KY Press Association denounces bill attacking open records Skip to content

KY Press Association denounces bill attacking open records

KPA’s attorney, Michael Abate, has also testified against the bill.

The Kentucky Press Association (of which Forward Kentucky is a member) issued the following statement on its opposition to HB 509:

Kentucky Press Association Statement in Opposition to HB 509 and Senate Committee Substitute

The Kentucky Press Association remains strongly opposed to HB 509—including the new Senate Committee Substitute (PSS 2) to be considered at the Senate State & Local Government Committee on March 27, 2024. The bill is an assault on transparency and the Committee Substitute makes it even worse.

HB 509 creates a massive loophole that does not currently exist. Any public employee, from the Governor on down, could avoid public transparency simply by texting or using a personal email account. Such records would no longer be available under the ORA. Contrary to the recent assurances of Governor Beshear, whose staff apparently helped draft this bill, HB 509 will lead to far less government transparency, not more. Indeed, this change would undo his own rulings as Attorney General, which required agencies to turn over records sent by text and private email.

The danger in the proposal is easy to see. Just this week, the auditor investigating the Jefferson County Public Schools bussing debacle reported that JCPS leaders “felt encouraged to use cell phone texting instead of district email because it was perceived that texting was less subject to open records requirements.” Prismatic Audit, p. 7-5. HB 509 would turn that perception into a reality and invite public officials and employees to evade transparency, at the public’s expense.

The Committee Substitute (PSS 2) makes the bill much worse. This substitute would radically narrow the definition of “public agency,” thereby limiting the entities whose records are subject to inspection at all. Under this bill, only “governmental entit[ies]” are subject to the Act. Currently, any entity whose members were appointed by a public official or agency would be subject to the ORA, even if it was not a governmental entity. So are entities that receive at least 25% of their funding from state or local governments. Also included are entities created by state statute, and public-private partnerships.

Under the new bill, however, the public would lose access to records of dozens of agencies that exercise the public’s powers even though they are not themselves “governmental entities.” This includes, but is not limited to, things like economic development authorities, water utility districts, non-profits with boards appointed by the Governor or legislators, university foundations, community mental health centers, agency advisory boards, public-private partnerships, and many more. These entities affect the lives of millions of Kentuckians daily, but now their records will be off limits. That is just wrong.

HB 509, and PSS2, are profoundly anti-transparency and will take Kentucky in the wrong direction. The Kentucky Press Association strongly opposes its passage.

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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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