FRANKFORT — The legislature's top two leaders have decided the Kentucky General Assembly will pay a $19,758 legal bill for its representation in a lawsuit over the redrawing of state legislative district boundaries.
The action by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, ignores a vote earlier this month by the 16-member Legislative Research Commission against using tax dollars to pay the bill.
"The decision to pay legal fees and to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars, without any accountability to other members of the General Assembly, is plain wrong, and under Kentucky law, it is illegal," House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Thursday in a statement.
Hoover said state law says the commission, not individual lawmakers, may contract for services needed by the General Assembly and that approval is needed by a majority of the LRC to spend any funds to defend a lawsuit.
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"Legislative leaders know this, which is why this issue was on the LRC agenda two weeks ago, only to be voted down," Hoover said. "Now, the decision to circumvent the process, avoid another LRC vote, and ignore the law is yet another example of why we need real change in Frankfort."
House Republicans are waiting for a decision by Franklin Circuit Court on who should pay for their legal representation in the redistricting lawsuit, which they helped file.
At the request of House Republicans and Democratic state Sen. Kathy Stein of Lexington, the Kentucky Supreme Court earlier this year threw out the new state House and Senate maps after ruling them unconstitutional. The redistricting plan had moved Stein's district from the urban core of Lexington to northeastern Kentucky.
A motion by Stumbo to pay the General Assembly's legal bill failed in the June 12 regular meeting of the LRC because of lack of support by minority leaders in both the House and Senate. The House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans.
Stumbo's motion needed nine votes from the 16-member panel, which is made up of all legislative leaders, to be approved. It got eight. Five of the minority members present voted against it.
A special meeting of the LRC was held Thursday but the legal bill was not on the agenda.
Stumbo told reporters after the meeting that the bill from Louisville attorney Sheryl Snyder will be paid under his and Williams' authorization since they signed the contract to hire Snyder. Stumbo and Williams hired Snyder at the rate of $125 per hour.
Asked why the bill was on the LRC agenda two weeks ago but not Thursday, LRC director Bobby Sherman said it should not have been placed on the agenda of either meeting.
"Once the matter was questioned, we did an extensive search of the minutes of the LRC over 30 years and found there has been some very specific delegation of authority to the president and the speaker to hire counsel in regard to newly enacted legislation," Sherman said.
Stumbo said he has no plans to use taxpayer money to pay the legal bill of House Republicans.
"I'm going to let Rep. Hoover stand behind his word and pay for it himself. That's what he wants to do," Stumbo said. "He's being quoted in the media that that was what he intended to do when he filed the action. So we support him in that."
The General Assembly is expected to tackle legislative redistricting again in the 2013 session that begins in January.