Bill to fix open records loophole should get support
I know it’s not always the most popular profession, but I can promise you that those of us in the news media are constantly fighting to keep people informed. A vital part of that is access to public records that tell us what our government is up to.
Back in 2012, a sneaky maneuver was pulled in the Kentucky General Assembly that provided a loophole to the states Open Records Act. Essentially, it allowed private entities that were performing traditional government functions, and receiving taxpayer money to do so, to shield their records from public inspection.
Quite simply, this was wrong.
The real impact was felt when a former Pike County magistrate tried to obtain records from a local water district. He was denied, and the utility cited this law in denying him the records.
Fast forward to today. That magistrate was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, and now he’s filed a bill — House Bill 80 — that would reopen the door that was slammed shut in the face of taxpayers in 2012.
Rep. Chris Harris, a Democrat, felt the same frustration those of us feel in the media on a day-in-day out basis. Too many impediments to obtaining information that should be open for anyone to see.
So he’s doing something about it. I’m glad. I think our local state representative and senator should get on board with the effort. I see no partisan reason that would upend cooperation on this bill. It’s the right thing to do.
I honestly think legislators ought to revisit the Kentucky Open Records Act more broadly and really make it “open” again. My personal feeling is that it’s been bogged down with so many exceptions that local officials often take wide latitude with when they interpret the law. Getting records that were just basically understood as “open” years ago now require a fight, ridiculous redactions, unnecessary exclusions or the payment of burdensome fees, in some cases.
When the law was written, it was not meant to be this way.
What Harris is doing is a good start. He is addressing a situation that was personally aggravating for him. Being denied those records surely left a sour taste in his mouth as a magistrate and taxpayer. Welcome to my world, Mr. Harris!
Even if reversed, any entity would still have to meet the 25 percent threshold of government funding before it becomes subject to the Open Records Act. That seems fair. No further “protection” is needed.
A yes vote on this bill is a no-brainer.
SOME OTHER STUFF
• The death of former Hinkle Printing Company President Benny Hinkle Monday night was sad news indeed. When I moved to Corbin 20 years ago — and I didn’t know a single sole here at the time — Hinkle was extremely nice to me from the first time we met. I remember going to cover basketball games as he dutifully kept stats on the Corbin bench. He was always willing to share. Always wanted to help. Always pleasant. I loved working with him when he was in charge of the Cumberland Falls Invitational Tournament. The man was a saint. If he isn’t in Heaven, none of us are going.
Benny is one of the reasons Corbin felt like home almost before I even got done unpacking my bags. He will be sorely missed.
• Very interesting comments from Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers at Monday’s Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon in Corbin. Some assurances in his speech regarding Keeneland that I think everyone would be interested to read. See the full story on page A-1.