It was known as BR (Bill Request) 821 before the General Assembly convened Tuesday and then quickly got a new reference — Senate Bill 14 — when it was introduced. But don’t go looking for it now because it only states, “Withdrawn.” Well, make that “WITHDRAWN,” in large capital letters.
I would guess Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, thought he would have little opposition or comment to his bill. By the time he arrived in Frankfort, he found out there was widespread opposition for language that would have basically turned the Open Records Law upside down. Or in the words of Jon Fleischaker, well-known media attorney and father of the Open Meetings/Open Records law, “eviscerate” the Open Records Law.
We got the word out late last week that BR821 was a major problem and before long the media hopped on it. We sent one of those URGENT legislative messages to all KPA members and the stories started coming in — from newspapers and from TV stations.
The session opened Tuesday and Sen. Carroll announced he was filing Senate Bill 14. But with all the hubbub over the problems this legislature would cause — equivalent to anti-transparency — Carroll began telling reporters he was thinking about withdrawing it. By Wednesday, “thinking” changed to “I am withdrawing it” and on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, he announced to the chamber he was filing the necessary paperwork to do just that.
But there was a caveat in all of his comments. He wants to sit down with those opposed, see what the problems are with the language and then bring back another version later in the session.
In the words of KPA attorney Michael Abate, “It’s a solution looking for a problem.”
Fact is, no one knows what brought this legislation on in the first place. Sen. Carroll basically admitted to not having read the bill, that a couple of people including someone from Homeland Security or the Secret Service, gave him the bill and asked him to file it. He did and that’s how most bills get filed for consideration in the first place. Give a legislator some language, ask them to file it and they oblige, not knowing anything about what it says and admitting they hadn’t read it in the first place.
KPA has reached out to Senator Carroll about a meeting between now and when the second part of the session convenes in early February.
On its original title, it was to deal with the release of “Personal Information.” One thing the senator did say was that he thought personal information was getting out to the public that should not be released. Social Security Numbers and addresses were two of the areas he mentioned.
I challenge any legislator to go back through the history of all Kentucky newspapers and find just one time a Social Security Number has been published. I’m confident that has never happened.
Addresses? Yes and not to embarrass someone but to clarify the identity. Addresses are often needed and published to specify which individual is being charged with a crime. People read the police blotter and might see the name David Thompson. Without an address, perhaps Scott Countians immediately would think it’s me. But there are three David Thompsons, at least in Scott County, so using the address of the one involved narrows down the individual being named, or eliminates the other two David Thompsons from people thinking it’s one of the others being charged.
So yes, Senator, we will request and we will publish addresses but only for the sake of focusing on the one individual charged so others with the same or similar name aren’t the ones involved.
Remember all the issues with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services over abused children and the cabinet not wanting any information to be released. ANY information, period. It took some long court battles to finally make the cabinet turn over the records. Had Senate Bill 14 gotten through the legislative process, it appears the cabinet would be protected from releasing any information. Whatsoever.
FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE
During the Senate session Friday morning, Sen. Carroll did make some comments about the bill, the process and the intent. Here is a Cliff Notes version of the comments, from Top Shelf’s Danny Slaton, the KPA lobbying firm:
Comments by Sen. Danny Carroll — “At the core of the bill was the idea to protect those who put their lives on the line, that we protect their information. I failed to read any article that actually touched with what the intent of the bill was.
“Facebook post, Commissioner Davis alerted me to – Natalie Corona, an officer who was assassinated. Officers have been killed, some off duty. I heard it written in one article that I’m trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Our officers are at greater risk today than they have ever been. Their information is more accessible today than it has ever been. Isn’t it in our interest to protect them in any way we can? But surely we can take steps to protect their personal information – to prevent those who would do those officers harm from getting their personal information.
“I take responsibility for my oversights in the disciplinary language on my part. Thank you to representatives from the Kentucky Press Association, and some journalists I’ve talked to. My intention was to start a conversation with this bill.
“The Secret Service person who brought to me the issue and some of the language is very knowledgeable about the open records act.
“I apologize for my oversight, but I will never apologize for protecting our men and women in uniform.”