A bill seeking to protect Colorado educators from "doxxing" is now law after being signed by Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday.
Senate Bill 171 added educators to the list of people who can request to have their personal information removed from government websites after they or their family receive threats to their safety. Personal information includes home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.
“We shouldn’t have to pass this bill. Unfortunately, today, we do,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, while debating the bill on the Senate floor. “We have a coarsening of the political dialogue in this country and somehow teachers have ended up in the crosshairs. They should never feel threatened for doing their job for our kids.”
Bridges said the bill was inspired by recent events in Douglas County, during which the identities of hundreds of teachers faced potential exposure after participating in a protest. He said the legislation is to prevent “something truly horrific” from happening in the state.
In February, as many as 1,500 teachers from the Douglas County School District took part in a sick-out in support of former Superintendent Corey Wise, after he was fired in a controversial move supported by the school board's new majority. Afterward, some teachers who participated in the protest found fliers on their cars telling them to “get out and leave.”
During a committee meeting on the bill, several teachers from the district testified in support, saying they live in fear of their personal information being released online and of being followed home from school.
The House passed the bill , following the Senate’s approval in April. All 25 legislators who voted no are Republicans, some of whom criticized a portion of the bill that updates Colorado’s open records law to prohibit the public from accessing the specific dates an educator is absent from work.
“Because they work for the people, they should be visible and accountable to the people,” said Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “This idea of obfuscating, hiding political communication by a class of individuals who work for the public, I’ve got a problem with that.”
The Douglas County school district initially agreed to release the names of the teachers who took off work, though it later decided against doing so and said the request had been withdrawn.
During testimony on the bill, several teachers described a dire state of public education in Colorado, saying many are leaving due to the kind of harassment that occurred in Douglas County. Teachers said they receive threats not only for political protests, but also for enforcing mask mandates or teaching about evolution and equity.
A survey of the 39,000 members of the Colorado Education Association found that nearly 67% of the educators are considering retiring or resigning at the end of this school year. This comes as Colorado and the nation have been experiencing a teacher shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other professions, including law enforcement officers and public defenders, already enjoy privacy protections in Colorado. In March, House Bill 1041 was signed into law to also add health care workers, code enforcement officers, child representatives and animal control officers to the list.