With apologies to Joe South, sing with me:
Oh the games legislators play now,
Every night and every day now,
Never doing what they say now,
Never saying what they do.
The 2018 General Assembly is beginning to wind down, or so it should be. Friday, April 13 is the scheduled Sine Die for the ’18 session. That would mark the 60th day and by the constitution they can only meet for 60 days. If they extend it, it can only go until Sunday, April 15, the absolute cutoff date for the session, they would not be in session the previous days.
But winding down means it’s time to find language that isn’t going to make it through the process so “we’ll just stick it on another bill, maybe strike all the original language, change the title and presto! With little or no discussion, we have a new law that didn’t have to spend time spinning through the committee and discussion process.”
Some times those might be favorable and we take a different view. Most times those waning days are not good because things get rushed, there’s no discussion, no real explanation and often times, no inkling of what’s going to take place.
PUBLIC NOTICE — It’s under this shell, no it’s under that shell, no it’s under the original shell
The Free Conference Committee on House Bill 200 (the state budget bill) and House Bill 366 (the state revenue bill) began its work this morning.
Mentioned early in the discussion was the public notice language in the original bill, HB200. But the Senate moved public notice language — for schools and for some counties/cities — over to HB366. The House did not agree with all the changes the Senate made so that required the Free Conference Committee.
Ok, now stay with me.
In the original HB200, language was put in there to allow school districts to publish their financial statements and school report cards on the district’s website after publishing in the paper the URL where the information could be found.
And also in HB200 was language that allowed all cities (no counties, only cities) to publish their audits, bid requests and enacted ordinances on the city’s website instead of in the paper. But they would have to put a notice in the paper as to the URL where the information can be found.
That passed the House and headed to the Senate. In the upper chamber, the school language was moved to House Bill 366 and then language was changed that affected counties with 90,000 population and above for local government notices. That language stated that counties at or above the 90,000 threshold, plus all cities within that county, could publish their audits, bids and ordinances on the government’s website. Counties smaller than 90,000 and all other cities would have to continue publishing in the newspaper.
So this morning the Free Conference Committee got to work and early on decided to return all public notice advertising sections back to House Bill 200. That would mean, if the language is approved, that school districts would publish their financial statements and school report cards on the district’s website with a notice published in the paper specifying the URL.
And for cities, it means that all cities can publish their audits, bids and ordinances on their own website after notifying the public through the paper with the URL location. Counties are taken out of the process, at least for now. Who knows what evil lurks in the hallowed hallways known as the Capitol?
Time is running short. If your legislator is listed below, contact that legislator immediately to be against any effort to take public notices out of the newspaper. The action they’re taking would allow governments to control what it publishes, when it publishes and how it publishes. Call them at 800-372-7181 to vote against any and all efforts to remove public notices from newspapers.
Members of the Free Conference Committee are:
Free Conference Committee Appointed in House:
Rep. Rudy – CHR; Rep. Shell; Rep. Meade; Rep. Bratcher; Rep. Carney; Rep Santoro; Rep. Adkins; Rep. Stone; Rep. Keene
Free Conference Committee Appointed in Senate:
Sen. McDaniel, Chr; Sen. Stivers, Sen. Higdon, Sen. Wilson, Sen. Seum, Sen. Givens, Sen. Jones, Sen. Parrett, Sen. Ridley
Two years ago, Rep. Chris Harris, D-Pikeville, filed legislation we supported and it worked its way through the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Without on nay vote in the House, without on comment on concern in committee. So the committee vote ended up unanimous. That should have destined the bill for the Consent Calendar, automatic approval by the whole Senate.
But before the vote to put it on Consent, Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he thought there might be some who wanted to discuss it on the Senate floor. So no Consent Calendar for Rep. Harris’ bill.
Then the real reason came out. They needed a bill for another piece of legislation someone wanted. They needed a bill that had already gone through the process and was on its last leg of approval.
Boom! The Senate removed all of the language in Rep. Harris’ bill, replaced it for what someone else wanted and it got quick approval in the Senate.
Wednesday, there was little reaction to House Bill 302 in the same Senate State and Local Government Committee.
But the amendment turned Open Records on its ears. Language from House Bill 216 that had languished in the House since February 28, suddenly showed up on House Bill 302. Fine that House Bill 216 isn’t going anywhere and it was legislation KPA had testified against. But not only was that language added to House Bill 302, Senator Thayer tacked on an amendment that “codified” an AG’s opinion form 2015 when Jack Conway as the Attorney General.
The opinion said it was ok for government officials to use private devices — cell phones, email, computers — to conduct government business. Conway was way off base with that opinion.
Senator Thayer was correct in saying that the opinion had never been tested in court but the reason is, there has never been a reason to test it. The Open Records law would be interpreted to say those privately constructed emails, calls and texts would still be subject to openness. But had it been, KPA general counsel Jon Fleischaker believes the court would have ruled against the law.
He apparently was saying it the AG had said it was ok, then the court would support the opinion.
Yeah well, an AG’s opinion originally said child abuse records were not subject to release. Those would remain closed. And we all know what happened when that opinion was tested. It cost the state a lot of money, not to mention hours of staff and attorney time over seven years. Finally, state government just gave up and got it over with.
So the point is, an AG’s opinion isn’t always the gospel, isn’t always correct. The child abuse cases prove that.
The press seemed to be blamed but we had nothing to do with the language. Whoever wrote the language for Senator Thayer did not do a good job.
It reads: “‘Public record’ shall not include any electronic communications…”
Any means any, no ifs, ands or buts. It should have read no personal or professional communications made on a cell phone, by text or private email address and we would have not given the language a second thought. But the word “any” meant government/public business communications could not be considered a public record. We argued and argued that point but were treated as if WE wrote the language, not someone who is supposed to know how to write legislation.
It is unfortunate the situation got so far out of hand Thursday, that it created harsh feelings, raised voices and speeches/lectures on the Senate floor. Had they clarified the intent, not a word would have been said and we would have continued skipping on down the hallway.