Carroll's SB 14 deserves careful review

Carroll

Concern and relief were two takeaways this week from a Paducah state senator's short-lived attempt at new legislation.

Danny Carroll, a former Paducah police assistant chief and now two-term legislator, said the intent of Senate Bill 14 was to protect the privacy of state workers with investigative duties, shielding them from potential repercussions given the sensitivity of their work.

He pre-filed a version of the bill Monday, before withdrawing it Wednesday amid widespread claims that it was an attempt to circumvent the Kentucky Open Records Act.

The bill, as we understand it, would have closed the personnel records of law enforcement officers, firefighters, judges, prosecutors, and health and family staffers, among other public sector employees, essentially sealing records of disciplinary action, complaints and performance evaluations from public and media scrutiny.

While we respectfully disagree with SB 14, we're at least relieved our local senator pulled the bill in response to the consistent chorus of complaints, the most compelling of which came from the Kentucky Press Association.

The senator's about-face, we believe, indicates he pays attention to public sentiment and values input, particularly on a potentially sensitive issue.

We are concerned, however, that not even Carroll himself knew fully what was in his own bill, a misstep from a typically reliable lawmaker. He told The Sun that SB 14 came from a "Secret Service agent and the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security," and he didn't realize it included limiting access to disciplinary records.

A revised bill, he said, is forthcoming.

New laws shouldn't be pro forma, especially when they involve public safety personnel like those cited in SB 14, and measures that could insulate their actions from public examination. We're troubled the senator sponsored such a measure without giving it his full attention, and we hope he will thoroughly vet any revised bill before filing.

We also take issue with Carroll comparing the bill to "legislation that comes from a citizen," which is "about the purest legislation you can get." SB 14, based on his words, didn't come from John or Jane Q. Citizen down the street; it came from a federal government agent and agency -- not exactly unbiased sources.

The intent of SB 14 -- protecting public personnel with sensitive duties -- isn't without merit, nor is it a rubber stamp.

It deserves thorough consideration, starting with the lawmaker who says it's needed in the first place.