- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Senate voted Thursday to shield information about customers of publicly owned utilities from release, months after the state Supreme Court said the records weren’t exempt from the open records law.

The Senate voted 33-0 Wednesday in favor of legislation that would exempt addresses, phone numbers and usage data from the state Freedom of Information Act. The measure now heads to the House.

The legislation would also exempt municipal utilities’ plans for generation, transmission and distribution systems from the FOI law.

The proposal by Republican Sen. John Cooper of Jonesboro is in response to a state Supreme Court ruling last year that a municipal utility could not withhold a ratepayer’s home address. The court said whether to exempt such records was a decision up to the Legislature.

Cooper said he believed the change would “level the playing field” with privately owned utilities, which aren’t covered by the open records law. He said shielding the transmission data would protect utilities from potential threats from vandals or terrorists.

“There’s a significant vulnerability and a doorway there,” Cooper said after the vote.

Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Tom Larimer said the group hasn’t taken a formal position yet on Cooper’s proposal, though he’s heard from some members who have “serious reservations” about the measure.

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