Elkton rep’s proposed open records overhaul not in the best interest of Kentuckians

Open government is a bedrock of our democracy. Transparency laws require policy makers to meet, deliberate and make decisions in the open. Official record of their activity is also considered open for the public to examine – with some exceptions.

A bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives seeks to overhaul the state’s Open Records Act in the name of economic development and add several more exceptions to the rule. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton).

According to Kentucky General Assembly’s website, House Bill 387 seeks to amend KRS 61.878 to exclude trade secrets as protected information; protect confidential or proprietary information maintained by regulators; exclude information declared confidential through administrative regulation by the Cabinet for Economic Development and all preliminary records not finalized from January 1, 2016; include locating and relocating in a place outside of the Commonwealth as protected information.

In layman’s terms, the bill creates multiple exemptions in the open records law to protect information surrounding incentives offered to companies in the name of economic development. This follows a nationwide rat race last year where communities and states created extreme incentive and tax abatement packages for Amazon, Inc. as the online juggernaut sought a location for its second headquarters campus.

On a smaller scale, these types of packages are offered every day to businesses in an effort to lure their investment in a given area. That’s the reality of the competitive market, the nature of the beast so to speak, but it shouldn’t be top-secret information. Local taxpayers have a right to know what they’re giving up in an attempt to entice developers and investors.

Rep. Petrie’s platform on his campaign website agrees. Under the heading of “Issues” and “Transparency” the website states:

Transparency and accountability are essential ingredients to a greater Commonwealth. Jason will support legislation for additional transparency in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the Commonwealth. Kentucky has made progress in opening up the doors and windows of the government so that Kentuckians can see how decisions are made and money spent, but not enough. Except for narrowly tailored exceptions, we must seek to open every remaining door and window. Decisions made in plain view of public eyes are more considered and thoughtful, while decisions behind closed doors usually are thought through only for benefit of those involved.

So, color me confused when he says decisions made in private only benefit those involved and then files a bill to make it easier to do exactly that. When pressed as to his thinking on the bill, the representative from Elkton has neglected to return multiple attempts to reach him by journalists at the New Era, multiple other outlets and concerned parties.

These changes to the already porous open records law are not in the best interests of Kentucky residents and taxpayers. These are not narrowly tailored exceptions, but sweeping changes that will further enable back-room deals and conceal money trails for those who seek to profit on the backs of taxpayers.

Kentuckians deserve better. Call your representative at 502-564-8100 and let them know this attempt to keep you in the dark is not why you sent them to work for you in Frankfort.

Brandon Cox is the publisher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Ky. He can be reached by email to bcox@kentuckynewera.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BrandonJCox.

Elkton rep’s proposed open records overhaul not in the best interest of Kentuckians

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