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California lawmakers took a major step Thursday toward carving an exception in public records law they said would enhance the safety of peace officers, judges, probation officers and other law enforcement personnel.

Without a dissenting vote, the Assembly passed legislation that would allow counties to create a program allowing law enforcement personnel to redact names from property records available to the public.

Assembly Bill 2299 passed the lower house, 65-0. It now goes to the Senate.

"Let's make the protection of officers' families meaningful," Assemblyman Mike Feuer said in floor debate on his bill.

Thursday's vote came about five months after an anonymous Internet group publicized home addresses of more than a dozen members of the Los Angeles Police Department's command staff.

Opponents include the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which contends that AB 2299 could hamper media investigations of real estate scandals -- such as one unfolding now involving claims that Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez extended tax breaks to campaign donors and would-be contributors.

The California Land Title Association and groups representing county assessors and recorders also oppose the bill. Concerns range from potential difficulty in implementing such a program to prospects that it could complicate document searches and real estate transactions involving peace officers.

Fullerton Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby abstained from voting on AB 2299, saying the Legislature should be very cautious about trampling on the public's right to know who owns what property.

"If we go down this route, where does it end?" Norby said. "I mean, members of this legislative body, other government employees and teachers have all been subject to harassment and threats. I'm not sure where it's going to stop."

Feuer, D-Los Angeles, said his AB 2299 has been narrowly crafted to exclude clerical law enforcement personnel, for example, and to apply only to principal residences.

Under AB 2299, officers' names barred from public access would be available to courts, law enforcement agencies, tax agencies, and to civil or criminal attorneys who demonstrate a need.

For real estate transactions, peace officers could opt out of the confidentiality program temporarily, Feuer said.

A public safety official could sue to bar release of his or her name under AB 2299. Offenders could be fined up to $1,000 for violating a court order of confidentiality. Sale or trade of any name covered by the bill is punishable by a fine no less than $4,000.



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