The House of Delegates on Tuesday backed an effort to bar circuit court clerks from disclosing to the public the names of people who have concealed handgun permits.
Lawmakers voted 76-23 for the bill, a Senate measure that a House subcommittee altered significantly before a House panel approved it on Friday.
In its form that passed the Senate, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would have prohibited a circuit court clerk from disclosing to the general public information about issuance of a concealed handgun permit to someone who is protected by a protective order.
The House subcommittee changed Senate Bill 1335 to prohibit disclosure to the general public of information about anyone who has obtained a concealed handgun permit.
Those changes, made in the form of a substitute, won support in the full House after Minority Leader David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, unsuccessfully challenged whether the substitute was germane to the original bill.
Obenshain, who is seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general, and gun rights supporters cheered the action, while advocates for open government oppose the change.
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government argued that under the change, "The public will have no ability to monitor government regulation of constitutionally protected activity."
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the nonprofit alliance, which promotes expanded access to government records, meetings and other proceedings at the state and local level, said Tuesday that she was disappointed in the House vote.
The GOP-dominated House passed a similar measure last year, but it was defeated in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
The substitute that the House approved on Tuesday heads now to the full Senate, which has a 20-20 political split with Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling as a tie-breaking vote.
In April 2007, the Virginia State Police said it would no longer make public a database of permit holders of concealed handguns after Bob McDonnell, then Virginia's attorney general, said it should be off-limits to residents.
McDonnell said in an advisory opinion that the database was put together as an investigative tool and was an exception to the state Freedom of Information Act, which requires public access to many government documents.
McDonnell issued the opinion at the request of then-Del. David A. Nutter, R-Montgomery, who said he was inundated with calls from constituents who were angry that The Roanoke Times had obtained the database from state police and published it online.
Obenshain said that then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed a bill sealing the records with the state police "but that legislation did not address clerks' offices, which also have copies of these records. All SB 1335 does is close that loophole."
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said on the House floor that the amended version would protect the information of law-abiding concealed handgun permit holders.
"This bill as it stands now goes a long way toward protecting law-abiding citizens and, frankly, not just protecting people who possess these permits, but those maybe in their neighborhood who do not."
Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, questioned whether any other permits issued by a government entity -- building, land use, planning and zoning and others -- are barred from disclosure.
Gilbert said none of the examples relates to a "fundamental, individual constitutional right."
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