Measure would have restricted access to some public records

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Newspapers play an important role as a watchdog for the communities they represent. They find information, many times through Kentucky’s open records law, that people in the community really want to know about. The open records law is a very important tool for the press because it helps provide information unrelated to politics, but it also helps provide information about politicians when they have done wrong or they are trying to hide something from the public.

State Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, has made it very clear that he isn’t a fan of Kentucky’s open records law. We don’t know if Carroll, a retired police officer, was the subject of a story that he didn’t like or what, but he had filed legislation, Senate Bill 14, on the first day of the legislative session that would’ve eviscerated the open records law.

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The measure, which Carroll pulled from the Senate floor after considerable outcry from state media, would have restricted access to some public records. The bill would have exempted several state and local agencies — such as public safety officers, first responders, commonwealth and U.S. attorneys — from having to release personal information as part of records requests.

The bill also provides a private right of action to covered employees to challenge disclosure of applicable records directly in the courts. Senate Bill 14 would’ve required the judge in any case brought under the law to determine why someone seeking records is doing so, and whether he is doing so for “an improper purpose.” It would have also barred access to many Health and Family Services records involving child deaths from abuse and neglect. It would have also limited access to allegations of sexual harassment by state employees.

This is a blatant attack by Carroll on the free press. To go so far as saying a reporter or their publisher would have to appear before a judge over an open records request is simply an ill-advised attempt to make the state’s open records process more cumbersome.

We also thought it was odd that Carroll said he didn’t write the bill and that he was given the proposal by a state Homeland Security employee and a Secret Service agent working in Kentucky. Perhaps this is true, but it’s still odd since our open records laws has worked fine for more than 40 years.

Michael Abate, a Louisville attorney who has represented the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and several other media outlets on public records issues, said the bill’s language was a direct attack on transparency in the state.

“It strikes me as an attempt to take off the table extremely important records that media outlets — and the public in general — have used to understand what their agencies have done in their name, and on their dime,” Abate said. “That is the essential purpose of the open records law.”

Abate’s right on target.

Carroll has said he will revise this bill after the three-week legislative recess. We would highly advise him not to do so, as some of his own colleagues in Frankfort have criticized his bill.

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said it best of Carroll’s bill when he said: “It’s astounding. We need bills that encourage more transparency and accountability, not less.”

Carroll’s bill was a clear attack on transparency and the high amount of heat he was taking from it is likely the reason he pulled it.

Kentucky does indeed need more transparency, not less, Sen. Carroll.

The Daily News of Bowling Green