California lawmakers OK bill to hide public worker addresses

California Lawmakers Ok Bill To Hide Public Worker Addresses
Rich Pedroncelli - staff, AP

FILE - An election worker inspects mail-in ballots to be sure they are signed, at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Office in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 14, 2021. The California Legislature, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, passed a bill that would make all government workers and contractors eligible for a state program to keep their addresses hidden from public records. That includes election workers and code enforcement officers.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Wednesday voted to let government workers hide their home addresses from public records if they fear for their safety, a response to the country’s continuously polarizing politics and pandemic policies that have fueled an increase in violent threats against some public employees.

California and 41 other states already have laws that shield the home addresses of victims of domestic violence and other crimes, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, a nonprofit that advocates for victims’ rights. California’s program goes a bit further by also including abortion workers and public health employees.

Wednesday, the California Legislature voted to expand the state law even more to include all employees of a federal, state or local government agency — most notably election workers and code enforcement officers, who have both reported an increase in violent threats in recent years. The bill would let those workers use a substitute address on public records, including the voter registration file.

“It’s probably another manifestation of polarization,” said state Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat from Fullerton and the bill’s author. “Nobody really envisioned a time where you would have to protect so many public workers.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who must decide by the end of September whether to sign the bill into law. It would not apply to state lawmakers or other elected officials, according to Newman’s office.

Government workers are often the first to bear the brunt of the public’s frustration over unpopular public policies and laws. Code enforcement officers — unarmed workers who enforce local laws about property maintenance, health and safety ordinances and a number of other measures — are often confronted by angry business owners.

Jamie Zeller, a senior code enforcement officer for the city of Carlsbad, said a woman who had violated city policy by having too much junk on her property “posted on social media and told me to my face she was going to blow my effing head off,” she said. Zeller said she ended up getting a restraining order against the woman.

“Most of us who are in this profession have run into this numerous times, where people threaten to kill us or tried to come after you in a small area like a building or a room or apartment,” Zeller said.

Zeller, who is also president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers, said threats have increased since the pandemic began in 2020 and many code enforcement officers had to monitor businesses for complying with pandemic restrictions, like wearing masks. Santa Clara County Health Director Dr. Sara Cody had to have 24-hour security from the sheriff’s department in 2020 after she was targeted for issuing strict pandemic restrictions.

Those types of threats have continued into 2022. Last week, during a public hearing on this bill, a man who identified himself only as “Mike” spoke to lawmakers by phone to tell them the proposed bill was “an outrage.” He said most government officials are now working from home, saying “the only place you can find them to redress the grievance with your government is at their residence.”

“You guys need to fear the people. And if you could hear the people we wouldn’t need to come to your house,” he said. “But since you guys aren’t there, we’re coming to your house. And guess what? We’ve got some post office workers on our side, we’ll figure out where you’re at.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who has had people threaten to bomb his home in the past, said the man’s comments were “a criminal threat against members of the Legislature” and asked for an investigation. Capitol security officers are investigating.