Public Notices, Open Records, Gruesome Photos and More as legislature is one-third done

That pretty much sums up the first month of the Kentucky General Assembly as far as newspapers and the Kentucky Press Association are concerned.

Today is the 23rd day of the 60-day Regular Session so we’re a little more than one-third of the way through the session,

As you know, it started with a big BANG soon after the House was gaveled in on January 7. Within the first 30 minutes, Rep. Jerry Miller had filed House Bill 195 that basically would take away most all public notices, at least all of those placed by local government agencies, and require the agency to put those notices on a local government website. That put KPA and newspapers on the defensive before the first day of the session was adjourned.

Newspapers responded by contacting legislators in probably unprecedented numbers. It appeared there was opposition from both sides of the chamber but with encouragement to offer compromise language that would be agreeable to the sponsor, to the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Association of Counties and, of course, KPA and its newspapers across the state.

Meetings, discussions, counter-measures, the KPA Board meeting at the Winter Convention, and yet more meetings and discussions took place with all sides involved.

The final amended language is being drafted and will be given to the Legislative Research Commission to put into committee substitute bill form and it should be presented next Wednesday to the House Local Government Committee for consideration.

As soon as the final approved version is received, we will share it with all member newspapers.

What is a ‘Gruesome’ photo?

It’s not defined in the legislation known as House bill 174 and your feeling about a gruesome photo could well be different than mine. So therein lies one issue, who’s to determine what’s gruesome and what’s not. That’s only part of the problem. The legislation would require the courts to seal such records, forever, and the courts normally resent the legislature telling it what to do, or in this case, what to release and what not to release.

HB 174 stems from the 2018 Marshall County High shootings that left two students deceased. HB 174 was to be heard the last two Thursdays by the House State Government Committee but has been postponed both times. It’s now expected to be on the agenda at the committee’s meeting Thursday, February 13. KPA General Counsel Michael Abate will be representing KPA and will include comments as to why the legislation is “clearly unconstitutional.”

Open Meetings/Open Records

Rep. Maria Soloris, D-Louisville, filed House Bill 232 (Open Records) and House Bill 309 (Open Meetings). She came to Kentucky from Florida and knew of some language in the Florida law that she wanted to put into the Kentucky law. We met with her earlier this week, taking along the Father of Open Meetings/Open Records in Kentucky and stated our concerns and issues with both bills. She has agreed to prepare some amended language now that she understands our position and will let us review that language before the committee sub is introduced.

Anti-SLAPP

As with lots of previous legislation, we see laws being made in other states that haven’t made it to Kentucky. Another example is the language in House Bill 133, sponsored by Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, known as the Anti-SLAPP law.

Short for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, SLAPPs have become an all-too-common tool for intimidating and silencing criticism through expensive, baseless legal proceedings.

Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to provide a remedy to SLAPP suits. Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights. In terms of reporting, news organizations and individual journalists can use anti-SLAPP statutes to protect themselves from the financial threat of a groundless defamation case brought by a subject of an enterprise or investigative story.

Under most anti-SLAPP statutes, the person sued makes a motion to strike the case because it involves speech on a matter of public concern. The plaintiff then has the burden of showing a probability that they will prevail in the suit — meaning they must show that they have evidence that could result in a favorable verdict. If the plaintiff cannot meet this burden and the suit is dismissed through anti-SLAPP proceedings, many statutes allow defendants to collect attorney’s fees from the plaintiff.

Here’s more information from the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press on Anti-SLAPP: https://www.rcfp.org/introduction-anti-slapp-guide/

 

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