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Report: Kentucky legislature fast-tracking bills far more frequently now than 20 years ago

Josh James

Kentucky lawmakers are increasingly relying on procedural maneuvers that fast-track bills and make it more difficult to keep up with legislation moving through the General Assembly. That’s the conclusion of a new report released Wednesday by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.

If it seems like you hear more complaints about speedily passed bills in Kentucky than you used to, it’s not just your imagination.

A report from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters looking at the legislative process for bills passed between 1998 to 2022 shows a dramatic increase in legislative maneuvering that makes it hard to keep pace with bills as they’re introduced, voted on, revised, amended, and routed back and forth between chambers.

Janie Lindle helped work on the report. She gave this all-too-frequent example of a member of her group who was prepared to give five minutes of testimony on a bill.

"But the day that she walked in, she was told she no longer had five minutes, and on top of that all of the language in the bill had been changed by a committee substitute," Lindle recounts. "So she had one minute to give a speech on language she'd never seen."

And it’s not just a problem for citizens and groups testifying. Journalists and even lawmakers are often left scrambling for the latest version of bills that have undergone changes or had readings before the public has had a chance to offer input.

One common refrain is that it’s just the way business is done in Frankfort. But the new report suggests otherwise. 25 years ago, less than 5% of bills that became law used the fast-tracking methods outlined in the report. By 2022, that percentage had risen to 24% in the Senate and 32% in the House.

The report did not focus on which the party sponsors of the bills being fast-tracked, but the trend has taken place as Republicans have cemented super-majorities in both chambers.

Dr. Jennifer A. Jackson is president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. She says the message of the report is clear.

"Legislators need to slow down and remember that they serve the people of the commonwealth and that the people of the commonwealth shouldn't have to be rushed." she says.

The League has several recommendations, including making revised committee bills available online at least a day before they’re considered in committee and holding three required readings of bills on three separate days, among others.

Read the full report.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.