A state senator who pre-filed a bill that would broadly restrict access to public records said the bill was authored by someone else, and he’s open to making changes based on transparency concerns.
State Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said in an interview with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting on Monday evening that he’s listening to criticism about his proposed legislation. As written, it would exempt several state agencies and local officials from having to release personnel records, disciplinary records, financial information and other information to the public.
If this bill were to become law, records custodians could be held personally liable and fined for releasing private information — and requesters seeking records for an “improper” purpose could be ordered to pay attorney’s fees in a subsequent lawsuit. The bill defines “improper” as a request that’s frivolous, or intended to cause someone to violate the provision.
Carroll said the bill was brought to him by a state Homeland Security employee and a Secret Service agent working in Kentucky, who he declined to name. He said they came as individuals and compiled the bill from several laws in other states.
“I do not want to make changes to the Open Records Act that would have a negative impact on transparency,” Carroll said. “As we move through this process, I’m open to hearing from anyone who has concerns and exactly what their concerns are.”
Carroll, who retired as assistant chief of the Paducah Police Department, said he sponsored and pre-filed the bill because he wants to ensure public safety officers’ public information is protected. The bill would also expressly protect the home addresses, Social Security numbers and health information for police officers, corrections officers, judges and current and former Commonwealth attorneys, as well as employees of several state cabinets. Most of that information is already considered protected under current law.
Carroll said the agencies protected were named in the bill when he received it, and he doesn’t know why those entities were singled out for the proposed protection.
Michael Abate, a Louisville attorney who has represented KyCIR and several other media outlets on public records issues, said the bill is a direct attack on transparency in the state.
“It strikes me as an attempt to take off the table extremely important records that media outlets — and the public in general — have used to understand what their agencies have done in their name, and on their dime,” Abate said. “That is the essential purpose of the open records law.”