A bill aimed at increasing governmental transparency passed favorably out of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Tuesday.
Bill 80, which has already gotten two readings before the full Senate,
narrows open records exemptions for private firms providing public
services. The bill would require entities offering services
traditionally performed by government agencies and receiving at least a
quarter of their revenue from taxpayers adhere to the same open records
laws as their government counterparts.
Sponsor Rep. Chris Harris,
D-Forest Hills, was joined by Kentucky Press Association Executive
Director David Thompson testifying in support of HB80. According to
Harris, the genesis of the bill was a much-litigated case from his home
Utility Management Group, based in Pikeville, operates
water and sewer services for the publicly owned Mountain Water District
in Pike County. Its revenue is derived from public funds. In 2011, after
critical state audit of the water district, local fiscal court
officials and media members filed open records requests to review how
taxpayer money was being spent to manage the district. UMG denied the
requests, leading to a protracted court battle.
The State Court of Appeals ultimately ruled last summer that the company was required to follow Kentucky open records laws.
Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown – who serves on the
committee – indicated the Senate will likely move quickly to pass the
bill. HB80 passed the House by a 92-0 vote on Feb. 1.