A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Amye Bensenhaver: KY Supreme Court strikes blow for open government; court is arbiter of access

In what may be the single most important victory for open government in recent memory, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued an opinion on September 26 in which it repudiated the Legislative Research Commission’s argument that it, and not the courts, are the final arbiter of access to records of the LRC and the legislature. The opinion in Becky Harilson, etc., et al. v. Hon. Phillip J. Shepherd, et...

Amye Bensenhaver: KY citizens own the plane, Governor, and have a right to know how you use it


“The information is out there. The people can see all of the flights that have been taken and can see where the money came from. “The real question is: Why does it matter what the purpose (of the trip) is? Did taxpayers pay for it? If they did, then they should know the purpose. If they didn’t pay for it, it’s none of their business.” This, according to the Bowling Green Daily News,...

Amye Bensenhaver: Resisting tranparency at all costs — and that’s why open records laws exist

It is deeply disturbing that a public agency — whose compliance with state transparency laws is found by the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts to fall “drastically short” — concludes its response to the auditor’s examination with the statement that it “compl[ies] with all governing statutes *to the extent possible.*” This is how the Kentucky Retirement Systems responded to Auditor Mike...

Amye Bensenhaver: Recent Fayette Circuit Court decision another major victory for open records law

With very little fanfare, the open records law recently claimed another victory in the Fayette Circuit Court. On April 25, Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell affirmed a 2015 open records decision issued by the Office of the Attorney General in a dispute concerning access to the records of the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation. The issue presented to the Fayette Circuit Court in Kentucky Medical...

Amye Bensenhaver: Illegal less-than-quorum meetings are the crabgrass of violations

What violation of the open meetings law is as common as crabgrass and just as pernicious? Ask the Glasgow Daily Times. On April 2, the newspaper reported that it would appeal the Glasgow Electric Plant Board’s denial of a complaint alleging that the board violated the open meetings law by engaging in a series of less than quorum nonpublic meetings to discuss board business but avoid the requirements...

Amye Bensenhaver: How to succeed in open records by refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer

Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, has succeeded where other open records disputants often fail. He did this by simply refusing to take “no” for an answer. Cross is no stranger to the open records law, and his reputation for tenacity no doubt precedes him. On March 20, Cross submitted a request to the Kentucky Horse Racing...

Amye Bensenhaver: A new exception to open records should always raise legislative red flags

Twice last week we were reminded of a common argument used by public agencies to avoid their statutory duties under the open records law. The first reminder came in the form of judicial repudiation of the argument. The second reminder came in the form of legislative acceptance of the argument in a newly enacted, but wholly unvetted, exception to the open records law. The argument is based on the agencies’...

Commentary: Advocates say Kentucky needs a citizen-based defense of sunshine laws

By Amye Bensenhaver 
and Jennifer P. Brown Special to KyForward Sunshine Week is upon us and with it the inevitable meteorological metaphors for open government climate change at the federal, state, and local level. These metaphors carry meaning, especially in 2019. There is no better time than now for all Kentuckians to be aware of potential serious threats to laws that protect the public’s right...

Amye Bensenhaver: Public right to know; consumer lenders don’t deserve secrecy in disclosures

HB 285, sponsored by Michael Meredith, (R-Oakland), is a 30-page bill that is intended to “modernize” regulation and oversight of these consumer loan companies that are permitted to charge a greater rate of interest “than otherwise permitted by law.” Whether Meredith’s bill achieves this goal is a topic for another day. But you can add HB 285 to the growing list of bills introduced in the...

Amye Bensenhaver: The sunlight fades in Kentucky; open government takes and needs constant vigilance

In an era when virtually every public official gives lip service to the importance of transparency and accountability, what is it that motivates a legislator to introduce a bill that abridges these twin goals? What, indeed, when our time tested open records law strikes a reasonable balance between the need for public oversight of governmental operations and the competing need for governmental confidentiality. Twice...

Analysis: What determines a ‘public record’? The nature, purpose of document, not where it is kept

By Amye Bensenhaver Special to NKyTribune On January 15, Attorney General Andy Beshear moved closer to overruling a heavily criticized 2015 open records decision issued by his predecessor, Jack Conway, on his last day in office. In the 2015 decision, cited by Senator Damon Thayer in 2018 as the basis for his ill-fated proposal to exclude “emails, texts or calls on devices paid for entirely with...

Amye Bensenhaver: Some things shouldn’t change; ‘selective disclosure’ does not apply to open records

A bedrock principle of the open records law has recently come under fire. BR 821, pre-filed by Danny Carroll (R-Paducah), was quickly withdrawn after access advocates vociferously criticized the bill. Among other offensive proposals, the bill would permit courts to impose agency attorneys’ fees on open records requesters in cases in which the court found the requesters’ purpose “inproper.”...

Amye Bensenhaver: Is there an ideal public records law? Kentucky is among the majority with its D+

Is there an ideal public records law among the 50 states? MuckRock, a self-described “collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze, and share government documents, making politics more transparent and democracies more informed,” recently asked this question. The article begins by noting that in a “State Integrity Report”...

Commentary: The time has come to revise Kentucky’s landmark 40-year-old ‘sunshine laws’

By Amye Bensenhaver Special to KyForward While employed as an instructor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism, former hostage Terry Anderson recounted his five-year battle with federal agencies to obtain copies of public records under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the government’s efforts to secure his release from Hezbollah kidnappers during his nearly seven-year captivity. Anderson...

Former assistant attorney general Bensenhaver named director of Center for Open Government

Amye Bensenhaver, one of the foremost experts on Kentucky’s nationally recognized open records and open meetings laws, is joining the Bluegrass Institute team as director of the free-market think tank’s Center for Open Government. Bensenhaver, winner in 2016 of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center Award, spent 25 years as an assistant attorney general, during which she wrote nearly 2,000 legal...

Open records expert Bensenhaver says resignation from attorney general’s office was under duress

For 25 years, Amye Bensenhaver wrote most of the Kentucky attorney general’s opinions interpreting the state open-meetings and open-records laws. Those opinions are called decisions, because they have the force of law unless overturned by a court. This week she resigned, saying she was put “under considerable duress” by state Attorney General Andy Beshear and his lieutenants, “the...