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The Murray State News

House Bill 509 threatens access to public records

EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this piece was published in our newspaper, as of March 12 the bill has officially passed the House and made its way to the Senate.

As Kentuckians, our right to information could be radically changed for the worse.

In the Kentucky House of Representatives, House Bill 509 has been making its rounds through committee. This bill entails that public agencies create some sort of officer or officer account to deal with the Open Records Act, but it also amends KRS 61.870 to adjust the procedures that allow a resident to inspect public records. This change to the definition can affect transparency between the public and public institutions and allows these institutions to hide more information from the public.

How will this bill change transparency between the public and your publicly funded institutions?

The first thing to point out is the exact wording of what a public record is. A public record under KRS 61.870 is “All books, papers, maps… and other documentation regardless of physical form or characteristics which are prepared, owned, used in the possession of or retained by a public agency.”  Under Kentucky law now, it allows for all residents to be able to openly inspect public records.

HB509 would now require substantial compliance with requirements of KRS 61.810, 61.815, 61.820. 61.823 and 61.840 or the shall be voidable by a court with competent jurisdiction. This change can greatly affect ease of access to public records for a resident by requiring a much higher bar to be able to access these records. 

The process to access public records before this bill was generally easy. A resident or organization would put in a request to access certain public records, and that public institution would then provide those records or could deny the request which the filing organization could then take them to court to try and get the records and other rewards but now it would require substantial compliance which is then decided by a court. This addition will weaken the ability to access these records.

Many organizations, such as media sources, need to be able to have easy access to these records to allow for transparency between the people and our government. With these additions, public agencies will be able to put blockades and deny requests on the grounds that the request wasn’t substantially compliant. Although this decision can be overturned in a court, that will require time and money that most people do not have.  

The News believes this bill is an infringement on the rights of residents and greatly affects the transparency between the public and public agencies. This bill has already passed the house but there is still time for the state senators to vote against this bill. The right to access public records is an important right to Kentuckians, and it should be protected at all costs.

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Nate Hunt, Contributing writer

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