Victims’ addresses off-limits in Colorado

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Victims’ addresses will be off-limits to their abusers and the general public under a new law that goes into effect in Colorado next month.

Gov. Bill Ritter signed legislation May 31 establishing a Victim Address Confidentiality Program. H.B. 1350, which takes effect July 1, will allow a victim of a sex crime, domestic violence or stalking to have a fake address listed in public records.

The bill states that individuals on the run from abusers often move to new addresses to prevent their predators from finding them. However, the text says, “This new address … is only useful if an assailant or potential assailant does not discover it.”

Many public records, including addresses, can currently be accessed within minutes online. Public records, as defined in the bill, include all “documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, digital data, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by a state or local government agency.”

Under Colorado’s public-records law, any record from a public entity used to carry out its duties or involving its money is available for the public to see. The only exceptions to this are some personnel records and proprietary commercial information.

The confidentiality program would establish a substitute address for voluntary participants that state and local government agencies would use on public records. The secretary of state would receive mail sent to the fake address and forward it to the actual address of victims signed up for the program. While agencies may request disclosure of a participant’s actual address for reasons such as placing students within school districts, assessing property taxes, or assigning voting precincts, the secretary of state is prohibited from disclosing an address or telephone number other than the substitute unless such a request is granted. The bill also includes a clause that says any individual who obtains an actual address in violation of the program’s process will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The measure was sponsored by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Arapahoe), state Rep. Steve King (R-Delta) and state Sen. Ron Tupa (D-Boulder).

Romanoff told the Associated Press that in the past, voter-registration records have been particularly easy ways for offenders to find their victims.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between voting and protecting your family,” he told the AP.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Press Association was not available for comment for this story. However, the Daily Camera, a Boulder newspaper, acknowledged the importance of balancing freedom of information and the safety of individuals.

“This newspaper has long been an ardent open-records advocate, and remains so now. But (in some cases), society’s need for government transparency is outweighed by the individual’s need for safety,” Clint Talbott of the editorial board wrote prior to the bill’s signing. Talbott added that the government should also ensure that public records are closed only for valid reasons.

Colorado will join 21 other states in having an address-confidentiality program.

Courtney Holliday is a junior majoring in economics and public policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Tags: , , , ,