Monday, March 2, 2009

Stumbo softens bill for investigative agency, indicates he won't push for it this year

Noting concern over secrecy provisions in a bill to set up a legislative investigative agency, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, right, submitted an altered version of the bill Monday to the House State Government Committee and indicated he would not push the bill to a vote this session.

House Bill 540, like an identical bill in the Senate, would set up a General Assembly Accountability and Review Division to investigate other state agencies. Its first version would have exempted its operations from state the open records law, a provision that brought opposition from Attorney General Jack Conway and other officials, as well as journalists and other open government advocates.

However, the revised version submitted to the committee Monday provides that the only exemption to the records law would be investigations referred for prosecution. "This has fixed a lot of the problems we had previously," Ashley Pack, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, told the committee.

Stumbo said that "we are not going to move this forward" immediately and would "discuss it in the interim" between sessions. He compared the proposed agency to the federal government's General Accounting Office and said it was "a tool the legislature needs."

The GAO does not have subpoena power, but federal law requires agencies and contractors to give it the information is seeks; its records are subject to release under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

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