“Public comment” was a regular topic of discussion in presentations I made, and constituent calls I took, as an assistant attorney general.
Constituents and public officials alike were surprised that the Kentucky Open Meetings Act did not establish the public’s right to comment or impose a duty on public agencies to provide a public comment period.
They, like I, wondered why. I never got a satisfactory answer to my question.
Was it an unintentional omission? Was it intentionally omitted in recognition of the need for local control?
Some, though not all, states have codified the public’s right and the agency’s duty to permit public comment.
Kentucky did not — until now — at least with respect to local school boards, and perhaps, legislative committees.
To be very clear, the bill does not amend the Open Meetings Act. It is limited to local school boards, and, if Amendment 1 passes, legislative committees. That vote could be telling in yet another “do as I say, not as I do” way that is so popular with lawmakers.
Kentucky’s local school boards would have to set aside at least 15 minutes for public comments during regular meetings under HB 121 which was advanced by a House committee on Tuesday. Proposed amendment 1 to HB 121 extends the requirement to legislative committees. Another amendment permits a board to pass over the public comment period due to safety or security concerns.
The Associated Press reports:
“The legislation seeks to ensure that school board members hear feedback from parents and other residents, said Republican Rep. Regina Huff, the bill’s lead sponsor. The measure cleared the House Education Committee and advances to the full House.
“Most Kentucky school boards allow time for public comments, said Huff, the committee’s chairwoman. The bill was prompted by frustration in some counties where parents felt they weren’t given a chance to speak up at board meetings, Huff said.
“Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey voted to advance the measure but expressed concerns about the legislature delving into ‘the autonomy of the local school boards, especially since we have done a lot of work to give them local control.’”