Count ’em: One day left in 2019 Kentucky General Assembly; Al Cross commentary on 2019 session

 

We’re down to the final day of the 2019 Kentucky General Assembly but that’s about two weeks away. The legislature has entered the “Veto Session” time and will not be in session again until March 28. While established as a “veto override” day, it’s doubtful the House and Senate will have to override any vetoes, leaving them time to get final passage on some legislation that hasn’t made it through both chambers in the first 29 days.

We will continue monitoring any activity, such as committee meetings that might crop up during this interim, and be ready to take on any legislation that threatens open government, be it public notices, open meetings or open records.

Remember their motto is “We can do what we want, to whom we want, when we want.” So even during the down time, committees can meet and discuss bills that are still on its schedule but realizing that with only one final day, passage would be difficult. There are still a number of bills that have passed one chamber, had the required two readings in the other chamber and only the final Sine Die stands between becoming law and dying for lack of action.

Here’s a look at the various bills we’ve monitored because of the 15 key words we search for in each piece of legislation filed —

Legislative Bill Tracker: http://www.klsreports.com/Report_Custom.aspx?sid=q9X%2bxa57gC0%3d&rid=nhcmX60o1YE%3d&oldFormat=False

Here’s a look at some of the major bills KPA has lobbied on since early January.

 

Senate Bill 193 and House Bill 387

If you’ve followed any news about the legislature this session, chances are you’ve read about two major Open Records bills. Senate Bill 193 introduced by Sen. Danny Carroll and House Bill 387, by Rep. Jason Petrie, caught the attention of newspapers, reporters, the public and numerous agencies watching legislative action because of attempts to turn the Open Records laws upside down.

Sen. Carroll actually introduced his first bill as Senate Bill 14 and by the next afternoon’s session, announced he was withdrawing it. He had no idea there would be such backlash of his proposal to make changes in the Open Records Law that would protect information about first responders/emergency personnel, and extended to commonwealth attorneys and judges and beyond. But in actual language it was far more reaching than just first responders that he wanted to protect. Taken at its face value, it would have slammed the door shut on access to records from the Health and Family Services Cabinet, the same cabinet that several years ago denied records records on child abuse situations when it caused death or near death conditions.

You don’t have to be reminded that after an Attorney General’s opinion first denied access and appeared to agree with the cabinet, lawsuits followed in Franklin Circuit Court and the court ruled in favor of the newspapers. Still a drawn-out battled ensued, the Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader continued to fight for public access and not only won each round but also won attorney fees from the state, amounting to some $1 million the state had to pay out.

In making that announcement on the Senate floor, he said he would be meeting with KPA in hopes of working out differences. We were able to meet with him before the second round of the session in early February. He redid the language in an effort to pacify those who opposed his original bill but there were still issues. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the legislation, heard brief testimony from Sen. Carroll and from KPA General Counsel Michael Abate before committee chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield said he was not going to let the committee vote on the matter, instead, assigned it to the Interim Committee of the Judiciary Committee. So it remains active to the extent it’s alive for discussion between now and when the 2020 session begins.

House Bill 387 caused perhaps more uproar than SB 193. It began as an attempt to close off records dealing with state economic development and the incentive programs the commonwealth puts forth to attract new industry.

Long story short, Rep. Petrie, encouraged by his friend, fellow Todd County resident and 2017 KPA President, Ryan Craig, sat down with KPA. The meeting last for about 90 minutes and gave Rep. Petrie a better idea of how the language in the bill would be detrimental to Open Records. As you can see in this story below, from the Thursday Louisville Courier-Journal, Rep. Petrie, who serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee said his bill was dead for the 2019 session.   His willingness to discuss openly with KPA, in fact inviting KPA to stay in communication with him, established a relationship moving forward that should be seen as very positive. Here’s the March 14 story by Tom Loftus on Rep. Petrie’s House Bill 387 and its future:

https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/ky-legislature/2019/03/14/kentucky-bill-restricting-access-to-public-records-dead-this-session/3162897002/

 

Senate Bill 230 — Change to KRS 61.872

Sen. Will Schroder offered a change in the Open Records Law that will make it easier for the public and the press to request an open record from an agency.

The House passed Senate Bill 230 Tuesday afternoon, allowing for applications for Open Records to be faxed or emailed to the public agency. It had already passed the Senate by a 37-0 vote on February 26 and was approved by the House, 98-0.

