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Georgia Local Government Employers: Are You in Compliance with SB 215?

SB 215, now codified as O.C.G.A. § 50-18-78, was passed by the Senate in March 2023 and signed into law by Governor Kemp on April 26, 2023. The law requires each local government in Georgia—within 30 days of a request—to redact or otherwise remove a law enforcement officer’s “personally identifiable information” from any property records that are publicly available through any internet website or portal created or maintained by the local government.

FAQ-1. When does this new law take effect? The statute’s removal-upon-request requirement has been in effect since July 1, 2023; however, January 1, 2024, was the deadline by which each local government was required to adopt a form for such requests and make the form downloadable from (or completable on) its website.

FAQ-2. We were not aware of the form requirement. Where can we obtain one and what are the consequences of our failure to meet the January 1st deadline for having a form on our website? Elarbee Thompson’s Public Sector Practice Group has prepared a model form which any Georgia local government may adapt and utilize for this purpose. As for the consequences of non-compliance, the statute’s primary focus is the actual removal of the “personally identifiable information” upon request. In the event of non-compliance with this requirement, the statute authorizes the law enforcement officer in question to apply to a court of appropriate jurisdiction for injunctive relief. The form requirement is also mandatory—and, as such, should be addressed as quickly as possible— but the statute does not authorize a cause of action for non-compliance.

FAQ-3. Can we be sued for failing to comply with this new law? Yes, but as noted above, the statute only authorizes injunctive relief—not monetary relief—and even then, only for a violation of the removal-upon-request requirement. Note, however, that this does not foreclose the possibility of monetary relief being awarded in the form of attorney’s fees under O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11 where the local government is found to have acted in bad faith, been stubbornly litigious, or caused the officer unnecessary trouble and expense.

FAQ-4. Our City Attorney believes that only counties—and not cities—can be sued under the new law. Is she wrong about that? Your City Attorney is no doubt referring to the following language from the statute: “Relief for a law enforcement officer whose personally identifiable information is not removed within 30 days of such request shall be limited to injunctive relief against the county employee who had a ministerial duty to remove such personally identifiable information.” (Emphasis added.) O.C.G.A. § 50-18-78(b). While counties will have far more property records, there is no otherwise apparent basis for distinguishing between cities and counties for purposes of available relief. As such, prudent cities will recognize the possibility that a reviewing court may determine that the Legislature intended to authorize injunctive relief against all local governments.

FAQ-5. How long do we have to comply with a request made under this new law?
Compliance is required within 30 calendar days of receipt of the request. In calculating this deadline, the day the request is received is not counted, and the next business day is regarded as the first day. Intervening Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays are counted, however—unless the thirtieth day falls on such a day, in which case, the local government has up to and through the next business day to comply with the request.

FAQ-6. What sort of records are covered by SB 215? The statute only applies to “property records” that are publicly accessible through any website or internet portal created or maintained by the local government receiving the request. While the term “property record” is not defined by the statute, Georgia law regards such records as those prepared and filed/registered to document the ownership, purchase, or sale of private properties within the State. Therefore, “property records” would include property deeds, mortgages, liens, and related documents, and survey maps and other documents identifying dimensions, easements, and property lines, and property tax records.

FAQ-7. What information are we required to redact or remove from the records upon receipt of such a request? The term, “personally identifiable information” is defined by the statute as meaning the residential address or telephone number of a law enforcement officer and the officer’s spouse, if applicable. Note that this is consistent with the Open Records Act, which exempts, among other things, the home addresses and home telephone numbers of law enforcement officers from the statute’s disclosure requirements. See 50- 18-72(a)(21).

FAQ-8. Does this new law impose any continuing obligations on a local government after it has received a request to remove/redact personally identifiable information? The statute does not require that local governments remove/redact personally identifiable information from property records filed/recorded after receipt of—and compliance with— a given request. To manage expectations, however, prudent local governments will ensure that requesting officers understand this limitation. The model form prepared by Elarbee Thompson’s Public Sector Practice Group includes such language.

