House committee passes bill to strengthen oversight of KACo, KLC

ralessi@herald-leader.comMarch 4, 2010 

A House panel unanimously approved the Senate's version of a bill to create new standards and oversight for two statewide groups that work with local governments.

The House Local Government Committee voted 15-0 for Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. The bill would make the Kentucky Association of Counties and the Kentucky League of Cities subject to state open records and open meetings laws, allow the state auditor to review the organizations' books and set higher standards for oversight by the two groups' boards.

The key difference between SB 87 and a companion House bill, HB 325, is that Thayer's version requires KACo and KLC to post their expenses online.

Thayer, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said both bills are moving quickly, underscoring legislators' will to implement tighter guidelines for the groups.

Thayer also said he would call the House version before his committee. It remains to be seen which version will become law.

The legislation is based largely on recommendations from state Auditor Crit Luallen, who investigated both organizations after the Herald-Leader reported last summer that KACo and KLC leaders spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on entertainment, travel and meals.

The groups provide lobbying, insurance and financing for local governments and get much of their money from them.

"I think they're two fine organizations," Thayer said. "They just lost their way."

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville and the House Local Government Committee chairman, said KACo and KLC need statutory guidelines.

Otherwise, "every time there's a new board or executive director, they could revoke those changes and go back to old ways," said Riggs, a primary co-sponsor of HB 325.

On Feb. 2, senators approved an amendment by Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, to require counties to account for civil and criminal court fees that are earmarked for the maintenance and construction of courthouses.

Lawmakers dropped that from the bill Wednesday.

"It wasn't germane," Riggs said.

Thayer said he expected that provision to be attached to another bill later this session.

Also at Wednesday's committee meeting, House lawmakers passed HB 418, sponsored by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, which would clarify the law to give the state auditor statutory power to investigate special districts, such as water and fire districts, that use state and federal funds.

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