It will now head to the Governor’s Desk. The effective date of legislation has yet to be determined but should be 90 days from Sine Die. That’s currently scheduled for March 28.

Here is the new language in the Open Records Law (new language is in Italics and Bold; existing language is in regular type face):

(2) Any person shall have the right to inspect public records. The official custodian may require

(a) Written application, signed by the applicant and with his name printed legibly on the application, describing the records to be inspected. The written application shall be hand delivered, mailed, or sent via facsimile to the public agency;

(b) Facsimile transmission of the written application described in paragraph (a) of this subsection; or

(c) E-mail of the application described in paragraph (a) of this subsection.

 

Here is a copy of the full bill:  SENATE BILL 230

 

House Bill 151 — Accident reports and the Insurance industry

This isn’t a new idea KPA was involved with this session. For several years, we’re worked with the insurance industry on access to accident reports. It all begin perhaps 10 to 12 years ago with a battle against “ambulance chasers,” those law firms and even chiropractors who got accident reports and then solicited business from the parties involved. Our interest was to maintain access to the reports for news-gathering media and we have been able to continue getting access to reports, albeit unexplained delays in the reports finally being handed over. Each time the issue has resulted in new legislation, KPA has maintained that as long as access to the reports remains available for the news-gathering media, we don’t really care if law enforcement agencies refuse to release some information such as Social Security Numbers, other personally identifying information or even the VIN, the Vehicle Information Number. House Bill 151 was this year’s attempt by the insurance industry to rein in on insurance fraud and it was approved by both chambers and is now on the Governor’s desk.

It’s sometimes not as easy to explain the insurance bills as it would be, say, public notice language or what an Open Records or Open Meetings bill would mean so here’s the Legislative Research Commission’s synopsis of House Bill 151:

Amend KRS 304.47-020 to establish a range of criminal penalties resulting from conviction of insurance fraud; amend KRS 304.47-050 to require certain Kentucky health professional boards to report suspected insurance fraud to the Department of Insurance’s Division of Insurance Fraud Investigation and to require the boards to provide information requested by the insurance commissioner; amend KRS 189.635 to require the Department of Kentucky State Police to redact vehicle accident reports provided to news-gathering organizations; provide an exception to redaction for up to three reports per day; make technical revisions; create a new section of Subtitle 39 of KRS Chapter 304 to prohibit physician self-referrals of health care services for which payment may be made from basic reparations benefits provided under the Motor Vehicle Reparations Act; incorporate exceptions provided in federal law; require refund of amounts collected in violation of section; amend KRS 304.99-060 to establish civil penalties for violation of Section 4 of the Act; amend KRS 311.597 to deem violation of Section 4 or 5 of the Act by a physician “dishonorable, unethical, or unprofessional conduct.”

 

House Bill 22 — Vacancies on local school boards

It was fine in its original form, requiring local school districts to advertise as a public notice any vacancy on the school board and how the position will be filled through the election process. But when it came to the House floor for a vote, Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro, filed an amendment to give the school district a choice of advertising the vacancy in the newspaper OR placing the notice on the school district’s website. Since it was done during a House session, there was no way to battle the floor amendment and it passed. But in the Senate, many newspapers with a member on the Senate Education Committee, contacted their senator and asked them to consider an amendment offered by KPA. That amendment would require the public notice to be published in the local newspaper with the option to also place it on the school district’s website. We were able to tell committee members that school districts can hire skywriters or buy billboard space to advertise the opening as long as it was first published in the newspaper. The amendment was approved by the committee and agreed to by the House, despite Rep. Glenn’s continued opposition.

It, too, is on the Governor’s desk.

 

Al Cross’ commentary on the 2019 Kentucky General Assembly

Long-time political observer, columnist and reporter Al Cross is using his column this week to discuss the 2019 General Assembly. Al has shared the closing paragraphs and allow us to republish in On Second Thought.

 

. . . The bills that didn’t pass also included some bad ones, such as two that would have greatly weakened the state open-records law, which went nowhere after widespread objections.

But on Thursday, legislative leaders sneaked through a bill that would exempt from the law any Revenue Department rulings that aren’t appealed, and requests to the department for tax guidance and changes in interstate-income apportionment. The department said it wanted to protect employees from liability for mistakes, but the law has exemptions that protect individuals’ and businesses’ privacy, and agencies have a responsibility to be careful.

It was almost as if the lawmakers had to somehow satisfy the inherent desire among too many government officials for secrecy. No wonder teachers don’t trust them. Good faith must be earned.

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