Bill would make Kentucky agency chiefs liable for fines of willful open-records violations

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2014 

FRANKFORT — A bill was filed Monday that would make state officials personally responsible when a court determines that the agencies they oversee have withheld state records willfully.

Senate Bill 130, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, would force the agency leaders to pay court awards and attorney fees out of their own pockets.

It also would require the officials to lose their jobs and be prohibited from holding any other appointed public offices in the state for five years. They also would lose their state pension benefits

Denton said her bill was in response to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services being fined $756,000 in December after a judge said it made "a mockery" of the state's Open Records Acts for repeatedly withholding information in its files about abused and neglected children.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled in favor of the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville. The fine, plus attorney fees and court costs, will be paid to the newspapers.

They sued the cabinet in 2011 for access to about 180 files involving social workers' interactions with children who died or suffered near-fatal injuries. The cabinet released the files, but it redacted far more information than Shepherd allowed, including names of victims and alleged abusers, photographs and criminal charges, and it did not cite its legal authority for the redactions, as the Open Records Act requires.

Denton said her bill would keep taxpayers' money from going to newspaper companies.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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