President Ronald Reagan is a popular ornament around the State House nowadays, but his famous maxim is going unheeded. “The nine most terrifying words in the English language,” he said, “are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ “

Maine’s government is now ostensibly trying to help people by restricting access to motor vehicle accident reports.

LD 1167 would make these reports available only to select folks — drivers, insurers, lawyers — under the catchall phrase, “authorized agents.”

The impetus of this bill is protecting “personal privacy,” despite accidents on public roads being neither personal nor private matters. Public funds are spent cleaning up accident scenes. Public money is spent on upkeep of Maine’s roads and bridges. Police, firefighters, paramedics and their vehicles are funded by taxpayers.

Accidents and those involved in them are public concerns. It only makes sense that records of them should be public.

Under LD 1167, law enforcement could pick and choose what to release about an accident, rather than the complete official report. At best, this could muddle the correct information, or worse, create conditions where information of public interest is suppressed.

This law, if enacted in the alleged interest of protecting privacy, could also easily be used to protect the powerful and influential from embarrassment or liability. That’s why this information should remain open under the law. Everyone is then treated fairly.

This simple concept, though, is eluding lawmakers, who are engaged in a roundabout debate about this bill.

First, LD 1167 quietly passed through the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. It was reviewed and amended by the Judiciary Committee, which oversees public access matters, in a more limited form that favored redaction of sensitive personal data, such as insurance policy numbers, rather than outright prohibition.

But then the bill passed the House of Representatives in its original form. The Senate has since sent it back to the House, amended as the Judiciary Committee had voted. Now lawmakers will convene in what’s called a “committee of conference” to hash out their differences. To what end?

All this work is being put toward legislation that only stands to set bad policy and grate against Maine’s tradition of open access to information. The effort is altogether senseless.

Proponents of the bill have failed to answer a key question: Who does it help? Accident reports have been public for decades; there’s never been any concern voiced about personal privacy — until now.

While identity theft is an omnipresent concern, identity thieves don’t waste time on FOA requests. Even then, we’d hope discretion would be exercised on requests if officials believed the purpose was theft.

Regardless, Mainers remain much more vulnerable to identity theft through their home gaming console than accident reports in a state database. And there are no bills to ban PlayStation — yet.

Perhaps the state is concerned with third-parties mining the accident report database for commercial purposes. If so, that issue is more easily addressed through bulk records policies, not blanket legislation to restrict access to public information.

In short, LD 1167 looks like an ill-conceived government attempt to help people without quite knowing who those people are, or how this policy will actually help them. Reagan’s sentiment applies here.

Maine lawmakers should kill this one — for the Gipper.