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Lack of Transparency in Frankfort Unfair to General Assembly, People We Serve

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From the House/Rep. Russell Webber

 FRANKFORT – Every year members of the Kentucky General Assembly descend on Frankfort to carry out the duties that our citizens expect to do.  That expectation includes making sure that the legislative process is open and transparent to all Kentuckians.

But time and time again, and to the frustration of many of us in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the legislative process seems in some cases to be stuck in the back rooms of the Capitol.  Never has that been clearer than our efforts to address one of the major issues of the 2013 Session: reforming our public pension system.

During a meeting of the House State Government Committee to discuss Senate Bill 2, a committee substitute was presented.  Senate Bill 2 was drawn up by the co-chair of a task force that spent nearly all of last year hearing testimony and reviewing thousands of pages of information and data to draft a plan that deal with what one national publication said is the worst public pension system in the nation.

This committee substitute for this important issue, 53 pages long, was presented to committee members a half-hour before the start of the committee meeting.  The substitute was so new even the legislator presenting it had problems finding some of the data in the bill when being questioned by committee members.

A similar situation took place with Senate Bill 50, which deals with industrial hemp and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate.  The chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee told the press he planned on filing a committee substitute to the bill seven days before he planned on taking up the bill, but waited until the night before to submit copies of his substitute to members of the committee.

The leadership in House majority must end this process of presenting pages of committee substitutes to legislators at the last minute, simply because it is not fair to those of us involved in the process and to those who elect us to carry out the legislative process.

I’m also troubled by the silence among the press, who in the past has called on state government to be more open and transparent.  Members of the media have gone as far as filing lawsuits seeking to bring information into the light, but yet seem to be willing to stay in the dark regarding the process of committee substitutes.

We have filed bills in past sessions that would require a 24-hour waiting period on changes to any proposals dealing with the budget, but sadly not one of those bills has received a hearing.  It is imperative that we change the art of bait and switch legislating in the State Capitol.   We can do better, we should do better, and the public expects us to do better.

I welcome your comments and concerns for the upcoming session. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or you can contact me via e-mail at russell.webber@lrc.ky.gov.  You can keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.