It wasn’t surprising to watch Kentucky House and Senate legislators override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of bills removing public notices from newspapers in counties with populations of more than 80,000.
What is surprising, however, is the new language inserted in the bill passed during the waning hours of the General Assembly session to amend Kentucky’s statutes dealing with legal notice advertising requirements.
The new language, most likely intended as a jab at newspapers across the state, should be an embarrassment to every legislator who had a hand in crafting and voting for it.
KRS 424 outlines requirements of Kentucky’s public notice laws. These statutes are in place to protect the public’s right to know details about tax rates, government and public school budgets, public contract bidding, public land transfers, foreclosure and more.
Gov. Beshear vetoed HB 195, which would have allowed local governments in counties with populations of more than 80,000 the option to post required public notices on their websites instead of in newspapers. A small space advertisement would be required to identify the URL address of the website where the public notice is posted, a phone number to call or a physical address a person could visit to obtain a copy.
With respect to keeping the public informed, a small one- or two-line advertisement with a URL address isn’t the same as publishing the notice in its entirety. While legislators should be accountable for transparency and making it easier for the public to access such information, the bill accomplishes just the opposite.
Beshear said as much. In his veto message, he said, “the provisions of the law would impede the public’s ability to receive the complete information of a local government’s actions and proposed actions.”
When taking up Beshear’s vetoes of both HB 195 and an altered HB 351, House and Senate voted to override both.
HB 351 was the second and last of the two bills impacting KRS 424. It stretches the population threshold to 90,000 and affects any public notice published in a newspaper. The approved bill also mandates any advertisement published in a newspaper in accordance with KRS Chapter 424 must include a sentence to identify the name of the governing body running the notice and the amount of taxpayer money used to pay for the advertisement.
This newspaper won’t have a problem identifying the cost of the required legal notice. And we’ve said before the combined legal advertising revenue from the 10 local county and associated city governments, their departments and utilities represented just over one-half of 1 percent of The News-Enterprise’s total operating revenue last year.
Beshear attempted to protect transparency in government with his veto. Through their overrides, state legislators set up an obstacle between the public and its right to know. In doing so, legislators voting for HB 351 revealed their true colors with a shameful attempt to turn a community against its newspaper working to keep it informed.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.