Senate committee approves open records measure

FRANKFORT— A bill aimed at increasing governmental transparency passed favorably out of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Tuesday.

House 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 county.

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.

Senate 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.

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