FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – A Senate bill expanding what information can be shielded under Kentucky’s public records laws appears dead for this year’s legislative session.
Senate Bill 193 received a brief hearing Thursday morning that included testimony from supporters and opponents before Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Whitney Westerfield said he wasn’t going to hold a vote.
“I think we should talk about this in the interim,” when lawmakers meet between legislative sessions, Westerfield, R-Crofton, told the panel. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said he was fine with that approach.
Carroll, who proposed and withdrew a similar measure in January, said he had worked with the Kentucky Press Association and leading Kentucky First Amendment attorney Jon Fleischaker to address concerns.
He acknowledged, however, that they don’t support the changes.
The measure would require that certain public employees’ personal information, such as bank account details, social security numbers and public utility account data, not be disclosed. Police officers, judges, corrections officers and lab technicians are among the workers covered by the bill.
It also would keep private any publicly available documents kept by county clerks’ offices for those employees – such as permits, liens and other filings.
“This bill is designed to protect the personal information of many of our first responders and others,” Carroll said.
But Michael Abate, an attorney for the press association, countered that the bill was problematic. He called it “unnecessary” and “unworkable” and contended it would create competing definitions of public agencies and public records in Kentucky law.
He also said existing privacy aspects of state open records law already prevents the sensitive information of public employees from being released.
“We raised a number of concerns that I think merit further scrutiny and study and discussion with the legislators,” he said after the meeting. “So we’re very happy to hear they’re going to slow down and take a little more time on this one.”
Another open records bill, House Bill 387, is waiting for a vote from the Kentucky House of Representatives. The measure sponsored by Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, initially restricted access to incentive packages offered to companies but never finalized – such as Metro Louisville’s bid for an Amazon headquarters.
The bill was amended by a House committee to require that only Kentucky residents can seek records from state or local agencies. People living in other states would no longer be able to submit records requests.
Among other things, Petrie’s bill also gives the Legislative Research Commission the complete decision-making power over legislative records, eliminating any appeals if a decision is reached in 30 days.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition has raised concerns about the bill, including banning out-of-state residents from open records requests, which it claims could harm investigative journalism, and eliminating an appeals court process if legislative records are denied.
“These nightmare examples should cause fear among Kentuckians as their state government exempts itself from access and accountability by eliminating the press and the public access from its public institutions,” Daniel Bevarly, group’s executive director, wrote in an opinion piece published on Facebook.
“It won’t be long until local governments across the commonwealth begin to cite these new laws to block access to their institutions as well.”