Governor Andy Beshear vetoed Senate Bill 48 Thursday afternoon and unlike previously vetoed legislation, the General Assembly won’t have a chance to override it. That’s because passage of an amended SB48 came in the final two days of the 2021 session. The legislature went Sine Die on Tuesday, March 30, meaning any bills passed March 29 or 30 could be vetoed by the Governor and the veto would stand.
Senate Bill 48, filed by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, had been subject to two years of discussion between the sponsor and KPA representatives. The original version submitted during the 2021 session was acceptable and KPA did not oppose. But late-hour action by the House of Representatives turned the bill into one of the most horrific actions by the General Assembly. KPA issued a statement opposing the bill as amended by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, but the Senate accepted the changes on the last day of the session and sent it to the Governor.
The language would have included former and the current Attorney General as well as law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors and a host of others. It also would have allowed (blood) relatives and those living in the same household, to request information related to them to be redacted in all public records.
As the Governor’s veto message reads, as a former attorney general, he could even request that his Governor’s Office telephone number be reacted from all records.
The Governor’s Veto Message reads:
I, Andy Beshear, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, pursuant to the authority granted under section 88 of the Kentucky Constitution, do hereby veto the following:
Senate Bill 48 of the 2021 Regular Session of the General Assembly in its entirety.
I am vetoing Senate Bill 48 because it is overly broad, impractical, and the public safety concerns that led to this bill’s passage are more properly addressed through Senate Bill 267. While the public officers and their household members included in Senate Bill 48 deserve protection, Senate Bill 267 provides appropriate protections without impairing the operation of public agencies and infringing on the public’s right to information about their government.
I have signed Senate Bill 267 into law, which makes the intentional dissemination of the same types of personally identifying information in Senate Bill 48 a crime if distributed with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten a person. KRS 61 .878( I)( a), regarding exemptions to the Open Records Act, already allows public agencies to redact personal information where a release of that information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The additional exemption created in Senate Bill 48 for “public officers” is drafted so broadly as to be unworkable in practice. Indeed, as a former Attorney General I could request my office number be redacted in all public records.
Once the veto had been issued, KPA released the following statement:
The Kentucky Press Association Board of Directors appreciates Governor Andy Beshear vetoing Senate Bill 48. As originally introduced by Senator Danny Carroll, it was language that KPA and its general counsels had worked on for more than two years. It was acceptable in its original form but the Kentucky House of Representatives made changes in the legislation that made it one of the most horrific bills passed during the 2021 General Assembly.
The same language was defeated in a House Judiciary Committee meeting but that did not stop Rep. John Blanton from attaching his language to SB48 at the 11th hour of this year’s legislature.
The secretive process by which the law was amended resulted in a bill that was unnecessary, unworkable, and internally inconsistent. Public agencies would have been wrestling for years to come with how to implement the law, and untold numbers of routine business and government functions would have been affected by its provisions. Simply put, sunshine laws should not be amended in the dead of night with no opportunity for meaningful public input or discussion of their consequences.