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Local journalism matters

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By Taylor Riley

Editor’s note: All information written in this column was as of our print deadline on Tuesday.

There are some weeks at my job that are so stressful, I feel as if I’m drowning; it’s just the name of the game––news moves quickly and doesn’t take a rest.

Some weeks, though, I know that this is exactly what I’m meant to do with my life. And a couple of weeks ago, was one of those times.

As a proud owner of two black labrador mixes––Molly and Max––any dog story, whether happy or sad, brings a tear to my eye. When I heard about Irene, a 1-year-old border collie who was stolen from the Henry-Trimble Animal Shelter, it was more like a stream of waterworks.

I went right to work on a story online to make sure the community knew how to help and to find the dog as safely and quickly as possible.

It turned out, as you might remember, that Irene was found safe and sound and was rehomed. My story was said to have spooked the dog-napper to drop the dog in a nearby wooded area.

This is yet another reason why local journalism matters. We can make a difference by telling the public what they need to know in a timely fashion. It’s our job to keep you in the loop, whether it’s about a dog, or hard news like reporting on local government.

Recent bills have been introduced to the house to hurt journalists, like an amendment to KRS 61.878, which establishes a right of access to records under the Open Records Act.

House Bill 387, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Jason Petrie on Feb. 14, could protect information from getting to the public, thus weakening the Open Records Act in Kentucky.

This bill would exclude “trade secrets as protected information; protect confidential or proprietary information maintained by regulators; exclude information declared confidential through administrative regulation.”

Journalists use records to hold your government accountable, whether those records are financial, personal or otherwise.

You may have remembered reading a similar column in January with my byline. This was when Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Paducah) introduced Senate Bill 14, which would create new sections of KRS Chapter 61. The bill, filed Dec. 14, threatened to eviscerate the Open Records Act.

Sen. Carroll intended for the bill to shield personal information of some public employees, including police, firefighters and judges, but it would have done much, much more to change the Open Records Law.

This bill would have hidden certain information from the public about how government agencies are performing their primary functions. To us at the Local, and to other news organizations, this means it would prohibit the release of information about misuse or abuse of government power.

This bill, like the present one, would have dramatically altered the Open Records Law, deterring public officials from complying with many records requests. It would have discouraged the submission of open records requests by the public and the press.

As journalists, we are trying to keep your local, state and federal government as accountable and as transparent as possible.

Sen. Carroll withdrew the bill on Jan. 9. But House Bill 287 is still on the table.

Since its introduction, HB 287 has passed the Economic Development and Workforce Investment committee and has had a first and second reading. It has been amended twice, as of March 6. This bill could be detrimental to the Open Records Act.

If you feel as strongly about this subject as we do, talk with our local legislators. Representing Henry County in the house is Rep. Rick Rand. He can be reached at (800) 372-7181.

Please support open records and your local journalists.