my editorial’s paragraphs to go entirely to waste, I’ll post a couple of them here:

If this bill passes, picture massive redactions throughout information that’s now routinely divulged by government agencies. This newspaper and other media outlets rely on them in matters of keen public interest. Start with police records. Release of DOBs helps journalists distinguish between the bad guys and Texans who happen to share the same name. The information can also be important to quickly and accurately identify victims caught up in terrible events.

Public watchdogs have used birth dates to discover workers with criminal records who shouldn’t have been on the public payroll, including in teaching jobs.

The editorial would have ended this way:

Burkett’s bill has been referred to the aptly named House Committee on Government Transparency & Operation. With emphasis on the transparency part of the committee’s purview, this would be a great place for the bill to die.

Looks like we got our editorial wish after all.