“The saga began shortly before 1 p.m., when a surprise House Education Committee meeting was called during the House's lunch break.”
Courier Journal reporter Olivia Krauth thus describes the depths to which Kentucky’s supermajority will sink to ruthlessly — and with no pretense of adherence to the open meetings law — advance its agenda.
“Within six minutes, Sen. Max Wise and Rep. David Meade — both Republicans — sat in a committee room, presenting a new, expanded version of Senate Bill 150 for a committee vote.
“As lawmakers and opponents alike rushed into the room, the duo explained the changed bill -- which was so new, not even the House clerk had a digital copy to share after the vote, let alone have the bill available to the general public at the time.
“An hour after the committee meeting was first called — and about 30 minutes after its vote — the bill came up for a vote on the House floor. After more than two hours of lopsided debate — nearly every Democrat spoke, often at length, against the bill — SB 150 passed out of the House 75-22.”
Later in the day, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 30-7. It heads to the Governor’s desk for signature — more likely well-intentioned but ultimately futile veto.
“If the legislation is right,” Rep. George Brown Jr. declared on the House floor, “then let’s do it in the light of day, not under the cover of darkness. Not in secrecy.”
“Early in the debate, Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, questioned how giving a six-minute notice before holding a committee meeting doesn't violate the state's open meeting law, which requires 24-hour notice before public meetings. Her question was not answered on the floor.”
The inconvenient truth is, of course, that an unnoticed legislative committee meeting called six minutes before it was convened does, in fact, violate the open meetings law.
The supermajority simply refuses to be held to the letter of the laws that it expects every other public agency in Kentucky to observe.
“The express purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to maximize notice of public meetings and actions. The failure to comply with the strict letter of the law in conducting meetings of a public agency violates the public good.”
Pursuant to KRS 61.823, every public agency must provide written notice of its special meetings. That written notice must consist of the date, time, and place of the special meeting and the agenda .
Written notice must be delivered, per the unambiguous language of KRS 61.823, to every member of the public agency as well as each media organization which has filed a written request to receive notice of special meetings. The notice must be received “as soon as possible,” but “it shall be received at least 24 hours before the special meeting.”
Members of the supermajority may exhibit indifference — if not outright defiance — of the open meetings laws’ application to the General Assembly, but they cannot profess ignorance of the law.
In 2018, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate affirmed an Attorney General’s open meetings decision, 17-OMD-228, determining that the House of Representatives violated the open meetings law by conducting a closed meeting of all members to discuss a critical public pension consultant report. Only one state representative, former Representative Jim Wayne, refused to attend because the closed meeting violated the law.
Citing past decisions, in 17-OMD-228 the Attorney General observed:
“[W]e held that ‘the Open Meetings Act, generally, applies to the House of Representatives.’ We reasoned that:
“Among the exceptions to open and public meetings is KRS 61.810(1)(i) stating that ‘Committees of the General Assembly other than standing committees’ can be excepted from the open meetings provision. If the House of Representatives was, generally, excluded from the coverage of the Open Meetings act, then the law would not make a distinction as to what kinds of House Committees are excluded from the provisions of the Act.”
The House of Representatives did not appeal the open meetings decision. It did not subsequently remove itself from the application of the open meetings law in 2021 when it removed itself from the application of the open records law.
Perhaps, at long last, the supermajority has forced the issue to a crisis.
The General Assembly began the 2023 Regular Session with a resolution creating a juvenile justice workgroup which conducted illegal closed meetings to discuss critical public business and formulate recommendations — entirely behind closed doors.
The General Assembly ended the 2023 Regular Session with another spectacular violation of the open meetings law, conducting a meeting with legally insufficient notice, ignoring its duty to “maximize notice of public meetings and actions” and “to comply with the strict letter of the law in conducting meetings.”
To say nothing of the intervening weeks during which the supermajority regularly demonstrated that the last thing on their minds, in conducting the public’s business, was the fact that it was the public’s business they were conducting.
“The right of the public to be informed,” Kentucky’s courts have declared, “transcend any loss of efficiency.” To this declaration we now add, this includes the utterly unscrupulous machinations of a lawless supermajority.