FRANKFORT, Ky. — After facing criticism from several organizations, House Bill 509 is moving forward, with much of its original language stripped out.

What You Need To Know

  • House Bill 509 would assign each state employee and board member a government email address

  • This email would be for official business only

  • Personal devices and accounts could not be used for state business and would not be subject to an open records request

  • The bill passed through committee last week and now heads to the House floor for a vote

The bill, now just four pages long, no longer seeks to redefine what is considered an open record. It now solely centers on how state agency employees and board members should communicate about official business.

HB 509 states each of these individuals should be given a government email to use for business only. Personal cellphones and other devices could not be used for work and would not be subject to open records requests.

State Rep. John Hodgson, R-Fisherville (Spectrum News 1/Mason Brighton)

“This is just getting out ahead to show our legislative intent that we don't intend for people's personal privacy to be encroached upon by the agency,” said State Rep. John Hodgson, R-Fisherville. “And we don't want the agency to have the burden of having to do an any-and all-search across ever-expanding numbers of platforms.”

While he supports the section around creating emails, Michael Abate, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, said he believes the bill is still concerning.

“If somebody chooses for their own convenience to conduct public business on a personal device, the cost of that is they might have to search that device and hand over copies of the communications, not their whole phone, not all their private data, not their financial information, just the records they chose to create on that device,” Abate said.

Hodgson said he thinks his bill addresses those who may try to abuse the system to hide their communications.

“If someone's trying to dodge the system, for the first time, we would have some teeth in it," Hodgson said. "If the agency can say this person is dodging the system and is creating a communication channel outside on their private device, they can be disciplined or fired. Right now, you can't do that.”

Hodgson added his bill attempts to balance the public’s right to know with someone’s right to privacy.

“Drawing that line, saying the agency is not going to search beyond the devices and the platforms under their control creates a protection for the individual and their privacy,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson's reason for filing his bill is an ongoing court case involving the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission, he said. The state appeals court ruled in October that text messages on personal cellphones about state business are subject to open records requests. 

HB 509 now heads to the House floor for a vote. Hodgson has also filed a floor amendment to the bill, which would require these newly created email addresses be posted on their respective agency website.