Budget bill includes expansion of terrorism  and school safety exemptions

Lawmakers added several new exemptions to the public records law related to school safety during the budget bill compromise discussions. The bill unveiled Monday night would exempt anonymous safety tips made to school systems and a new statewide database. The expansion of the terrorism exemption to include law enforcements response to organized criminal activity survived budget negotiations as well. 

Leaders of the General Assembly announced Monday that they had resolved the budget impasse and they revealed a 492 page compromise budget bill. But the bill isn’t limited to financial matters. It includes several new exemptions to the Public Records Law. 

School safety exemptions: An expansion of the school safety exemption was added to the bill during the compromise discussion. Under existing law, public schools are required to create emergency response plans and to maintain schematic diagrams of buildings to be shared with first responders, such as police and firefighters, during a crisis. Those records are exempt from the Public Records Law. 

The budget bill includes a significant overhaul of how local school boards and charter school systems should prepare for emergencies. The emergency response plans are renamed “school risk management plans” and it requires the creation of a statewide school risk management plan database. All data and information collected in the new database would be exempt. 

Under existing law schools are encouraged to maintain anonymous tip lines for safety threats. The budget bill revamps the regulations of these anonymous tip lines and requires several state agencies to collaborate in creating an “anonymous safety tip line application.” Information received through the application would be exempt. 

Terrorism exemptions: The previously reported expansion of the terrorism exemption survived the budget negotations. This change would do three things. First it would expand the definition of “sensitive security information” to include information about executive security details, which could be interpreted to include the daily calendars of government executives. Second, it expands the definition to include “detailed plans, patterns or practices associated with prison operations.” Third, it also exempts “detailed plans, patterns or practices to prevent or respond to criminal, gang or organized illegal activity.” Although contained in the terrorism section, this broadly worded exemption could be used to close off the few remaining law enforcement records that are not already shielded from public view by the law enforcement exemption. 

Technology exemptions: The bill also contains an overhaul of statutes governing the Department of Information Technology. Within that overhaul are several exemptions specific to the Department of Information Technology concerning criminal background checks on employees, risk assessments performed by the department on state networks, and data shared by other agencies that is already exempt.