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HB 509 and ep.John Hodgson

I am perplexed.

Two weeks have past since HB 509 sponsor John Hodgson committed to "change the language" in the destructive open records bill after citizen activists and advocacy groups across the political spectrum accepted his offer to "find a (document) that won't be disclosable" under HB 509 that is disclosable under the current open records law.…

We showed him not one document but thousands of documents.  

"We don't want unintended consequences," he subsequently acknowledged, and set to work on February 17 to "make the changes to the bill early next week."

So why the delay? On February 26, HB 509 was assigned to the House State Government Committee. But no revised bill has emerged. 

The necessary revision is a quick fix. Hodgson said "a new version of his House Bill 509 would 'not touch' the current definition of public records," and would, instead, "focus more strictly on mandating that agencies provide employees and members with state-sponsored email addresses on which they must conduct public business."…

The promised revision requires nothing more (or less) than: 

• eliminating the sections on pages 4 and 5 (redefining "public record) by restoring the original definition of "public record" (with no amendment);

• returning the original exceptions, in their original form, to their original location at KRS 61.878(1)(a) through (s); AND

• eliminating altogether the new exclusion for "Information or documents stored or retained on a device or email account that is the personal property of a current or former employee, officer, board member, or commission member."

It's a quick fix that requires no great effort on the part of LRC bill drafters. 

Does the delay indicate a change of heart on the part of the sponsor? Could it be that Republican leadership has stepped in to ensure that these destructive provisions -- even if eliminated by a House State Government Committee  bill substitute -- make their way back into the final version of the bill by amendment? Has the sponsor's stated commitment to revise the bill yielded to darker influences? Will the lights go out across the Commonwealth as they went out in Frankfort in 2021 when the General Assembly removed itself and the Legislative Research Commission from the open records law? 

If so, these are a few examples of what Kentuckians can expect in the future: 

• access to a public agency contract but none of the negotiations that preceded it;

• access to the record of final discipline directed to a public employee but no indication what the agency investigation found, how thorough the investigation was, whether the discipline imposed was appropriate for the substantiated misconduct, or in some cases, what the allegations of misconduct were;

• access to an ordinance establishing a new local payroll tax but no analysis of the pros and cons, review of other options, or anticipated monetary impact.

Only, that is -- per the language of HB 509 in its current (unrevised) form -- a record that "documents, records, memorializes, or gives notice to a person outside the public agency of a transaction or final action."

To quote Washington's Coalition for Open Government, confronting like so many other states legislative attacks on open government laws:

"This is a pivotal moment. The erosion of the people’s right to know must be stopped. It is also a moment of opportunity to alert the public and inspire action.

"The Public Records Act should be the bedrock of the people’s right to know. Sadly, it has become a symbol of a broken system at all

levels of government."

We must demand more of our elected representatives. Candor, forthrightness, truth? And if they ignore the will of the voters, the voters must make their will known by defeating them in the next election or subsist in a world in which ignorance governs knowledge and we yield our sovereignty to our servants.

This is, indeed, a pivotal moment for Kentucky's open records law.


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