Media organizations oppose open-records restrictions

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A coalition of media organizations including The Associated Press is opposing a Kentucky bill that they argue would weaken the state’s open records law.

The bill imposes a residency requirement on open records requests and gives lawmakers the ability to deny requests without the option of appeal.

While the Kentucky Press Association has announced that it does not oppose the bill, about a dozen other groups and individuals co-signed a letter from the Kentucky Open Government Coalition warning that the legislation would “create unneeded and unwanted impediments to public access” and would not ease the burden on public agencies. The letter went to Senate leaders on Monday and the AP joined in the objection on Tuesday.

Lawmakers in the Kentucky House voted 71-27 last Friday to advance the bill. It now heads to the Senate for a committee hearing. The open-records law changes were added as a last-minute amendment to a bill dealing with financial institutions.

If passed, only Kentucky residents, businesses and news organizations would be able to file requests. The measure also permits public officials to respond to requests within five days instead of three. The Office of the Attorney General would also be tasked with creating a standard request form for public agencies to use.

Another part of the bill would nullify a 2019 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling allowing the Franklin Circuit Court to hear appeals of requests that have been denied by the Legislative Research Commission.

Instead, appeals would be heard by a panel of legislative leadership from both parties, and there would be no option for an appeal or judicial review, essentially giving the legislature the last word.

In defending the bill during floor debate, two Republican House members falsely claimed the current open-records law allows the public to have access to emails between lawmakers and their constituents.

Democratic Rep. Matti Minter rebuffed those concerns when explaining her opposition to the bill.

“I don’t think we need to be fearmongering on the floor that people’s personal information is going to get compromised,” she said. “There are so many stories that our free press that we cherish in this country will not be able to tell if this law is enacted.”

Republican lawmakers hold veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s office did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

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