You know how when you were little and your mom or dad told you not to do something and when you asked why they responded with, “because I said so.” Well, agencies in Kentucky are about to have the ability to tell you not to access certain information, and when you ask why, they are going reply, “because we said so.”
Thanks to House Bill 387 you may not have the ability to ask why in the future. One of the easiest and most fruitful ways to ask the government or agencies why they are doing something is to file an open records request.
Open records are simply public records that you have the right to inspect. These records are from public agencies that make decisions that can and most likely will affect your day-to-day life.
For example, you can file a FOIA, a Freedom of Information Act request, for documents such as contracts like the ones Eastern Kentucky University had with Lime bike, or financial information, such as the costs of Case Dining Hall. You simply submit a request to the agency that holds the record and within three business days you will receive a response letting you know when you can expect the records.
House Bill 387, however, aims to limit your ability to collect this valuable information. There are four main ways you could be affected here at EKU.
First, the new bill would require that you be a resident of Kentucky. You would need to be able to prove, most likely with a driver’s license, that you live in the state, said Amye Bensenhaver, a retired assistant attorney general.
Second, you would not be able to request information about potential economic partnerships between the Commonwealth and private companies. Individuals would not be able to request information, for example, about a bid placed by the city of Louisville for the headquarters of Amazon. That information would not become available until after a deal was made and a contract signed.
Third, if you asked the Legislative Research Commission, orLRC, for information about a potential piece of legislation that could be introduced and they denied that request, you would no longer have the ability to appeal that decision to the judicial system. One of the most vital protections afforded to citizens by the current version of the Open Records Act is the ability to appeal to the Attorney General’s office if you are denied records and then to the courts if you did not receive a favorable ruling from the Attorney General. The right to appeal is so crucial to making sure agencies are transparent. With this amendment to the law, the LRC would have no reason to give you records that you request because you would not have any recourse if they deny you. They would have ultimate authority over what information you have access to.
Fourth, the bill would limit your access to preliminary documents. Preliminary documents are those pieces of information used by a body to come to a decision. The new bill would restrict the public’s access to those documents by only allowing access to documents that are attached to the final version of a product. Without access to those documents, deals could be made without the public’s knowledge and not in the public’s best interest. Documents that are used in the decision-making process need to be evaluated by those who are going to be affected by the outcome.
Each of these issues is a problem in and of itself, but by combining all four of them into one bill makes for a really crappy piece of legislation. The bill, introduced by Jason Petrie, R-District 16, is meant to be a clarification of the law, but, “HB 387 is not a ‘clarification’ of the current open records law,” Bensenhaver wrote in a letter to Kentucky’s Congressional leaders. “It is a usurpation of the public’s rights that will tip the existing balance favoring access in the opposite direction.”
The transparency that this bill protects would be about as clear as muddy water if this bill is passed. The bill received five amendments on Mar. 4 and was filed to Committee Substitute.
Right now, you have the right to access information from public agencies. If you want to make sure that you can continue to keep that right, contact your legislators today.
Contact information for members of the Kentucky House.
Contact information for members of the Kentucky Senate.