For all of the good the Kentucky League of Cities does for its member, it has harmed the general public through the statutory damage it has done to Kentucky’s open government laws in the past two years.
The League has substantial resources to do both harm and good.
The League placed fifth in the top ten lobbyists in the first three months of the 2022 legislative session, spending $87,789 “according to last week's filings with the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission” writes Joe Sonka in the April 20 Courier Journal.
Once again, the Chamber of Commerce was the top spender, followed by the Kentucky Hospital Association, the ACLU, and “tobacco giant Altria.”
Unlike the Chamber of Commerce — which spent $9000 on lawmakers’ lunches and dinners— or the Kentucky Hospital Association — which spent $23,000 on digital advertising — the League expended $87,789 “almost entirely on compensation for its 11 registered lobbyists.”
No surprise there.
Although it’s annual legislative agenda is much broader in scope — including “modernization” of newspaper public notification requirements — at least with respect to the ongoing assault on Kentucky’s open records and open meetings laws, the League doesn’t need to woo lawmakers with lunches and dinners. The League — and a majority of the members of the General Assembly — appear to be in complete agreement about the desirability of limiting the public’s right to know under existing law.
In its 2021 legislative priorities, the League included a residency requirement for users of Kentucky’s open records law. For the first time in its 47 year history, only a Kentucky “resident” — as defined in the proposal — was permitted to use the state’s open records law to access public records.
In support of their request, the League complained about the increased demands on city clerks occasioned by the 2019 revision to the open records law requiring public agencies to accept emailed open records requests.
This complaint was highly suspect. The cited 2019 amendment to the open records law — ostensibly requiring public agencies to accept emailed requests — was so poorly drafted that it entirely failed to achieve the stated goal. Some argued it actually narrowed the available choices for transmitting requests.
Lawmakers finally cleaned up this language in 2021, requiring public agencies to accept emailed requests in one of the few redeeming provisions of the otherwise highly destructive HB 312. But — aided and abetted by the League’s specious claims and lobbying efforts — they simultaneously saddled Kentucky with a residency requirement. That retrogressive law continues to impede access to records requested by residents as well as nonresidents.
The League advanced a legislative agenda in 2022 that focused on the open meetings law, offering language that was introduced as HB 453. As enacted, HB 453 establishes two new open meetings exceptions — one related to local procurement and the other related to city manager evaluations — and a poorly drafted statute permanently codifying the right of public agencies to conduct public meetings by video teleconference.
The Kentucky Open Government Coalition remains unconvinced that the statutory “solution” to the video teleconferencing question — that emerged at the conclusion of the state of emergency — provides adequate protection to the public’s ability to effectively participate in “virtual” public meetings. We are concerned that public agencies may abuse the statute by conducting all virtual — and no in-person — meetings, thus erecting a permanent electronic barrier between themselves and the constituents they serve.
We continue to advocate for statutorily mandated “hybrid” meetings — conducted both in-person and live-streamed — to promote the broadest possible public participation.
But if you’d wondered about the source of many of the recent destructive changes to the open records and open meetings laws, you need look no further than the Kentucky League of Cities.