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KY legislature passes last-minute bill that shields information of public officials

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 3/30/2021 Daniel Desrochers, Lexington Herald-Leader

Mar. 30—FRANKFORT — Late Monday night, the House of Representatives quickly passed previously unseen legislation that would allow any police officer, prosecutor and some court employees — and anyone related to them — to shield a wide array of personal information from the public.

It was a bill enabling secrecy, passed in secrecy. At 11 p.m. on the second to last day of the session, Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, introduced a floor amendment to Senate Bill 48 that had been filed that day, ensuring that the general public couldn't read it before lawmakers voted on it. The House, which had strict limitations on debate in place at the time, adopted the amendment on a voice vote and later passed it 67-24.

The whole process took around 15 minutes.

"It's terrible," said David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association after he had a chance to briefly look over the bill Tuesday morning.

The amendment was easily approved by the Senate Tuesday afternoon, with most Democrats voting against it. Because it passed in the final two days of the session, the legislature will not have the ability to override any potential gubernatorial veto.

When asked if he would urge a veto by Gov. Andy Beshear, Thompson didn't pause.

"Definitely."

SB 48 was originally intended to exempt records that would reveal the address or location of a public officer under specific conditions. Blanton's floor amendment, a watered-down version of a bill he failed to get through the House earlier in the session, greatly expands the bill.

It now allows any family member or blood relative of judges, police officers and prosecutors — potentially extending the protections to distant relatives of public officials — to remove phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, home addresses, vacation home addresses, property ownership records, identifying photos of their houses or vehicles, vehicle registrations and more from public agency records.

Thompson said the bill could have several unintended consequences, from preventing the release of campaign finance records to preventing finance companies from getting the information necessary to extend a mortgage.

On the House floor Monday night, Blanton said the bill was a pared-down version of his original. While explaining the bill, he said he took out the parts that would have made it a criminal act to publish the names of current and former Attorney Generals online (people like Gov. Andy Beshear, former Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron) and that the onus would be put on the public official (or family member) to make a written request for the information be removed.

Blanton said he was basing it off a law in New Jersey called "Daniel's law," which attempts to prevent doxxing, a form of online harassment where someone releases publicly identifiable information in order to harass someone.

The New Jersey law, signed in November, prevents the state from releasing the addresses of former or active judges and prosecutors, amending a law that already included those provisions for law enforcement officers. More specifically, the bill made it a crime to "knowingly, with purpose to expose another to harassment or risk of harm to life or property" post the address or unpublished telephone number of a judge or prosecutor and their spouses or children on the internet.

Blanton's bill goes far beyond that New Jersey law, with a larger list of what information can be shielded from the public and a broader list of who could have the information wiped. Instead of seeking to punish people for publishing the information online, it attempts to prevent the information from ever entering the public record.

"This bill is about protections for bad actors," said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville. "Bad public officials, bad police officers who misbehave."

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