Keep Ky.’s open records open

Published 12:01 pm Friday, March 8, 2019

A very curious and questionable attempt at policymaking is ongoing by Republican lawmakers in Frankfort that will dramatically impact open records laws in the Commonwealth if approved.

The Associated Press reports a legislative committee approved House bill 387 by an 11-5 vote. The proposed legislation would exempt government officials from disclosing what kind of tax breaks and other incentives they offered companies to move to a community if the proposal is rejected.

Huh? Why in the world would this information be kept secret? If the proposal is rejected, one can’t argue that the information in question would jeopardize an ongoing deal. After all, the proposal was rejected.

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The bill would also exempt companies from having to disclose their shareholders or other financial information when accepting state tax breaks. And it would limit open records requests only to people and entities based in Kentucky, according to Republican Rep. Jason Petrie, who sponsored the bill.

“I think it’s always been a prerequisite that companies who have interest in pursuing locating in the state have full assurance that the information they are being asked to disclose will remain confidential,” Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Terry Gill said. “I think that’s a reasonable expectation, and one we think is paramount to our ability to compete on an international basis for these projects.”

Mr. Gill is, quite simply, wrong, and wrong in a bad way. The confidentiality of business dealings certainly applies to transactions strictly in the private sector. But when public money is involved, it is all public, and it all should be public. It’s that simple. We suspect most people feel the exact same way.

The bill is aimed at two recent court rulings — one with a local connection. The first is a ruling from a state judge that the city of Louisville must disclose what it offered to lure Amazon to put its second headquarters there. City officials have appealed that ruling.

The second is a ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration was wrong to withhold the names of shareholders in Braidy Industries, a private company that has a $15 million investment from taxpayers with plans for its aluminum mill here in the Ashland area. The company voluntarily disclosed its shareholders in 2017, so in this case, the issue appears moot, and Braidy has been beyond transparent.

This bill, as proposed, though, would not constitute solid public policy. It should be rejected promptly.

The Daily Independent of Ashland