FAQ-9. Who is entitled to submit requests for removal of personally identifiable information under this new law? The statute only grants this right to “law enforcement officers,” which it defines as meaning a sheriff, deputy sheriff, police officer, peace officer, officer or member of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, or any other officer or official who has the power of arrest and who is responsible for enforcing the criminal laws of the federal government or the State or its political subdivisions.

FAQ-10. Our City received a request for the removal of personally identifiable information from the husband of one of our police officers. Do we have to comply with it? Strictly speaking, no. Only law enforcement officers may submit such requests. However, recall that the term, “personally identifiable information” includes the residential address or telephone number of an officer’s spouse, if applicable. Therefore, upon receipt of a request from an officer’s spouse, the prudent practice would be to explain that, while the information is subject to removal, the spouse who is the law enforcement officer must be the one to make that request..

FAQ-11. Our City received a request from a deputy who works for a sheriff two counties away and has never worked for us. Are we required to comply with it? Yes. The existence of an employment relationship between the requesting law enforcement officer and the local government to whom the request is made is not a prerequisite. In fact, the statute even extends to federal law enforcement officers.

FAQ-12. If we have to comply with a request received from someone who doesn’t work for us, how are we supposed to know he or she is a law enforcement officer? The statute allows a local government to implement a process for verifying that an individual submitting a request for removal of personally identifiable information is, in fact, a law enforcement officer. Importantly, however, this process must be incorporated into the form made available by the local government. The model form prepared by Elarbee Thompson’s Public Sector Practice Group includes such a process. Note that because the 30-day compliance deadline is not extended to allow additional time for verifying a requestor’s status, this process should be initiated as quickly as possible. While the matter can be handled informally (e.g., by contacting the agency identified as the officer’s employer), this form may be of use in other situations.

FAQ-13. Our County is in compliance with the new law, but we also maintain physical copies of the same property records that have been scanned and are available through our website. These physical records contain the exact same personally identifiable information, and any member of the public can visit our records room and view these records. Does the new law impose any requirements on us with regard to those records? The statute applies only to “property records that are publicly available on an internet website of the local government.” It does not apply to physical records. As previously noted, however, other laws—such as the Open Records Act—may impose similar redaction obligations on a local government with regard to the same or similar information. See, e.g., O.C.G.A. 50-18-72(a)(21) (exempting the home addresses and home telephone numbers of law enforcement officers from Open Records Act’s disclosure requirements.).

FAQ-14. Our County is in compliance with the new law, but there are multiple private sector websites that anyone can use to access our property records. Are we responsible for their compliance with the new law? This should a non-issue, because these private sector websites utilize the local government websites to access and make available the property records. So long as you timely removed/redacted the personally identifiable information from the property records upon receipt of a proper request, that information will no longer be available online, regardless of whether the property records are accessed through the County’s website or through a private sector website. However, in the unlikely event a local government maintains two separate databases of property records—one accessible through its own website and one accessible through private sector website —then the obligation to remove/redact personally identifiable information applies to the records in both databases.

FAQ-15. Our County has privatized its website and online functions. Property records that we maintain are accessible online, but only through our vendor’s website. Are we exempt from this new law? The statute applies to “property records that are publicly available on any internet website of the local government.” The phrase, “of the local government” is not defined, but an overly restrictive interpretation that allows local governments to avoid compliance through the use of third-party vendors would undermine the statute’s legislative purpose. As such, prudent local governments will recognize the possibility that a reviewing court may find the statute applicable under such circumstances and work with their vendors to ensure compliance.

This article was provided by the Public Sector Practice Group of Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, an Atlanta-based law firm which represents public and private sector employers in personnel, labor, employment, and benefits issues. The comments, observations, and suggestions contained in this article are designed to provide Georgia local governments with a general overview of the issues addressed; as such, the article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Additional information concerning these issues—and any others you may have relating to personnel matters—can be obtained by contacting the firm’s Public Sector Practice Group.


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