Don’t let state law determine ad copy

Senate Bill 205 would mandate how information could be published or broadcast about a nursing facility’s safety and health violations. Advertisements about the violations would have to follow new state rules about when a nursing home was cited, if it took any action to correct the violations and if deficiencies had been corrected.

The legislation is aimed at attorneys who run ads about nursing homes to attract clients willing to sue the facilities.

It’s easy to sympathize with anyone who feels they’ve been hounded by an attorney looking to capitalize on a government inspection, but there are problems with SB 205.

Most important is the free speech consideration. If the state is allowed to mandate how one profession advertises its services, what’s to stop the government from applying the same logic to other professions. In addition, this measure looks like a bear to enforce. We’d be allowing bureaucrats to decide if an attorney had crossed every T and dotted every I before an advertisement could be published or broadcast.

False advertising shouldn’t be tolerated, but we have to draw the line at endorsing the government’s judgment on distasteful advertising.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said nursing home violations that are already open to public inspection can be twisted to seem more serious than they actually are by attorneys who don’t include proper context in ads.

“It is fishing,” Carroll said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “But instead of fishing with a worm, this is like fishing with a stick of dynamite. It is misleading, it is unethical and it is something I feel we need to address.”

We agree up to Carroll’s point about lawmakers addressing the problem.

We’d rather see pressure from the Kentucky Bar Association on its members. Ultimately, though, it’s more important to limit government overreach than it is to limit the free speech of attorneys — no matter how disagreeable their methods seem.

Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, is among those who oppose the legislation. He was right to question whether the bill could pass a constitutional challenge. He said the law would “restrict lawful speech,” the Herald-Leader reported.

Considering the lack of context and truthfulness in political advertising that we see daily on television, it’s hard to believe one state law could effectively deal with the questionable tactics of attorneys who run ads looking for clients.

Lawmakers should pass on this bill. It’s a bad idea that probably wouldn’t stand a court test.

Kentucky New Era

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