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Report: KY lawmakers increasingly fast-track bills, reducing transparency

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Tuesday, January 2, 2024   

Kentucky lawmakers convene this week for the 2024 legislative session, and a new report finds state representatives are increasingly fast-tracking legislation while eroding citizen participation.

The League of Women Voters of Kentucky analysis finds lawmakers are replacing original versions of bills with last-minute substitute versions, leaving little or no time for citizens to review or comment before a committee vote.

Janie Lindle - a member of the League's Task Force on Legislative Transparency - said the tactic often guts the original language of a bill, and hijacks it for a completely different purpose.

"What we really saw was - starting in 2002, but especially escalating from 2014 to 2022," said Lindle, "there have been just this increasing rush on certain bills that do become law, and people can't participate."

House Bill 10, passed in 2022, eliminated the sharing of pre-filed bills on the Legislative Research Commission's website - meaning citizens can no longer preview pending legislation, and subsequently have less time to consider or participate in discussions on the bill during the months before the session starts.

According to the report, last year 32% of bills that passed the Kentucky House and 24% that passed the Senate were fast-tracked in ways that cut out the public's voice.

There's also been an increase in lawmakers holding full House or Senate floor votes the day bills get committee approval, shrinking the amount of time even the most engaged citizens have to contact their legislators - in some cases down to a few hours.

Lindle said Kentuckians have the right to have time to fully understand the text of a bill, and voice their opinion on it.

"Citizens deserve to participate in anything that affects them," said Lindle. "So the deliberation of legislation that's going to affect us as part of the democratic principle, that if you're going to be affected by it, you get to have a voice in it."

Lindle said advocates want the General Assembly to take steps to strengthen opportunities for citizen participation - including by ensuring there are three bill readings after committee hearings, making substitute bills available online in advance of a committee meeting, and allowing at least one day between final action or floor votes on bills.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.




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