Kentucky lawmakers have no right to take away the public’s right to know

Editorial, Louisville Courier Journal


 At a time when taxpayers, residents and voters need more, not less, transparency in our commonwealth, the Kentucky legislature is attempting to abolish the requirement that government agencies publish many legal notices in newspapers around the state.

 Instead, these agencies would be allowed to publish meeting notices on their own websites. Simply put, that means very few citizens will ever read them. It means you would have a harder time keeping up with school board budgets and tax rates, zoning changes and city projects built with your tax dollars.

 It means your government would move deeper into the shadows, making it difficult for you to hold your leaders accountable.

 Let's call it what it is: An attack on transparency — and it's unacceptable.

 Even the way this measure, which passed the Kentucky House in a 57-34 vote Friday, came into being was underhanded. It exemplifies why this is bad legislation for our commonwealth.

 Lawmakers hid the bill in House Revenue Bill 351, which was revised and released Thursday night, leaving some legislators in the dark about what was even in the bill when they came in to Friday's voting session.

 “This is the kind of stuff our folks don’t like, when you sneak stuff in the middle of the night," said Rep. Lisa Willner, a Louisville Democrat.

 She said the tactic was similar to 2018 when lawmakers converted a sewer bill into a pension measure, sparking outrage among teachers.

 Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg and House minority whip, lashed out to fellow legislators: “You can’t sneak things in… and then trick people into voting for it.”

 And that's exactly why we cannot eliminate the requirement that government agencies notify the public of their actions in newspapers. We must guard against public agencies operating in secret.

 Public notices along with open public meetings and accessible public records have been part of our nation’s commitment to open government since the founding of the Republic. Our founders placed public notices in newspapers to be noticed and to keep their citizens informed.

 Now, some legislators — being lobbied by associations that represent public governments — insist there's not a need to leverage the most dominant local media sources that remain in most of Kentucky's communities.

 "Trust us," they say.

 Sorry, but we do not.

 For too long, Kentucky has struggled with government transparency.

 Former Gov. Matt Bevin’s spokespeople rarely returned phone calls or answered questions about important public policy positions. The Courier Journal spent much of his administration fighting in the courts to obtain access to records concerning a proposed Eastern Kentucky aluminum mill into which he and the General Assembly invested $15 million of your tax dollars.

 His administration blocked access to records about sexual harassment claims made against people he appointed to high-ranking positions. He attempted to hide his family’s purchase of a home from one of his political appointees.

 Former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration fought for years to block public access to records about a young girl who was bludgeoned to death in Todd County by her adoptive brother after the state ignored repeated reports of abuse — first claiming the records didn’t exist and then trying to withhold them from even the state’s attorney general.

 The public has a right to know.

 Moving notices to less frequently visited government websites will not only reduce the reach to Kentuckians, it will lead to fewer active and well-informed citizens — people who read often and find notices while they’re staying current with other community news.

 With notices in newspapers — in print and online — it provides a verifiable public record through sworn required affidavits of publication. These legal notices also are essential to small Kentucky newspapers that rely on the revenue from the ads to support their local news coverage.

 So, some legislators want to not only be less transparent with Kentucky, but they also want to purposely make a decision that could kill jobs.

 This is bad for our commonwealth.

 We must ensure that Kentucky is transparent and informed. Call your legislator to share your voice before it’s too late.

see story here (week 11)

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