Health care workers, child protection workers, code enforcement officers and other public-facing, but unelected, workers can now get another layer of protection under a new law signed by Gov. Jared Polis last week.
House Bill 1041 allows those workers to withhold their full name and home address from the internet if they attest to being at risk of imminent and serious threats. Or, to use 21st-century terms, the law seeks to cover them if they fear they’re vulnerable to doxxing, where people post addresses and phone numbers to the internet, or use that information to harass the victims.
“(The protected workers) do have a public-facing job, but just because you have a public-facing job doesn’t mean you should have threats against your family or yourself for doing the work you’ve been tasked with doing,” sponsor state Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins, said.
The bill is a follow up to a 2021 law that specifically allowed public health workers to ask that their personal information be redacted from publicly available government databases. (The 2021 bill also made it a misdemeanor for people to post that information if it poses an imminent threat to public health workers; this bill does not do that.) Both passed with bipartisan support.
The bill started with concerns from Larimer County officials that code enforcement officers specifically were facing disgruntled people tracking them down at their homes. It soon expanded when others shared similar stories, Boesenecker said.
In one case, a nurse and her family is still facing harassment after she signed a letter informing a hospital patient that their lack of a COVID-19 vaccine disqualified them from receiving an organ transplant — a perfunctory task by a worker who didn’t have any role in establishing the policy, Boesenecker said. In another case, a resident showed up at an animal control officer’s home angry about that local enforcement, he said.
State Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, sponsored the bill with Boesenecker. He called it a “measured, thoughtful, narrow” bill that protected the workers without infringing on people’s right to protest government actions they find unjust.
The workers protected in the bill are just carrying out responsibilities laid out by public officials. And if they do it in an objectionable way, residents can still go to the government offices to seek redress — just not their homes, he said.
“Those people have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Larson said. “They didn’t go out and put their name on a ballot and say to 20,000 people, subject my private life to scrutiny.”
During hearings on the bill, some people asked why those public-facing workers can get extra privacy, but not other public-facing workers, such as Starbucks baristas or truck drivers, Larson said. He called this bill a starting point for conversations about more universal privacy protections for all Coloradans, though he’s still formulating what those might look like.
Neither this bill nor the 2021 effort around public health workers won unanimous support on its way to the governor’s desk. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, voted against both, though he said he wasn’t adamantly opposed and certainly not pro-doxxing. He saw it as a matter of not treating people equally.
“We just keep passing laws that treat people differently based on what they do or who they are,” Holbert said. “… It’s just unequal protection under the law.”
Denver Post reporter Alex Burness contributed to this report.
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