It started with a reporter’s attempt to learn whether problem police officers were moving from department to department. It resulted in legislation that is again bringing national scrutiny to the Virginia General Assembly: a bill that could keep all Virginia police officers’ names secret.

In a climate where the actions of police nationwide are being watched as never before, supporters say the bill is needed to keep officers safe from people who may harass or harm them. But the effort has drawn the attention of civil rights groups and others who say police should be moving toward more transparency – not less – to ensure that troubled officers are found and removed.

If it is made law, experts say the restriction would be unprecedented nationwide.

The Virginia Senate has already approved Senate Bill 552, which would classify the names of all police officers and fire marshals as “personnel records,” exempting them from mandatory disclosure under the state’s freedom of information law. The Republican-dominated Virginia House will consider the bill in hearings starting Thursday. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has not taken a position on the bill yet, his spokesman said.

State Sen. John A. Cosgrove Jr., R-Chesapeake, – citing that he knew many police officers and their families – said: “The culture is not one of respect for law enforcement anymore. It’s really, ‘How, how can we get these guys? What can we do?’ . . . Police officers are much more in jeopardy. There’s no nefarious intent behind the bill.”

Pushback has been strong. “To say every officer’s name ought to be confidential,” said Claire GastaƱaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, “is just a step too far in government secrecy. We are dangerously close to a police state in some respects.” She said shootings and attacks on police are rarely committed by anyone using public records.