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Toledo Legal News - News Bill would providing privacy shield to mental health workers


A bipartisan effort to expand privacy protections for certain mental health workers cleared the Ohio House of Representatives recently and awaits Senate consideration.

By a unanimous vote, lawmakers approved House Bill 61, which proposes adding forensic mental health providers, mental health evaluation providers and regional psychiatric hospital employees on a growing list of professionals deemed "designated public service workers."

Under state Public Records Law, the residential and familial information of these individuals is exempt from disclosure.

Lawmakers during the previous session, last year, added judges to the list of individuals whose personal information exempt from the law.

"Mental health care providers are often put in difficult positions while serving their patients," said Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, a joint sponsor of the bill. "HB 61 is a bipartisan, common-sense bill that will allow providers to be able to do their work without having to fear for the security of themselves or their families."

HB 61 also would allow the employee or provider's address to be redacted from any public office's records, except for county auditor's records.

In the case of the county auditor, the otherwise protected individual would have the option to ask the auditor to replace his name with his initials in public databases.

According to analysis of the bill provided by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the term designated public service worker includes "peace officer, parole officer, probation officer, bailiff, prosecuting attorney, assistant prosecuting attorney, correctional employee, county or multi-county corrections officer, community-based correctional facility employee, youth services employee, firefighter, EMT, medical director or member of a cooperating physician advisory board of an emergency medical service organization, state board of pharmacy employee, investigator of the bureau of criminal identification and investigation, judge, magistrate or federal law enforcement officer."

"Forensic psychologists and mental health evaluation providers have frequent interactions with criminals and oftentimes their evaluations are the impetus behind the sentencing of an individual," said HB 61's other joint sponsor, Rep. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City. "This makes these professionals and their families vulnerable to retaliation.

"In Ohio, we currently exempt peace officers, prosecutors, judges, and a multitude of other occupations from the public records law. It only makes sense to add forensic psychologists and mental health evaluation providers to the list."

Lanese said a constituent who is employed as a forensic psychologist raised the issue with her last session.

"She moved from Virginia to Ohio a few years ago and was shocked to see how open our public records laws were compared to other states," the lawmaker said. "While this level of transparency is important, the safety of those in high risk occupations must be taken into consideration."

The one exception to the general exemption of designated public service workers is a written and signed request from a journalist.

"The journalist also may request the name and address of the employer of the person's spouse, former spouse or child if that person also is employed by a public office," Ohio Legislative Service Commission Research Associate Aida Montano wrote in the analysis.

The Senate had not taken up HB 61 at time of publication.

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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