Last edited: February 14, 2005

Lawmaker Says Proposal Holds No Hidden Agenda

Louisville Courier-Journal, Tuesday, April 16, 1996
525 W. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202
(Fax 502-582-4075, print run 238,500)

By Mark R. Chellgren, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky.- The idea - establishing a right to privacy in the Kentucky Constitution--seems straightforward enough.

But it wasn't long after Rep. Joe Clarke proposed that very thing on the opening day of the General Assembly session this year that the questions started.

" 'Why are you doing this?' " Clarke said he was asked. Abortion opponents wondered if it was aimed at them. Another group of legislators--who are looking for ways to overturn court rulings that consensual sodomy cannot be outlawed--thought maybe the idea was aimed at that issue.

"They see it as some kind of hidden agenda," said Clarke, a Danville Democrat who has been a member of the House since 1970. He was chairman of the Appropriations and Reveue Committee for 20 years and was speaker of the House for one term.

He has moved back into the shadows in the General Assembly since his ouster as speaker in 1995.

Though he's now off center stage, Clarke remains one of the legislature's most respected members.

And so when he said there was no hidden agenda to his proposal, most people believed him. But some conspiracy buffs won't buy it.

The Kentucky Supreme Court, for example, said that an implied right to privacy in the Kentucky Constitution meant that a law outlawing consensual sodomy was unconstitutional. Since then, some have pushed for a constitutional amendment that would let the legislature outlaw sodomy.

Clarke said it is not his intent to take up that issue, although he added, "I personally believe acts between consenting adults are nobody else's business."

The first section of the Kentucky Constitution contains what amounts to a Bill of Rights. It guarantees Kentuckians, in broad language, such things as the right to defend their lives and liberties, the right to worship God, the right to freely communicate their thoughts and opinions, and the right to assemble.

To those rights, Clarke would add another: "The right to individual privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed upon without the showing of a compelling private or state interest."

But questions persist.

Clarke said his motivation was two-fold. More than a decade ago, a committee was created to review Kentucky's 1891 constitution. It put together a list of recommendatiosn for changes, most of which have been ignored. Among the recommendations was the right to privacy.

"The word 'privacy' does not appear in the constitution," Clarke said. "There are court cases that say there is a right to privacy. It is not very well-defined....

"I've been concerned about modern communications--everybody knowing everything about everybody else," Clarke said.

A debate about privacy is unlikely any time soon, however. In this session, the General Assembly is more interested in constitutional amendments that would make it easier for legislators to draw themselves new district boundaries, that would eliminate racist and segregationist language from the document, and that would resolve a property-tax issue.

"I think it's an important issue," Clarke said of privacy. "I don't think it has much of a chance this time."

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