SALEM – The Oregon House of Representatives has passed a bill 36-to-21 that exempts legislators' email lists from disclosure under the public records law.
The bill makes an exception for lawmakers' own campaigns and their opponents' campaigns, which still would be entitled to access the email addresses under law.
Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, sponsored the bill after his office and several other legislative offices received public records requests from Richard Ellmyer, owner of a political newsletter, in December 2015 for email addresses of people who had subscribed to the lawmakers' newsletters.
In 2013, Democrats, including Barnhart, sponsored and passed similar legislation to make state agencies' email lists exempt from disclosure. The law was a response to a controversy in 2012 over former legislator Dennis Richardson's use of the public records law to obtain nearly 500,000 email addresses to distribute his political newsletter.
Barnhart described Monday's bill as a "simple fix" to legislative emails being left out of the 2013 legislation. Both bills were designed to deter spammers from "harassing" constituents, Barnhart said.
But House Minority Leader Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, characterized the bill as hypocritical, because it allows campaigns to have access to the emails but not the general public.
"What I take issue with is state legislators handing those emails over to campaigns when people believe they're signing up for the district newsletter," McLane said.
McLane called a Republican caucus just before the vote, and all of the no votes came from the GOP.
The legislation now heads to the Oregon Senate.
Barnhart's bill is one of several that seek exemptions to the public records law at a time when other lawmakers and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum's Office have been seeking to reduce and simplify the state's some 500 exemptions.