Kentucky bill shielding information about officials advances

Media and open government advocates say the proposed bill would weaken the state's open records law

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill aimed at blocking the release of personal information about judges, prosecutors, police officers and other officials advanced Wednesday over objections from a statewide newspaper organization.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, sending it to the full House. If the measure passes there, it would return to the Senate — where it previously passed — to consider House changes. If the Senate accepts those changes, the measure would go to Gov. Andy Beshear.

Media and open government advocates say the bill would weaken the state’s open records law.

Supporters portray 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.

“The need for these protections has never been higher,” Republican Sen. Danny Carroll told the House committee.

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

Michael Abate, representing the Kentucky Press Association, criticized the proposal as an “anti-transparency” bill that would amount to an “unconstitutional censorship of press and speech.”

If the bill 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.

Abate warned that the bill could result in “self-censorship” among the media out of fear of being sued because the definition of “personally identifiable information” is so broad.

“You could not write a news story about a judge or a prosecutor without running the risk that that person might feel that they were put in danger by it and try to sue you for punitive damages,” he told the committee.

The legislation is Senate Bill 63.

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