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Marshall County Parent Pleads With Lawmakers To Limit Access To Images

Josh James

A bill creating a new exemption to state Open Records law is on its way to the Kentucky House. Proponents, including the father of a slain Marshall County student, say it's necessary to keep traumatizing images and video from circulating online.

"We want to protect families in the future from having to go through what we're going through right now," a tearful Brian Cope explained to lawmakers after the committee passed House Bill 174.

The father of Preston Cope, one of two students killed by a gunman at Marshall County High School in 2018, argued current open records law allows an avenue for applicants obtain and publish disturbing crime scene photos and video, reopening old wounds for those affected. HB 174 would prevent open records access to images and videos used in court proceedings that depict the "death, killing, rape, physical or sexual assault or abuse of a person."

Rep. Chris Freeland said the rule change will is meant to protect victims and their families from having to continually relive the darkest moments of their lives.

"That's what we're trying to protect, just the dignity and rights of individuals... from having to worry about the worst photos they could ever imagine, that will scar them for the rest of their lives, being spread across the world on social media," he told WUKY.

But some on the panel maintained the visuals, however shocking, are sometimes a catalyst for necessary change. Lexington Democrat Kelly Flood argued the bill sends the message that society is turning away from the realities of gun violence. 

"We have to face what's happening to our children who are being slaughtered with weapons of war," she said.

A representative from the Kentucky Press Association, which opposes the bill, said the measure would likely face immediate challenge over its constitutionality. He said it runs afoul of the separation of powers and the 1st Amendment right of access to court proceedings.

The bill's sponsor said he's not spoken with House leadership about the measure's chances on the chamber floor.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.