Kentucky Capitol Frankfort dome 3-29-21.jpeg

The Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. (WDRB file photo) 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Moving quickly in the final hours of the legislative session Tuesday, Kentucky lawmakers approved a bill exempting a slew of personal information from the state’s open records law.

Critics say the measure, which now heads to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk, will create untold problems for public agencies that could have to strike details related to police officers, judges and prosecutors from public documents.

Supporters say it’s needed to protect people and their families who are at risk because of their jobs. But open government watchdogs note that much of the information in the bill already can’t be released under the law.

Jon Fleischaker, the state’s leading First Amendment attorney, called it “a terrible bill.”

The amended version of Senate Bill 48 passed the House on Monday night on a 67-24 vote and cleared the Senate, 32-6, on Tuesday. Because it was passed on the last day of the session, the legislature cannot override any potential veto from Beshear.

The bill initially sought to change Kentucky’s open records law to exempt public agencies from disclosing information that would reveal the “address or location” of current or retired police officers, prosecutors, jailers and other “public officers.”

It was changed in the House late Monday through an amendment by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, to broaden the exemptions to include “immediate family members” of those and other officials and defined the information to be protected.

And beyond open records implications, the amended bill requires public agencies not to "post, re-post, publish, or otherwise make known" the information if someone covered under the bill asks for the protection.

That could affect land records and other documents available on county clerks' and property valuation administrators' websites across the state, for example. 

“They must request that it be redacted and removed if practical, and I think that’s key to this,” Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, the bill's sponsor said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “If it is not practical for the agency to redact or remove the information, there is only a requirement that the person be informed of their inability to follow the request.”

Among the new exemptions are home addresses and any property tax and home ownership data. In addition, family members can include a person who lives with the public officer or is related by blood.

“What does blood relative of a law enforcement mean?” Fleischaker said. “I assume it applies to fourth, fifth, sixth cousins. I have no idea. How is a public agency ... supposed to know? How do you figure this out? It’s going to create all sorts of problems.”

The Kentucky Press Association opposed the bill, said Michael Abate, who with Fleischaker is co-counsel for the association. Abate said the bill puts in jeopardy basic information such as voter registry and election finance data.

In addition, he said the bill could result in some candidates for public office not having to file public documents proving they live in the district they’re running in.

“There’s a lot of real-world consequences for the way government operates and business operates that are really thrown into question by this bill,” he said.

Colleen Younger, Jefferson County's Property Valuation Administrator, was still reviewing the bill Tuesday night. But she said it could result in an increased workload on a small technology staff and take them away from other duties. 

The Kentucky Open Government Coalition also raised concerns with the bill. Amye Bensenhaver, the group’s executive director, said it’s unclear whether shielding a police officer’s “address and location,” for example, would prohibit GPS data from being made public, data that could show if an officer has abandoned his or her public duties.

She said most of the information in the bill already is protected under the state’s open records law, and that transparency advocates have “barely vetted this language” in the amended bill.

On Monday, lawmakers voted to override Beshear’s veto of another open records bill, House Bill 312. It limits who can access records and lets the legislature have the final say over releasing its own documents, eliminating any legal appeal.

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