By Don Lehman Contributing Writer
Albany — A dispute between the state Department of
Environmental Conservation and members of the state Assembly over
release of hunting and fishing license holders’ names has led to a
lawsuit against the DEC.
The lawsuit, filed in late May, asks a judge to force the DEC to
turn over the list of names and addresses, a request the DEC has
denied. It was filed on behalf of Assembly Democrats, the house’s
majority party and a group that hasn’t always been viewed kindly by
sportsmen because of its anti-gun legislative history.
A spokesman for the Assembly, Bryan Franke, said legislators
filed the lawsuit after 16 months of requests were spurned.
He said the Assembly filed a Freedom of Information Law request,
which was denied, and then unsuccessfully appealed.
Franke said the Assembly simply wanted the names to help keep
hunters and anglers informed.
“We’ve used this information in the past to keep sportsmen aware
of legislation and issues we think they’d be interested in,” he
said. “We’ve been getting this information for a number of
Mike Fraser, a spokesman for the DEC, said the information
wasn’t turned over this time because the new, automated DECALS
license system compiles personal information the DEC did not think
the Assembly should have in an era of heightened privacy
DECALS came on line in 2002.
In particular, Fraser said the agency was concerned that some of
the information could be used to commit identity theft if it fell
into the wrong hands.
“We’re standing up for the privacy rights of New York citizens,”
The New York State Conservation Council has weighed in on the
issue on behalf of sportsmen, asking the Assembly to back off the
request, said Wally John, the Council’s legislative vice president.
The Assembly did not respond to the letter it was sent, he
John said the Council may seek to intervene in the lawsuit as a
friend of the court.
The Assembly and DEC are scheduled to appear in the case in
state Supreme Court in Albany County on July 29.
Franke said the state attorney general’s office, which
represents state agencies when they are sued, has a conflict of
interest in the matter, so a private law firm had to be retained
for the DEC “at taxpayer expense.”
Many sportsmen across the state raised eyebrows when Assembly
Democrats indicated they want to keep sportsmen informed of
outdoor-related issues. The Assembly majority is generally regarded
as the roadblock in legislation that would reduce the minimum
hunting age for big game. Bills have in the past been approved by
the state Senate but died in the Assembly without a vote.