Op-ed: Statement on behalf of Kentucky Press Association in opposition to HB 207

Op-eds are submitted by the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion(s) of LINK Media.

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Written by KPA general counsel Jon Fleischaker and Michael Abate.

The Kentucky Press Association is opposed to HB 207 as currently drafted. The bill will allow local police departments across the Commonwealth to create “wellness programs” and “early intervention systems” that will provide officers valuable mental health services and attempt to “identify and address potentially problematic behavior” before it escalates. KPA does not oppose these laudable programs, but as currently written, HB 207 mandates that they operate in the dark without any oversight. Just two minor changes to the bill’s text will strike the appropriate balance between officers’ rights to keep their mental health records private and the public’s right to know that these wellness programs are an effective use of taxpayer dollars. 

Section 1 of HB 207 mandates that all wellness program “proceedings, records, opinions, conclusions, and recommendations” remain confidential and privileged. Section 2 amends the Open Records Act to create a new exemption protecting these records from disclosure. 

The KPA does not object to the confidentiality of records relating to an officer’s mental health treatment. But extending that designation to the program’s final conclusions and recommendations goes too far. It is counterproductive to HB 207’s purpose to improve policing by helping officers seek the treatment they need. 

The public has a right to know, for example, if a police officer accused of using excessive force has been identified by an early intervention system as a high risk for “potentially problematic behaviors” or, if a wellness program recommended the officer be removed from his beat before the incident. Without access to these final conclusions and recommendations, the public will have no way to determine if police departments are utilizing these programs effectively and actually following the recommendations of the mental health professional administering them. 

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The KPA would not oppose a version of HB 207 that appropriately balances officers’ right to privacy with the public’s right to know how its government is administering its resources. The KPA recommends the following changes to HB 207: 

  • Strike the words “opinion, conclusions, and recommendations” from §1(4)(a)
  • Add language to §2(1)(r) removing wellness and early intervention program’s final opinions, conclusions, or recommendations from the exemption to the Open Records Act. 

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