OPINION: FOR THE RECORD: Thanking Kentucky lawmakers for keeping open records law as is, for now

Apr. 19—Newspaper editors across the commonwealth let out a huge sigh of relief Monday night with an email from David Thompson, Executive Director for the Kentucky Press Association, letting us know that the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly had ended without a Senate vote on House Bill 509.

The bill would have created a huge loophole in the Kentucky Open Records Act by limiting searches for public records to only devices or accounts owned by a government agency — meaning officials could use their private cell phones or email accounts for public business without having disclose their communications.

Despite an outcry from reporters and many in the general public, HB 509 passed the House easily with a 61-31 vote and appeared well on its way to becoming law with voiced support not only from Senate President Robert Stivers but even Governor Andy Beshear (who don't agree on much).

However as the legislative session wound down, it appears that the bill became too mired down with floor amendments for the full Senate to consider by Monday's end.

That isn't necessarily the reason I would hope for in seeing HB 509's defeat, but I'll take it. I consider it a huge gift to Kentuckians as we continue to celebrate 50 years of our Open Records Act, which was passed in 1974.

As one should when given a gift, I thank our legislators — regardless of their reasoning this session.

Given that the bill had quite a bit of political support, I have no doubt that it or something similar will come up again in the future — most likely next January when the General Assembly convenes again for the 2025 short session.

Our right to know is precious and critical to our participation in government — from making informed decisions at the polls to speaking out local school board or city council meetings.

So with my thanks to our lawmakers, I would also like to add my continued encouragement to my fellow journalists and all of my fellow Kentuckians — to stand strong in support of government transparency and accountability.

Janie Slaven is the editor of The Sentinel-Echo. She can be reached at jslaven@sentinel-echo.com.