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Bill limiting the scope of open records requests advances to Senate floor after committee substitute reversed

Representative Hodgson addresses the Senate Standing Committee on State and Local Government.
LRC Public Information
Representative Hodgson addresses the Senate Standing Committee on State and Local Government.

After a whirlwind back-and-forth resulting in the removal of its most recent Senate Committee sub, House Bill 509 heads to the floor.

HB 509 would revise Kentucky’s Open Records law, requiring public agencies to provide their employees with email addresses with which to conduct official business. If the agency complies with the mandate, it would not be obligated to search beyond those devices and platforms in the event of a public records request.

The bill’s sponsor, Representative John Hodgson, presented his bill as sitting "on the fault line between the public’s right to know, and the individual’s right to privacy.”

"As such, there is some heat and pressure on that fault line," said Hodgson. "I have sympathies on both sides. I've been a user of public records. I've also been someone who processes open records requests, and I've been a personal privacy advocate."

Attorney Michael Abate spoke on behalf of the Kentucky Press Association in opposition to both the original House bill and its Senate committee substitute, which he said exempts the governor, constitutional officers, mayors, city council members, and school board members from Kentucky’s existing open records law.

Abate also said there’s nothing in the bill which prevents those working for a public agency from using alternative platforms to communicate.

"We saw in the JCPS audit this week, the auditing firm said, 'Hey, our senior employees felt they were encouraged to send text instead of emails because they're less susceptible to open records law,'" recounted Abate. "That's going to be the norm. That's what everybody's going to do if you pass this bill."

HB 509 drew bipartisan criticism, with both Americans for Prosperity and the League of Women Voters voicing opposition. After members withdrew their motion to adopt the substitute, the bill passed committee as its original House version and headed to the Senate floor.