Bill shielding information about officials clears Senate

The Senate also passed a bill that would allow school districts to set aside time for children to eat breakfast if they are late to school

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate passed a bill Friday to block the release of personal information about judges, prosecutors, police officers and other officials, who could sue over the disclosure of those details.

Supporters portrayed the measure as a personal-protection safeguard for officials involved in the criminal justice system by shielding the release of home addresses, phone numbers and employment or school locations. The bill also would apply to the officials’ spouses, children and parents.

“This is our show of support for the safety of all these people,” said Republican Sen. Wil Schroder.

Media and open government advocates say the bill would weaken the state’s open records law. Information protected by the bill would include such things as property tax records.

“It will impede the public’s longstanding right of access to public records by chilling public agencies in the discharge of their open records duties,” Amye Bensenhaver, co-director of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, said Friday in an email statement.

The measure won Senate passage on a 24-8 vote, advancing to the House.

Republican Sen. Danny Carroll, the bill’s sponsor, pointed to national statistics reflecting increased threats against judges and violence against police officers as justification for the bill.

“You only have to look around the world today to see the need for this,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Robin Webb said information being shielded by the bill is readily available online.

“I think this is kind of a false sense of security and it’s not going to do what people are wanting it to do,” she said in opposing the bill.

The bill would apply to broad range of current and retired officials, including judges, prosecutors, police officers and corrections officers, as well as their immediate families.

If Senate Bill 63 becomes law, public agencies could not release the “personally identifiable information” if those officials requested the protection. That would include records disclosing birth, marriage, property ownership and vehicle registration records as well as email addresses. It includes a provision that would allow judges to order the disclosure of otherwise-exempt information.

The bill would allow officials or their immediate family members to file a lawsuit if the information is disclosed. They could sue someone for spreading the information if they believe it was done to intimidate or harass them or was in response to a decision or intended to influence a future action. It also would apply if they have a reasonable fear of injury or harm to their property.

During a committee hearing on the bill, media advocates expressed concerns that the term “personally identifiable information” was defined too vaguely. The committee was told news organizations are unlikely to publish an official’s date of birth, but reporters use such information to make sure they have the right person for stories and not someone else sharing the same name.

Also on Friday, the Senate passed a bill that would allow school districts to set aside time for children to eat breakfast if they are late to school. The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jason Howell, cleared the Senate on a 32-1 vote and goes to the House.

It would be up to school district superintendents to decide whether to allow up to 15 minutes for late-arriving children to eat breakfast during instructional time. The goal is to ensure that more students on free and reduced meals can eat breakfast, the bill’s supporters said.

Children can arrive late to school because of bus delays, traffic jams, inclement weather, a flat tire or many other reasons, supporters said.

In praising Senate Bill 151, Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas said if “we want our children to be put in the best position to receive the best education possible, we ought to feed them.”

 

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