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“An open records request with the Legislative Research Commission for the total compensation and reimbursement of legislators to attend out-of-state conferences in 2022 is still pending.”

This sentence — buried deep in Courier Journal reporter Joe Sonka’s story on lame-duck legislators’ attendance at a Council of State Governments national conference in Honolulu in December, 2022 — is a sad reminder of the transparency double standard in the Commonwealth.

Reliable sources advise that another veteran reporter undertook multiple thwarted efforts to obtain records documenting "expenses paid to members of the General Assembly," and others, soon after the December conference in Hawaii. 

Whatever your take on the propriety of retiring lawmakers’ taxpayer funded travel, Sonka’s comment reminds us that in 2021 lawmakers excluded themselves, and the Legislative Research Committee, from the open records law and the judicial mechanism for challenging their denial of access to legislative records. 

The statute governing access to their records is exceedingly limited in scope and unenforceable. 

Requests pending for greater than five business days, requests denied, requests ignored — none are appealable to the Kentucky Attorney General (under a 2003 amendment to the open records law) or to the courts (under the 2021 amendment to the open records laws).

2021 HB 312 amended KRS 7.119 — a statute addressing access to legislative records but read in tandem with the open records law prior to HB 312's enactment — to permit Kentucky residents access to “records,” narrowly defined at KRS 7.119(2) to include, for the most part, records already accessible on the LRC website.

“If a request for records in the custody of the Legislative Research Commission or the General Assembly not described in” this narrow definition, “those records shall not be subject to disclosure.”

And, as noted, the failure of the legislature to respond to a records request, a delay in production of “records,” or a denial, is not appealable to the Attorney General or the courts. A request for review of the handling of the request may be made to the 16 member Legislative Research Commission, but that process has — not surprisingly — thus far proven fruitless.……

Some four months after the fact, we know that "Kentucky taxpayers footed an $86,095 bill to send 26 state lawmakers to a legislative conference in Hawaii in December."

We await a final tally for "total compensation and reimbursement of legislators to attend out-of-state conferences in 2022."

Time alone will tell the extent to which the General Assembly and the Legislative Research Commission will discharged its statutory obligations under KRS 7.119. 

The law governing public records of all other public agencies agencies Kentucky's Open Records Act, no longer applies to the public agency that enacted it in 1976. 

As we wrote within months of the enactment of HB 312, "it seems the General Assembly is not only loath to observe the records access laws it enacts for all other state and local public agencies, it is also loath to observe the records access laws it enacted for itself [in 2021]."


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