Last week, this newspaper and others took Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, to task for an amendment he offered on Kentucky’s open records law. If the amendment had passed it would have been catastrophic for Kentucky as it would have allowed public officials to conduct public business on their private devices with the communication not open to public records.
As we also noted Thayer has often been an advocate for open government, so his action took us by surprise. We now suspect he, himself, was surprised by the backlash from the media and open government advocates such as the ACLU and the Bluegrass Institute.
Because of the backlash the Senate decided to pull House Bill 302 from consideration on the Consent Calendar, just moments before approval. Over the weekend Thayer apparently reached out to David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, which represents the state’s newspapers, and sought language that would satisfy those who opposed the amendment. On Tuesday, Thayer amended the language and filed it as a floor amendment. The amended language allows private and personal communication to be exempt from open records, but keeps any communication regarding public business on private devices open.
The language offered by the newspapers is a temporary fix but it addresses the concern of Thayer and others in leadership. During the interim, the State and Local Government Committee will be meeting with representatives from KPA and other interested parties in hopes of developing a long-term solution to the concerns.
Thayer’s amendment was based upon an opinion issued by former Attorney General Jack Conway, which is flawed, and last week’s actions forced that opinion back to the surface. Our hope is that opinion will eventually be overturned in a legal challenge. Now that it is on everyone’s radar, we believe that will be the case.
We believe Thayer had not fully considered the ramifications of his amendment, but once he was made aware Thayer sought counsel and took corrective steps.
The public should be pleased this situation was resolved appropriately, and Thayer deserves credit for seeking corrective language and then following through by filing the amendment. The KPA deserves credit for assisting.
As painful as this may have been, it is a positive illustration of how our government works and what can happen when we all seek common ground.