The Dallas Morning News sees broad implications for investigative reporters in a Texas Supreme Court ruling last week that limits access to the birth dates of government employees. The decision sweeps aside rulings by the trial and appellate courts, which ruled that government employee dates of birth are public records. It also means that government workers will enjoy special protections while the state continues to sell the very same information about members of the public for millions of dollars each year.
Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson wrote that state employees have a privacy interest that “substantially outweighs the minimal public interest in the information” and release “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The decision is a victory for state Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, a Republican, as well as unions representing state employees and teachers. They have fought vigorously to end public access to government workers’ dates of birth. The Dallas paper noted that recent investigations had identified 266 employees with state criminal convictions working for the Texas Youth Commission and 80 felons working for the Dallas Independent School District. Such investigations are nearly impossible without government employees’ dates of birth.