Lawmaker wants elected officials’ home addresses kept under wraps

One clerk said required redactions would be ‘a freaking nightmare’

By: - June 1, 2022 7:13 am

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said rising online hate and the attempted assassination of a judge in 2020 led him to propose a bill that would keep elected officials' home addresses secret. (Amanda Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

The Assembly’s second-highest-ranking Democrat wants to shield elected officials’ and political candidates’ home addresses from disclosure to the public.

A bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (A4094) would require New Jersey’s records custodians to redact the home addresses of elected officials and candidates seeking elected office from public documents, a proposal that closely mirrors one enacted for law enforcement officials after the attempted assassination of a federal judge in 2020.

“Candidates and elected officials, we are readily available, and we all have public offices in the community. Listing our home addresses on certain public documents is not necessary,” said Greenwald (D-Camden). “I just think it’s a safety precaution, and it’s something that’s time has come.”

The Democratic leader said he introduced the bill because of online vitriol that has increasingly veered into violent threats against elected officials and because of the assassination attempt against U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas.

In July 2020, an antifeminist attorney disguised as a Federal Express driver arrived at Salas’ home, killing Daniel Anderl — Salas’ 20-year-old-son — and critically wounding her husband, Mark Anderl. Salas was not harmed during the attempt on her life.

The attack led New Jersey to enact Daniel’s Law, which bars the release of home addresses belonging to judges and current or former law enforcement officials, including prosecutors.

Greenwald’s bill would not change state law that requires candidates to file their home addresses with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, but it would require that information be redacted before the filings are posted publicly.

The protections would extend to former elected officials, but those for candidates who have never held office would end with a campaign loss.

‘A freaking nightmare’

Greenwald’s proposal has spurred some concern among municipal clerks, who are often responsible for filling records requests filed with their municipality.

Records custodians have already run into hurdles complying with Daniel’s Law because there is no list of individuals whose information it shields, a problem compounded by the fact that the protections extend to former officials who might have left their jobs decades ago.

“It’s going to be a freaking nightmare, just like Daniel’s Law,” said Kim-Marie White, president of the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey.

She added: “What if they were a one-time councilperson? They served their four years or whatever, and maybe they moved. Now a new clerk comes in and they’re asking for this information. How does the new clerk know that they used to be a councilman 20-something years ago?”

There is no statewide registry of elected or former elected officials, just as there was no statewide registry of former law enforcement personnel.

White, who said she supports Daniel’s Law and who is Eastampton’s municipal clerk, said she believes the protections, if enacted, should extend to all public workers. Angry and dangerous residents could extend their ire toward local officials like tax collectors and records custodians, she said.

“What am I doing to protect my people? What am I doing to protect myself?” White said. “What if there’s an angry resident that doesn’t like their (public records) response? … Can they look up my name and figure out where I live? Of course they can because everything’s public information now.”

Protests at home

Greenwald’s bill is also likely to draw some resistance from progressives and, possibly, civil rights groups over a perceived clampdown on political demonstrations.

Such demonstrations are occasionally held outside the homes of elected officials. In late 2020, protests formed outside the home of Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise’s home over contracts between the county and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that saw Hudson paid for holding federal immigration detainees in its county jail.

A Hudson County judge issued a restraining order limiting protests outside DeGise’s home. An ACLU suit seeking to toss that order is ongoing.

Greenwald said his bill would not limit protestors’ ability to exercise their rights, noting they can — and have — demonstrated outside legislative offices and at public events.

“The opportunity for public comment and freedom of speech and to be able to be heard exists at every level, and I don’t see it clamping down on that at all,” he said.

Protests outside lawmakers’ homes weren’t a reason for the bill’s introduction, he added.

It’s not clear when the bill will come before the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. The panel had no hearings scheduled as of Tuesday. It’s also unclear who will take up the bill in the state Senate, where a companion bill has not yet been introduced, but Greenwald said he isn’t worried and hopes the bill receives bipartisan support.

“This is something that we’ve all dealt with in some means or another. I don’t anticipate a problem with that. I just haven’t gotten to that stage yet. Usually someone jumps on legislation like this,” he said.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.