HB 216: A solution looking for a problem but GOP legislators vote it through

House Bill 216 is what Amye Bensenhaver calls “Alfred’s Law,” named so after Frankfort State Journal reporter Alfred Miller. You see, a few months ago Alfred ruffled the feathers of the Cabinet for Finance and Administration and the current administration by asking some questions. It was about a procurement issue, involving closed meetings and records related to the demolition of the Capital Plaza Tower.

The cabinet refused to give out the information, saying it had authority under the state’s procurement code to not announce when meetings are, not allow the press or the public in and not to give out the names of those individuals serving on a selection committee. The committee would be the one receiving and discussing bids for similar projects and those “build-to-suit” situations.

So the State Journal appealed to the Attorney General and won. The AG ruled that some of the language in the procurement code referred to “executive sessions” so the AG reasoned if the committee met in executive sessions, then that meant portions of their meetings should be held in open session.

The state appealed the AG’s opinion and it’s now in Circuit Court.

But based on the AG’s opinion and the administration’s desire to continue operating in the dark. the cabinet spoke to Rep. Jason Petrie and he filed HB 216. The bill, referred to by Bluegrass Institute’s Jim Waters as a showing of this administration believing “darkness is the best disinfectant,” reenforces the cabinet’s position that the selection committee identities should remain secret and the bids will remain confidential until after they are opened. At that time, the bids become public and openness of the process is retroactive.

KPA General Counsel Ashley Pack testified Thursday before the House State Government Committee and pointed out that the state’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws address the concerns of the cabinet and the legislation should be defeated. She noted that under the Open Meetings law, the committee could go into executive session and could open and discuss the bids in closed session but at the point of approving one bid, other bids become public as the cabinet explains the process.

Discussion was strictly along party line with the Republican legislators seeing nothing wrong with the process being secret until after the winning bid was awarded while Democrats argued the transparency issue that the process is the public’s business and the public has a right to know what’s going on throughout the discussion.

The cabinet has maintained confidentiality of the selection committee members because they did not want bidders or the public to lobby the selection committee to pick a particular bid or company. The Democratic legislators on the committee compared the panel’s secrecy to not letting the public know who members of a city council or fiscal court or school board were because they would be subject to being lobbied on any particular issue.

In the end, the House State Government Committee voted in favor of House Bill 216 with the GOP members supporting, the Democratic legislators voting against. It now goes to the full House for consideration where it could be voted on Monday at the earliest.

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