Franklin County

Bid for new investigatory agency tabled

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would create an investigative arm for the General Assembly will not be voted on this session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told the House State Government Committee on Monday that he would pull the measure so that he can work with legislative leaders to address concerns about the bill. He hopes to revive the proposal in 2010.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, had filed similar legislation in the Senate in February. Williams said that he would agree to table the issue.

Many rank-and-file members, the news media, State Auditor Crit Luallen and Attorney General Jack Conway had raised concerns about the original proposal for the General Assembly Accountability and Review Division.

Under the original plan, GAARD's records would have been kept secret and exempt from subpoena power. Under a substitute filed Monday, GAARD's records would be open, with the exception of those associated with criminal investigations.

Stumbo, who testified before the House State Government Committee, said there were many questions and misconceptions about the bill. He thought it should be vetted and explained before being voted on.

"I view this as a useful tool if used properly," Stumbo said. "There is no subversive intent of this bill."

He said the division's main intent was to ensure the legislature received accurate information from state agencies when they are making multi million dollar decisions on where money should go. The intent is not to "micromanage state government," he said.

Many, including the Kentucky Press Association, applauded the proposed changes, which would make the division's records open. Others said they were happy that Stumbo and the legislature had agreed to allow more time for discussion.

Over the weekend, Conway and Stumbo discussed the attorney general's concerns about transparency, said Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin.

"The attorney general is hoping to work with the speaker and the Senate president during the interim to address their concerns while protecting transparency for the public," Martin said.

Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, said Stumbo's move was "a very wise decision."

On Monday, several members of the House State Government Committee questioned how much a new division would cost and how it would work.

Stumbo said the GAARD would initially use Legislative Research Commission staff members but there hasn't been an estimate yet on how much it would cost.

He said a standing committee could forward a request to GAARD to investigate if the committee can't get the information it wants from an agency.

Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, recommended that a request for an investigation should be voted on by legislative committee so that vindictive committee chairmen could not order investigations.

Stumbo said after Monday's meeting that he would take all of the suggestions under advisement.