Louisville Courier-Journal by Morgan Watkins
March 4, 2019
Legislation that proposes new restrictions to the commonwealth’s open records law would make Kentucky one of only a handful of states that prevents nonresidents from obtaining public documents there, according to national experts.
House Bill 387 started out as a proposal to limit citizens’ access to records related to businesses seeking financial incentives from the government for projects that could boost economic development and job creation in Kentucky, but then a legislative committee approved new restrictions to it, including the residency requirement.
Most states allow people to request and access public records regardless of where they live, according to Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. However, several states — including Tennessee and Arkansas — do limit access to people who reside within their borders.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such residency requirements are permissible, Dalglish said. However, she criticized these rules for limiting the ability of reporters and other citizens to obtain data on how the same issues are handled in different states.
“From my standpoint as a journalist, what always bothered me … was they made it almost impossible for you to do an investigative story where you want to gather information and tell a comprehensive story about the way things are nationwide,” Dalglish said.
“And that’s really the biggest problem with statutes like this is you become little isolated islands of information, and citizens have very little ability to compare themselves to others,” she added.
House Bill 387’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jason Petrie of Elkton, has indicated that he believes the purpose of Kentucky’s open records law is to provide transparency solely to the citizens of the commonwealth.
“What’s the purpose of the open records? Is it to be open and transparent to the rest of the world? Or is it to be open and transparent to the people residing in Kentucky? I think it’s the latter, not the former,” he said recently, according to the Associated Press.