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Bill shielding taxpayer email addresses raises concerns

Pointing to a potential "slippery slope," an open-government group Monday requested that a Pinellas lawmaker withdraw a bill that would create a new public records exemption for email addresses used by tax collectors to send notices to taxpayers.

From The News Service of Florida: The Senate version of the bill, SB 538 by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. A similar measure, HB 421 by Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, has been filed in the House. The Senate bill says, in part, that email addresses submitted to tax collectors are currently public records "and, when combined with other personal identifying information, can be used for identity theft, taxpayer scams, and other invasive contacts."

But the First Amendment Foundation, in a letter Monday to Latvala, said there is "no factual evidence to support" the assertion that a public-records exemption is needed to prevent identity theft and warned that the bill could have broader long-term implications.

"This particular legislation protects only those email addresses obtained by tax collectors," foundation President Barbara Petersen wrote. "If passed, it would create the proverbial slippery slope of Mt. Everest proportions, Senator, provoking similar unnecessary and unsubstantiated exemptions, affecting all government business conducted electronically, creating major problems with efficiency, and increasing costs associated with obtaining public records."

A separate, unrelated proposal to be considered by the 2014 Legislature would allow tax collectors to accept applications for concealed weapons permits.

-- Steve Bousquet