Saturday, February 21, 2009

Legislative leaders propose investigative agency not subject to open-records law

The two top legislative leaders are backing legislation to create an investigative agency for the General Assembly that would "lack transparency," The Courier-Journal reports. "Its records and reports would be exempt from court subpoenas and the state's open-records laws."

Senate President David Williams, Frankfort's top Republican, introduced Senate Bill 188 on Friday, the deadline for new bills in the Senate for the current sesson. House Speaker Greg Stumbo's spokesman said the Democratic speaker plans to file a similar bill on Monday. In a joint statement yesterday, they said the legislation "recognizes the important 'watchdog' responsibility vested in the General Assembly to ensure tax dollars are spent efficiently and effectively."

The new General Assembly Accountability and Review Division would "conduct investigations, audits and reviews and otherwise monitor the activities of public agencies," the Courier-Journal's Tom Loftus and Stephenie Steitzer report.

"It's horrible," Common Cause Kentucky Chairman Richard Belies told the newspaper. "This is not in the public interest. To have it be able to conduct these investigations without anybody being able to have any type of information about it, I think, goes back to the way government was run in the Middle Ages."

The bill could raise constitutional questions about separation of powers among the branches of government, a strong principle in Kentucky law. SB 188 would require the state auditor, attorney general, cabinet secretaries and other agency heads to assist the Legislative Research Commission "in whatever manner the Legislative Research Commission deems that these officials can be helpful." House and Senate leaders comprise the LRC. It would have to vote for any records of the division to be released.

Auditor Crit Luallen told The Courier-Journal that the new agency could duplicate the constitutionally mandated duties of her office. Attorney General Jack Conway declined to comment. Gov. Steve Beshear's office said it had been busy with budget matters and hadn't reviewed the bill. Spokesman Jay Blanton said, "Over the next few days we'll meet with the sponsors involved to ascertain any questions or concerns they may have and determine how we might address those issues." The bill is in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. (Read more)

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