News Alert: Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government asks court to affirm public access to lawmakers’ meetings
For Immediate Release: Friday, March 23, 2018
(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — The Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government is asking the Franklin Circuit Court to uphold an attorney general’s decision that a closed meeting of the state House of Representatives at which a taxpayer-funded study of Kentucky’s retirement systems was discussed violated the commonwealth’s Open Meetings Act.
The attorney general’s office issued its decision in response to a complaint filed by the Center for Open Government. In appealing that decision, House leaders claim the gathering was exempt from open meetings requirements because it was a caucus meeting.
As explained in the memo filed by the Bluegrass Institute, however, caucus meetings are held by local, regional and state political parties to discuss policy stances, candidates, strategies and appointees. They are neither secret gatherings of governing bodies to avoid transparency nor attended by members of both political parties, as was the case here.
The Bluegrass Institute’s filing asks the court to affirm that the August session did not constitute a caucus meeting and therefore was not exempt from the Kentucky Open Meetings Act since a quorum of the entire House consisting of most members from both parties attended.
“If one accepts the House’s self-serving definition of a ‘caucus meeting,’ then any meeting of the House of Representatives would be exempt from the Open Meetings Act,” said Louisville attorney William Sharp, who, along with co-counsel Amye Bensenhaver, director of the Center for Open Government, are representing the Bluegrass Institute. “Such a result would not only be incompatible with the Open Meetings Act, but it would also be antithetical to an open democracy.”
In its memo, the Bluegrass Institute also urges the court to reject the House’s claims that the constitutional separation of powers and legislative immunity preclude enforcement of the Open Meetings Act in the Kentucky House.
“The House seeks to advance a flawed constitutional argument that it has the unilateral authority to decide whether or not a statute conflicts with its own procedural rules,” Sharp said. “If that argument were accepted, it would enable the House to avoid any statutory obligation imposed upon it whenever it decides, in its sole discretion, that the obligation might conflict with some current or as-yet-unknown future internal rule of procedure. Whatever the separation of powers means, it does not grant the legislature unfettered authority to disregard the law.”
The center in its complaint filed with the attorney general recommended that House leaders take the following steps for remedying the violation of the open meetings law:
- Acknowledge that KRS 61.810(1) was violated in conducting a closed meeting of a quorum of its members at which public business was discussed.
- Provide the public with a copy of any written record or audio or video recording of the closed session.
- Issue a resolution committing to future compliance with the requirements of the open-meetings law.
For more information, please contact Amye Bensenhaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.330.1816.