FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Weeks before Kentucky lawmakers reconvene to debate policy, a nonpartisan group issued a report Wednesday scrutinizing the procedures sometimes used to pass legislation.
The review conducted by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky found that lawmakers increasingly have relied on fast-track maneuvers to pass bills, which it says can give Kentuckians little or no time to offer input. The group urged lawmakers to slow down and give constituents more time to weigh in on legislation.
“Public review and comment on proposed legislation is what democracy in action looks like,” Becky Jones, the group's first vice president, said at a news conference to unveil the findings.
The group pointed to procedural maneuvers it said have undermined citizen participation. And it offered recommendations to make sure people have more of a chance to speak up before measures are passed.
The report was based on a review of the processes used to pass bills in a sample of legislative sessions between 1998 and 2022, league officials said. It relied on the legislature's own records for bills.
The analysis showed that 25 years ago, fewer than 5% of bills that became law used one or more fast-track procedural maneuvers, the league said. That frequency started increasing rapidly in 2002, and by 2022 nearly one-third of the bills that passed the House and almost one-fourth of the bills passed by the Senate were fast-tracked in ways that made public participation more difficult, the league said.
“When fast-track maneuvers take place, the public is left to wonder: What is the rush?" Jones said. “Is there concern that legislation can’t stand up to public scrutiny or comment before it’s passed into law?”
Those tactics are used most frequently at the end of legislative sessions, when lawmakers are running out of time to get bills passed.
The league said it will present its report to members of the Republican-dominated legislature. Next year's 60-day session begins in early January. Crafting the state's next two-year budget will be the top priority, but other issues expected to get considerable attention will include education and public safety.
In its report, the league's recommendations for enhancing public participation in the process included:
— Allowing at least one full day between the last legislative committee action on a bill and a floor vote in the House or Senate on the measure.
— Holding the three bill readings on three separate days after a committee sends a bill to the House or Senate for a vote.
— Allowing at least one full day between a House-Senate conference committee's changes to a bill and when the House or Senate vote on the revised bill.
Some of the most contentious bills in recent years were sped through the legislature, including a 2018 pension overhaul that ultimately was struck down and this year's bill dealing with health care for transgender minors.
On Wednesday, league member Verna Cahoon recalled her own experience dealing with fast-tracked legislation. She said she was scheduled to testify about a bill before a committee in 2022, but a substitute version was offered before she had a chance to review it. Then her allotted time to discuss the issue in committee was reduced from five minutes to one minute, she said.
“Abrupt changes in the content of a bill and further restricting citizens’ allotted presentation time gives the impression that citizens’ viewpoints do not matter,” Cahoon said at the news conference.