FRANKFORT — The Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would require the embattled Kentucky Association of Counties and Kentucky League of Cities to allow public scrutiny of their meetings and records.
Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, also would require both groups to adopt ethics and anti-nepotism rules, follow the state's model procurement code, make public their financial information on a Web site by Jan. 1, 2011, and undergo an annual audit.
The Senate made two changes in the bill that emerged last week from a committee.
One would make sure the bill only applies to KACo and KLC and not other organizations that represent government officials, such as prosecutors and property valuation administrators. Another would require an accounting each year of how county fiscal courts spend civil and criminal court fees that are earmarked for the maintenance and construction of courthouses.
Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, sponsored the amendment regarding courthouses. She said some fiscal courts in Kentucky levy a $25 fee for every civil and criminal case filed. From July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009, county governments collected more than $6 million from the fees, Stine said. She wants to know how much of the money actually goes toward courthouse construction costs.
The Herald-Leader reported Sunday that Gov. Steve Beshear has recommended spending an extra $50 million from the General Fund over the next two years to help the court system pay for 38 new courthouses that will open over the next two years.
Thayer said he thinks his oversight bill will fare well in the House because it has bipartisan support. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said last week he thinks his chamber will approve the measure.
"It is unfortunate that this body has to take these steps, but I believe it is important to re-establish taxpayers' trust in these entities," Thayer said about the bill while speaking on the Senate floor.
The Herald-Leader reported last year executives of KACo and KLC spent nearly $1 million on travel and entertainment in recent years and their top officials received lucrative salaries and benefits. Subsequent audits by state Auditor Crit Luallen revealed more questionable expenditures and numerous conflicts of interest.
KLC and KACo provide services, such as lobbying and legal help, to local governments. They also sell insurance to the counties and cities, which generates millions of dollars in revenue for the two organizations.
Thayer said he hopes his bill will help the boards of KLC and KACo, "as they will be under intense scrutiny."
The Senate also unanimously approved another measure — Senate Bill 40 — that would require all three branches of government to post online their spending by Jan. 1, 2011, and to update the information every month.
"Kentucky taxpayers deserve the opportunity to see how their tax dollars are being spent," said Thayer, who sponsored the bill.
The executive and judicial branches already have their expenditures online, but the legislative branch does not.