Oversight bills for KACo, KLC stalled despite widespread support

ralessi@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2010 

FRANKFORT — Although the House and Senate have passed separate legislation aimed at tightening controls on the Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties, those reforms could be in jeopardy as the General Assembly winds down.

Neither chamber seems in a rush to sign off on the other's version of the proposal with just six working days left in the 2010 session.

"I would say that it's still in play, but time is running out," Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said of the oversight bills.

The apparent impasse has prompted finger-pointing across the Capitol, leaving key proponents of the measures to speculate about political or pride-of-authorship issues that might be holding up the bills.

Both pieces of legislation — sponsored by Republican Damon Thayer of Georgetown in the Senate and Democrat Arnold Simpson of Covington in the House — would make KACo and the League subject to open records and open meetings laws, give their boards a code of ethics and allow the state auditor to review their books. The biggest difference between the two versions is that Thayer's Senate Bill 87 would require KACo and the League to post their expenses online.

The proposals came after reports by the Herald-Leader and state audits last year showed the two organizations spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel, meals and entertainment, including expenses at strip clubs.

KACo and the League provide lobbying, legal advice, insurance and project financing for local governments and receive taxpayer funds in the form of dues and payments for insurance and financing services.

Thayer said his version, with the online-transparency component, is "more comprehensive." It also is further along in the process, having cleared the Senate and Riggs' House Local Government Committee on March 3. It has since stalled on the House floor.

"It appears it might be political, but I'm committed to trying to figure out a way to pass the bill," Thayer said. "It's too important of an issue to play politics with."

Thayer said he is backing Republican state House candidate Ryan Quarles — and signed Quarles' election papers — against Rep. Charlie Hoffman, D-Georgetown. "I've had six different members of the House of Representatives tell me he was trying to kill my bill for that reason," Thayer said of Hoffman.

Hoffman denied that.

"I have absolutely not objected to either version," Hoffman said, adding that he voted for both bills when they came before the House Local Government Committee. But he said he would prefer House Bill 325 in deference to Simpson.

"I'm going to do my part to see these type of issues that govern these organizations are put in place and help facilitate them back to public confidence," Hoffman said.

Rep. Rocky Adkins, the House Democratic floor leader from Sandy Hook, said no one has approached him about holding up Thayer's bill for any reason. He said he needs to confer with Simpson "to see how he wants to move forward" before calling the Senate bill to the floor for a vote. Simpson couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

The House, according to its rules, has through Friday to take up Thayer's bill before it's sent back to a committee, in all likelihood to die for this session, Adkins said.

He asked rhetorically where Simpson's bill stands in the Senate. It landed in the Senate on Feb. 16, where it awaits action in the State and Local Government Committee, which Thayer chairs.

Thayer rejected any implication that he was holding up Simpson's bill and other House bills in his committee. The panel, for instance, passed eight House bills Wednesday.

Thayer said he is considering hearing Simpson's bill, but noted that it would have to be amended to match his proposal. "The easiest thing since they've had my bill for two weeks, and it's on the floor, is for them to just pass SB 87."

Thayer and Riggs, the House local government committee chairman, said the Herald-Leader's report Wednesday that the League extended a contract with an insurance claims company without taking bids from competitors underscores the urgency for reform of the organizations. The League's decision to extend Collins and Co.'s contract contradicts the organization's own policy and a recommendation made by state Auditor Crit Luallen, whose office investigated KACo and the League.

Luallen said Wednesday the legislature needs to move on at least one of the bills, regardless of who gets the glory. "I am hopeful that any differences can be resolved and a final bill can be passed in these last days," she said.

Herald-Leader staff writer Linda B. Blackford contributed to this report.

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